Conservatives can stop the creeping Sovietization of America.

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With five months left to go, Niall Ferguson is the frontrunner to win the award for this year’s most incendiary metaphor. In his essay “We’re All Soviets Now,” Ferguson argues that modern America is looking increasing like the latest stages of the Soviet Union, complete with “a permanent deficit and a bloated military,” “a bogus ideology pushed by elites,” “senescent leaders,” and more. Given that the Left are spending their summer staging an off-Broadway production of the “Death of Stalin,” the metaphor may be apt.

Pointing to gerontocratic leadership, bloated government, deaths of despair, among other signs of late Soviet dysfunction, Ferguson makes a strong case. Helen Andrews at the American Conservative correctly took the point one step further. In her essay, “You Have No Idea How Soviet We Really Are,” she added fertility decline, support for vice, and the unreality of so much of the economy to the list.

Here, here! Though, uniparty rule should be included in that parade of Soviet-style horribles. The dysfunction within the American system that Ferguson and Andrews articulate is dire, and it does indeed harken to the crumbling Russian empire of the 1980s, but they miss one key difference between the Soviets then and America now: It is not too late. If they act now, conservatives can stop the Sovietization of America.

The essay has struck a nerve with the old Right set. Jonah Goldburg in the Dispatch, Cathy Young over at the Bulwark, and Noah Smith at Noahpinion, each in turn assure us that the Soviet charge misses the mark. America is not “an evil empire,” and, besides, the U.S. is still a destination for illegal immigrants; a defense that appears in all three responses. It may be conventional wisdom in certain circles that illegal immigrants are good for the stock market because of the cheap labor they provide, but claiming those same immigrants are supposedly a pilar of American institutional legitimacy defies credulity.

Ferguson’s detractors ought to take the Soviet charge for what it is: a call to action. Credit to Young, she at least understood this. Her observation that Ferguson’s essay follows Michael Anton’s “The Flight 93 Election” (2016’s winner for most incendiary metaphor) is spot-on. But Young misunderstands the Flight 93 essay, calling it simply a “clarion call to vote for Trump or lose America.” Anton’s message was less a basic call to get-out-the-vote for Trump than a plea that conservatives do something, anything, to make their principles a reality.

And acting on conservative principles is precisely the antidote to the problems identified by Ferguson and Andrews. Conservatives have the right ends for this moment but have had, until recently, the wrong means. Another corporate tax cut will do little to address government bloat; free trade will not solve our industrial collapse or push back against China; and attacking woke corporations and universities rhetorically while catering to their every whim substantively will not excise, as Ferguson puts it, that “bizarre ideology” from institutions.

Conservatives can and should address each of the highlighted ills, and they should start with the gerontocratic leadership in the Senate. To the extent that the issues Ferguson and Andrews point to can be addressed with public policy, they should be, but conservatives cannot even begin to tackle these problems so long as Republicans in the Senate are led by minority leader Mitch McConnell. He should step down now. Wielding executive branch power is fine, but legislation lasts beyond a four-year term and will be essential to fixing these problems. So long as a key node in the legislative process is controlled by leaders beholden to the status quo, little of substance can change.

With well-functioning leadership in the legislature, conservatives could then begin to tackle the rest of the symptoms that are so reminiscent of Soviet communism. Addressing bloated government will require a rediscovery of the fundamentals of supply-side economics, understanding that there are more public policy levers to pull than just tax cuts. Making real things in America again would ameliorate the pervasive sense that the American economy does not serve the interests of the nation or its people. Reindustrializing the U.S. will require both rebalancing our trade relationships via policies like the 10% general tariff proposed by former President Donald Trump and a proactive strategy of industrial policy unburdened by unrelated progressive priorities like the CHIPS Act ought to have been.

On collapsing fertility, the number one issue that lower-, working-, and middle-class Americans point to for not reaching their desired fertility is that they do not believe that they can afford additional children. Enacting a family benefit like Senators Romney, Daines, and Burrs’s Family Security Act 2.0 or Compass’s Family income supplemental credit (FISC) will help fix that reality, rather than merely wish it away.

That these problems can be fixed and the barriers to address them are not impossibly high means that America has the capacity to change its national course. This is where the Soviet metaphor ultimately unravels. Though the dysfunction between our system and theirs is similar at times—and one party keeps trying to jail their chief political rival—our constitutional order, though battered, still stands. By the time the Soviets began their campaign of reform, far too many mistakes and atrocities had been committed for them to maintain the popular will necessary to govern. This is not the case for the United States.

Failing to deliver on immigration, kowtowing to big business, and continuing to uncritically support globalization while refusing to stand up to China is, however, an elite politics that has passed its prime, premised on Ferguson’s “bizarre ideology.” The pluralistic society that every one of his detractors are so fond of is premised on the will of that society being reflected in their actual government. An unresponsive uniparty has caused these problems, but though they are reminiscent of the Politburo, they can be remedied if conservatives are able to make addressing them the core of their agenda. It is not too late, but it might be soon.

Duncan Braid
Duncan Braid is the coalition director at American Compass.
@duncan_braid
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