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The Zombie Cold War

June 30, 2020

Thesis: The Cold War is not over, and we now live in a zombie, or ricochet, Cold War period. We are experiencing the long tail of that historical narrative.

Insofar as a certain segment of the United States electorate refuses to acknowledge any longstanding ideals of the commonweal, or of a social whole, and of the consequent voluntary subordination of individuals to that whole as a necessary function of the ancient notion of distributive justice, then we can’t effect a just government.

The Cold War created a hothouse domestic rhetorical environment where the notion of a social whole was dismissed as “collectivism,” “Bolshevism,” “Marxism,” and “communism.” Anything that sniffed of redistribution was then waved away, by conservatives and then predominantly Republicans (but not exclusive of Democrats), as anti-American.

For a time this Cold War mentality seemed to die first, domestically and materially, with the legal and political successes of the Civil Rights Movement. Reagan renewed the Cold War rhetoric, but then it seemed to slide more toward death, internationally, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the U.S.S.R. The Cold War seemed then a passing paradigm, losing favor to internatialism and neoliberalism. The Clintons and Obama represented the new ideological framework, with libertarianism lurking in opposition.

But the Cold War mentality persisted not just in how we have dealt with Russia and China as states. It has also persisted in a popular, on-the-ground refusal by Baby Boomer and a strong segment of Gen X voters, and some younger people strongly influenced by their Cold War outlook, to embrace communal sacrifices for the sake of the commonweal. The ancient ideal of distributive justice is meaningless to this kind of voter.

As such, we live now, in 2020, with the rhetorical echoes of the Cold War. For a persistent rump of voters, it is meaningful to paint #BlackLivesMatter with the red brush of Marxism. Bernie Sanders was effectively dismissed by this same rump as a socialist.

While it is true that the long-running myth of rugged individualism helps make this kind of rhetoric effective, and while it is also true that Trump himaelf does not operate with a Cold War mentality in relation to Putin’s Russia, it is a fact that FOX News and certain Trump-related media figures still regularly castigate Marxism, socialism, and collectivism. This red-baiting works with Boomers and those younger in their sphere of influence.

Thus, we live in the long tail of the Cold War. This zombie, ricochet Cold War is also giving us Biden as the safe candidate.

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