Editor’s Note: American fears about the threat of communism were tied closely to the growth of the organized labor unions following World War One. There were a number of strikes during the war. More workers were willing to risk their jobs and join together to try to improve working conditions. Those in power feared that such organizations would cut into their profits. Their greed drove them to further oppress and beat back workers, to keep the masses in their place. They did this through both physical and mental intimidation. Such tactics continue to this day. White men in power fear losing that power. In an effort to retain their wealth and their positions, they weaponize rhetoric to instill fear in the masses. Fear and anger.
These are the names of just a few of the people targeted by the federal government and labeled “communists” or “communists sympathizers”. These people were spied upon. Chaplin was banned from the United States. He made his home in Switzerland instead. Welles, knowing he was a target of the feds, left the country for nearly a decade. Bernstein was singled out for supporting those who protested the Vietnam War. Lena Horne was one of dozens of Hollywood stars blacklisted by the feds. She was denied opportunity to support herself or her family. Writer/author/activist Dorothy Parker, someone I admire greatly for her work on behalf of the poor and marginalized, was also harassed by the feds because of her activism.
Notice how those in power never ever target anyone who is a voice for the rich/the capitalists/the powerful. Why do you think that is? Why do those in power (always older rich white men, always, always) seek to punish those who speak out for people of color, for the migrant, for the disabled, for the impoverished, for children?
Look. I’m no fan of Bernie Sanders. I’m not. I feel like he has gamed the system, running as a Democrat when he is not a Democrat. He’s cranky and I don’t generally like cranky people. I’m sick and tired of rich white men making all the laws and regulations for women and people of color and ensuring that neither has power.
Still, I think what Trump and his Republican cult-members are doing with Bernie is dangerous.
We are one moment away from this administration labeling any of us who speak out as “communists”. Or “dissidents”. Or “traitors”.
Shoot, I already have some friends and family who already consider me a traitor to this country because as long as Trump is running an authoritarian regime, I refuse to salute the flag or stand for it, or sing the national anthem.
Freedom, remember? That’s what the men and women who serve this nation are supposed to be all about. And as a Gold Star daughter, I think the price for that freedom has already been paid.
But it turns out we are only about freedoms when the masses use “freedoms” in ways that those in authority demand. In other words, this whole freedom thing is mostly propaganda designed to control women and people of color and impoverished people. Just ask those who’ve been required to sign “loyalty oaths” to the State of Georgia and to the US.
So when someone like Sanders comes along, someone who like Parker has spent their whole lives speaking up for those without power, and challenges that propaganda, well, those in power, they always weaponize the rhetoric.
The truth is Trump is more of a traitor to this nation that Bernie Sanders ever has been, or ever will be. Trump has trashed our values, dismantled our protections, singled out people for harm. He’s ordered the slaughter of people he considers enemies and been complicit in the butchering of an American journalist. He’s abandoned our allies and entire people groups who fought to protect our soldiers. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the criminal acts he’s been engaged in throughout his life. Or his repeated obsequious to Putin.
Like I said, I’m not a Bernie Sanders fan. I’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee because there is a huge difference between someone who is authoritarian in rule and someone who seeks to help people. I heard Rev. Barber say recently that he is trying to eradicate the word “anger” from his vocabulary. His reasoning is that the very use of the word evokes the emotion and stirs up the wrong kind of trouble.
Did you know some people groups don’t even have a word for “anger”? They don’t have one for “color” either. Do you suppose it’s because rather than speaking words that target others, they seek out words that unite humanity?
Trump is a divider. He thrives on disruption and chaos. He is a bully whose rhetoric has been detrimental to the Republican party and to our nation as a whole.
But such people never stop with words. The words they employ are simply designed to set the stage for the wrongs they will commit.
I worry for Bernie Sanders. For his family.
It’s the exact same reason I take issue with those who claim to be fans of his but who employ the same troublesome rhetoric to attack anyone who isn’t a fan of his. I don’t know who these people are. I don’t trust Social Media. I left Facebook because I believe all Social Media should have regulations. I miss my friends there but not enough to support Mark Zuckerberg and his capitalistic intentions any longer.
Rhetoric is a dangerous tool. Words alone can destroy people. But words coupled with anger and authoritarian rule can destroy entire people groups.
When FBI agents came to her home to interview her about her “communist intentions”, Parker reportedly replied:
When FBI agents came to her house and questioned whether she was undermining the government, she smartly replied, “Listen, I can’t even get my dog to stay down. Do I look to you like someone who could overthrow the government?”
No matter what our thoughts about Bernie Sanders may be, let’s be careful that we don’t aid Trump in his march toward authoritarian rule and destroying us and the country we love.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow) and a bunch of other books. Please read one.