Trump, other Republicans ward off a familiar enemy by attacking Democrats as ‘Marxists’, ‘Communists’

NEW YORK (AP) — Lashing out after his impeachment on federal charges last week, Donald Trump took aim at President Joe Biden and Democrats with language that seemed to evoke another era: He was persecuted, he said, by “Marxists” and “Communists”.

Trump has used the labels since his first appearance on the political scene, but it has recently become a ubiquitous line of attack that has also been deployed by other Republicans. The rhetoric is both inaccurate and potentially dangerous as it attempts to demonize an entire party with a description that has long been associated with America’s enemies.

Experts who study political messaging say associating Democrats with Marxism only furthers the polarization of the country — and is simply wrong: Biden promoted capitalism, and Democratic lawmakers aren’t pushing to turn America’s democracy into a communist system.

That doesn’t matter to Trump and other Republicans, who for years have used hyperbolic references to associated political ideologies to instill fears about Democrats and the dangers they supposedly pose.

Hours after pleading not guilty in federal court, Trump told a crowd of his supporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that Biden, “along with a group of his closest thugs, misfits and Marxists, tried to destroy American democracy.

He added, “If the communists get away with it, it won’t stop with me.”

He broached the Marxist theme again a few days later during a telephone rally with voters in Iowa. The comments came after numerous campaign emails and social posts in recent months in which Trump claimed that Biden’s America could soon become a “Marxist Third World regime” or a “tyrannical Marxist nation.”

Other Republicans piled on similar messages. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene took to Twitter last week to blast what she called the “DOJ CONTROLLED BY CORRUPTED AND ARMED DEMOCRATIC COMMUNISTS.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s closest rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has argued that the United States is at risk of falling victim to the “woke” ideology, which he has defined in interviews as a form of “cultural Marxism”.

Experts say there’s a long history of US politicians calling their opponents Marxists or Communists without proof – perhaps most infamously the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, who led efforts to blacklist Communists accused in the 1950s.

In a country that has historically positioned itself against Marxism, “red-baiting is as American as apple pie in political communications,” said Tanner Mirrlees, associate professor at Ontario Tech University in Canada, who has researches the political discourse on “cultural Marxism”.

The attacks are carefully constructed to emotionally hit voters, said Steve Israel, a former US congressman from New York who studied political messaging as chairman of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

“Democrats tend to send a message to the part of the brain that is about reason and empirical evidence,” he said. “Message from the Republicans to the gut.”

For some Hispanic Trump supporters who gathered outside the Miami federal courthouse where the former president was arraigned, the charges evoked memories of political persecution their family members once escaped.

“That’s what they do in Latin America,” said Madelin Munilla, 67, who arrived in Miami as a child when her parents fled Cuba from Fidel Castro.

She carried a poster with a photo of Biden alongside Castro, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua – left-wing leaders whose imprisonment of opponents has driven immigration to South Florida for decades.

Unlike the United States, which has a tradition of respecting the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers, the judicial system in many parts of Latin America does not have the same independence. In a region where corruption is thriving, poorly paid prosecutors and judges are routinely caught responding to orders from powerful politicians seeking to settle scores or derail criminal investigations.

A rise in immigration from Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War also brought a population of staunchly anti-Communist voters, some of whom aligned with the Republican Party in part because of its forceful messages on the question.

Yet opposing an actual regime that suppresses individual freedom and opposing a free market economy is different from how many Republicans use those terms today – to falsely claim that Marxists are the class leader of American society.

“Frankly, there is no empirical basis under the Republican claim that Marxists run the major institutions of American society,” Mirrlees said.

Other Republicans, from DeSantis to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, have used another term, “cultural Marxism,” to characterize fights for gender or racial equity that they say are “woke” and threaten a mode traditional american lifestyle. Cruz used it in the title of his book.

Although the term has become popular among mainstream Republicans, it has a darker past. Experts say the concept of “cultural Marxism” posing a threat has historically been propagated by anti-Semitic and white supremacist groups.

For most voters who hear candidates say someone is a Communist or a Marxist, the true meaning may matter less than negative associations with the terms, said University at Buffalo law professor James Gardner. which focuses on electoral law.

“The tactic seems to be to pick an adjective that most people think describes something bad and try to associate it with the person you’re bashing,” he said.

Yet while taunting Communists and Marxists can be effective in animating voters who form the Republican base, it may not be an effective strategy in next year’s general election, Israel said.

That’s because it doesn’t sway as easily moderate and independent voters who don’t see evidence that ties Democrats to those ideologies.

“Moderate voters may succumb to the Republican argument that Democrats are for more spending, but they’re not going to fall for the argument that Democrats are Marxists,” Israel said. “The Republicans are overplaying their hand.”


Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.


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