America’s Role Model Should Be America


President Trump may take blind patriotism too far, but his often nativist stance seems likely to prevail against Democrats whose policy prescriptions increasingly draw from “models” as China, Scandinavia or Germany. Such infatuations have been commonplace for a century among intellectuals inspired variously by Imperial Germany, fascist Italy, the Soviet Union or mercantilist Japan.

Over time, these shiny models usually ended up like broken toys on the bedroom floor of an overindulged toddler. Yet among a generation largely ignorant or dismissive of our ability to meet challenge, between one third and one half, according to one survey, take no pride in America’s history. More young people prefer socialism over capitalism and often approve of giving authorities the right not only to direct the economy but restrict speech.

The socialist siren

Given that older generations generally reject these views, Donald Trump should be paying Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rent, salary and a wee bit more. Cortez’ full-throated approach to socialism, adopted increasingly by Democratic presidential contenders, contends that climate change requires draconian executive action modeled on the New Deal and World War II while seeking to deconstruct the vestiges of market-based capitalism.

Some leftists still embrace Marxist basket cases including Cuba and Venezuela, but most socialists prefer to find their role models in Europe, notably Scandinavia. One has to wonder if any of them has visited these countries recently; overall the EU’s rate of economic growth is roughly half that of the United States, while unemployment, particularly among youth, is much higher.

When it was overwhelmingly homogeneous, Scandinavia could be sold as a bastion of racial enlightenment. But now with a large-scale migration from the Middle East, anti-immigrant parties, some of which would make our “deplorables” look like ethnic studies professors, are in clear ascendance. At the same time “socialist” Europe is now experiencing rising inequality, and even on green issues, the capitalist-oriented United States is reducing emissions more quickly than Europe, including climate-focused Germany.

Resisting Asia’s takeover

Europe, for all its charm, is largely a matter of the past, particularly if it fails to ignite growth in its beleaguered southern and eastern periphery. Not one of the world’s 10 largest firms and not one of the major internet platforms is located there. The real competition, in tech, finance and manufacturing, lies increasingly in China, whose share of world output has grown from 4 percent in 1990 to a projected 21 percent in 2022.

China also presents a powerful political challenge. Author Parag Khanna hails a new Asia-led world order, but it’s clear a China-centered world would be built on an authoritarian, centralized rule model. China’s racially homogeneous, high-tech autocracy is not concerned with expanding freedom, but worries mostly about a potential uprising from an alienated and economically threatened working class.

Our own oligarchs may be venal and even deluded, but China’s economic elite reaps the benefits of higher levels of collusion; most, as Australian political scientist David Goodman has found, come from families with prominent Communist Party connections. Similarly, the foreign economic policy of the Middle Kingdom — epitomized by the “belt and road” initiative — seems designed to create dependent vassal states in the grand imperial tradition.

Rethinking the New Deal, and what it sought to do

Conservatives often argue, sometimes persuasively, that the New Deal’s regulation and spending slowed the recovery from the Depression. But Roosevelt critically embraced policies that gave greater power to once marginal groups including industrial workers, farmers and those seeking modest homes of their own. Under the Green New Deal, by some accounts, even those “unwilling to work” would receive a basic income, a sharp diversion from the welfare that Roosevelt saw as “a narcotic.”

Similarly, the New Deal extended prosperity through infrastructure investments in vast parts of the country, notably in the South and West, while promoting environmental resiliency with massive tree planting, reservoirs and hydro-electric facilities. In contrast, the Green New Deal, by precipitously shutting down all fossil fuels, would gut the mid-American oil patch, and, by boosting electricity prices, much of the industrial Midwest.

The planning regime of the neo-progressives also breaks with FDR’s passionate embrace of “a nation of homeowners.” Roosevelt, and his successors, sought to both disperse property ownership and improve living conditions; the Green New Deal, as we can already see in its dry run here in California, seeks to force potential homeowners into overpriced apartments while depressing industrial and other higher-wage blue collar employment.

The likeliest winners in this newest New Deal will be neither the climate nor the working class but an empowered clerisy of academics, high-level bureaucrats, law firms and well-funded progressive nonprofits. Granted almost unlimited regulatory power over how people should live, they would preside over something resembling the “virtuocracy” of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in which people were judged based on family background and ideological purity. To seek a better future, America needs not to ape others, but rediscover better role models, including those provided by the original New Deal, hiding in plain sight.

This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website and is a regular contributor to, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

Photo: Tysto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons