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Donald Trump Has a New Enemy

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. By Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump and the return of red-baiting: Why do Trump, and other Republicans, talk so much about “communists” these days? 

Donald Trump Hates the ‘Communists’?

In the last few years, Republicans have spent a lot of time comparing their political enemies to “communists.” 

During the Obama years, when Republicans frequently redefined “socialism” to mean “anything the government does that I don’t like.”

Now, liberalism has become socialism has become communism.

Any vitriol involving China is sure to invoke the “Chinese Communist Party,” rather than just “China.” And more recently, government investigations of Donald Trump have been compared to the sorts of purges conducted by communist regimes. 

As noted in a Politico op-ed this week, Trump has taken to invoking communism, especially concerning the criminal charges against him.

The op-ed was authored by Austin Sarat, who is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College.

“Donald Trump seems determined to resurrect red-baiting as a political tactic,” Sarah wrote in the op-ed. “Calling his political opponents communists has become a regular feature of Trump’s attacks on the Biden administration, the Democratic Party, and the likes of George Soros.”

None of Trump’s opponents, whether it’s Biden, Special Counsel Jack Smith, or anyone else, are communists. 

As noted in New York magazine by Ed Kilgore last year, “There is not a single Democratic political figure in the United States who espouses anything resembling communism.”

“I hadn’t heard a Republican call a Democrat a commie since the high tide of McCarthyism — and even back then, the rare slur was associated with specific (if lunatic) allegations of subservience to an international Marxist-Leninist conspiracy operating out of Moscow,” Kilgore wrote last year. “Sure, for a generation, Republicans have been imprecisely calling Democrats ‘socialists,’ though no more than a handful of Donkey Party members answer to that appellation, which in itself is as imprecise as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ But ‘communist’ is actually pretty precise — and wildly inappropriate for anyone in either major U.S. party.”

But that hasn’t stopped the ex-president. 

“Using this tactic, Trump hopes that a single word can discredit their political views. He wants his followers to fear what the people and institutions he calls communist will do to those who don’t share their world view — including to the former president himself.”

Why the Communist Stuff? 

There are three big reasons why Trump uses the tactic, per Sarah’s op-ed. One is that it animates older voters, including those who are old enough to remember the actual Cold War. Another is that it “stirs up fears of China,” and also it revs up supporters in South Florida, with its large population of Cuban-Americans. That last thing could make a difference when it comes time to select a jury for his criminal trial, which will take place in South Florida, although it’s not clear yet where. 

“For some Hispanic Trump supporters who gathered outside the federal courthouse in Miami where the former president was arraigned, the charges evoked memories of political persecutions their family members had once escaped,” an Associated Press story said about the day of Trump’s arraignment in Florida. 

The Guardian columnist Richard Seymour noted back in 2020 that it’s an international tendency that also extends to former Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro.

“Today’s reactionaries are hallucinating a communist threat. Anti-communism-without-communism,” Seymour wrote. “Communist parties could once, if at a considerable stretch, have been seen as a realistic threat to capitalism. That is no longer the case.”

This week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News to argue that “Left-wingers have a lot in common with Chinese Communists.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has spent years comparing Democrats to Communists, did so again after the announcement of Hunter Biden’s plea deal. 

“Oh but hey, look at Jack Smith trying to throw President Trump in jail for 100 years for legally possessing documents he’s allowed to posses under the Presidential Records Act,” Greene said this week. “We are controlled by COMMUNISTS!!”

Expertise and Experience

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.