Conservatives call Kamala Harris a Communist, but they might be surprised to realize how they espouse a kind of Communism-lite, too.
Doomscrolling through social media in the week preceding the election, I stumbled upon a post which claimed that Kamala Harris had endorsed full-on Communism. Big if true, as they say. Digging into the assertion, I saw it echoed throughout the conservative media bubble, from the President’s Twitter to the Daily Mail to the lowliest armchair pundit. Is Kamala Harris Communist, though? Are you sure you’re not? Let’s take a look.
As evidence, multiple outlets presented a short, animated video narrated by Harris, which you can see here. It opens with a view of two men standing at the base of a mountain. An equal length of rope is lowered for the men to grasp, but only the white man, who has a head start, can reach his. The black man, starting from behind, cannot. Only when they start with the same level of opportunity can both have a real chance to climb to the top of the mountain. As Harris observes, “there’s a big difference between equality and equity.”
To conservatives, this sounds like straight-up Marxism. That’s because they’re familiar with the common trope, “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” This, itself, is a simplified paraphrase from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, and could be fairly ridiculed as “bumper sticker Communism.” Believing this is the beginning and end of Marxist thought is like believing the Second Amendment is the whole of the Constitution.
However, let’s run with it for a moment. Marx isn’t the first person to have come up with this meme. As Ed Trevors, an Anglican priest, explains, this idea is also profoundly Biblical. Here, Trevors reflects on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, and how a wealthy business owner answered his obligation to support his neighbors, even those who had trouble finding work, because he had the means to do so, and they had the need. Perhaps the owner of the vineyard could be considered a “Kamala Harris Communist.”
Early Christian communities, as described in Acts 2:44, lived communally. “All the believers were together and had everything in common” sounds a lot like bumper sticker Marxism. Acts 11:29 tells us that “the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” So if you’re a Christian who follows the Bible as devoutly as Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise religious group does, you might be a “Kamala Harris Communist.”
Shifting to more modern-day economics, do you support the idea of a Universal Basic Income? The idea is to provide everyone with a minimal yet guaranteed income, which could be used however the recipient pleases, whether to invest, to spend on frivolities, to reduce work hours so they can volunteer or take care of their kids, or to pull oneself out of poverty. Detractors abound, however, and politically, the only welfare proposals to gain serious traction are those that are means-tested. If you’re the sort of person who believes that benefits like food stamps should only go to the poorest among us, and not to the people who already fill their carts with steaks and seafood, you might be a “Kamala Harris Communist.”
How do you feel about income taxes? Do you believe it’s fair to charge everyone, rich or poor, the same amount, even if that means some people would no longer have the cash to pay for basic needs like food and rent? Or do you prefer a system where those who can afford to do so pay more than those who can’t? (The first such income tax was levied by none other than Abraham Lincoln.) If you are OK with George Soros paying more tax than you do, you might be a “Kamala Harris Communist.”
In short, no. No, she’s not a Communist.
Truth is, Harris’s message concerns so much more than simple redistributive economics. There’s a lot of work to be done to address the inequality of opportunity that sets so many Americans back before they’re even out of the starting gate. Opening a national dialogue about various forms of privilege, and how our country’s history of slavery still affects the disparity in intergenerational wealth holding people back, would be a great start. However, not everyone is ready or willing to go there. Conservatives have used “Communism” as a scare word for so long that it’s easier to rile up the base by stoking their reflexive prejudices and fears than it is to have a real conversation about critical issues nowadays. We’ll never get to the top of the mountain together when so many of our fellow Americans prefer to take the low road rather than grasp the rope of understanding and climb with us.
Related: Socialism. You Keep Using That Word…