Trump is right, Newsweek. Socialism doesn't work

On Tuesday, President Trump addressed the United Nations and, shocking to no one savelLeft-of-center news agencies, he expressed his strong belief in his own economic policies; in America—its people, way of life, and the Constitution which governs it; and in business enterprise as a path to freedom and prosperity.  Trump’s speech, optimistic and pro-American as it was, falls in the mainstream of American presidential tradition.  Indeed, it is the stuff of a Truman or a Reagan.

But you’d never know it from how it was reported.

The Guardian called it “a blunt, fearful rant.” 

That is a more apt description for The Guardian itself.  (Trust me, I know.  I’ve been trashed by them no less than twice for a claim I never made and they never bothered to verify.)

Salon said Trump “careened wildly from some warped form of principled realism to threats of mass annihilation and back again.” 

The people who believe in the naïve, unworkable, utopian ideology of socialism no longer live in Beijing, Moscow, or Hanoi. On the contrary, socialism’s modern advocates reside in such places as London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and, increasingly, Washington.

Perhaps Salon, careening wildly from one Trump attack-piece to another, is unaware of the fact that America has been threatened with “mass annihilation” by a declared enemy with an increasing capability to do it.  Someone should tell them.

Slate characterized it as “the most hostile, dangerous, and intellectually confused—if not outright dishonest—speech ever delivered by an American president to an international body.”

We live in an age of hyperbole and this is an excellent example of it.  I encourage you to read the full text of Trump’s speech and decide for yourself if it was “the most hostile, dangerous … speech ever” or if this is the worst reporting in the history of human civilization.  Ever.

Then there is John Haltiwanger’s article in Newsweek titled, “Trump was laughed at by world leaders for dissing socialism.”

This column caught my attention both for its content and lack of content.  The title alone intrigued me—as good titles are supposed to do—but for all the wrong reasons.  I mean, really?  I know we live in the age of 24/7/365 news cycles and the hunger for fresh web content is relentless, but has Newsweek sunk so low that an article that feels like dialogue lifted from the script of "Mean Girls" is now counted as serious journalism?

Let’s consider Mr. Haltiwanger’s argument, such as it is.

As the title indicates, his critique of Trump’s speech centers on the president’s “dissing” of socialism.  Haltiwanger writes:

When President Donald Trump criticized socialism during his speech Tuesday at the United Nations, he seemed to expect roaring approval from the audience.  Instead, world leaders responded with laughter and weak applause.  It was perhaps the most awkward moment of Trump’s speech.

Speaking on the recent crisis in Venezuela, Trump said, “The problem...is not that socialism has been poorly implemented but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”

“From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure,” Trump added.

In the middle of his comments, Trump paused to take the room’s temperature, but it was apparent world leaders were unmoved by the rebuke of the worker state.  The room was silent.  It was reminiscent of Jeb Bush’s “please clap” moment….  Video of the [president’s] speech has immortalized the uncomfortable moment.

That Trump would do such a thing is, for Haltiwanger, evidence of the president’s buffoonery, lack of sophistication, and his failure to properly read “the room’s temperature.” 

He includes a screenshot of a tweet from someone named Jordan, which reads, “The #UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] just LAUGHED at Trump for criticizing socialism.”

So what?

I laughed at Mr. Haltiwanger’s article, but this is no proof that it is logically flawed (though logically flawed it is).  The Left has always been overly sensitive to what the world thinks of America and its president.  They need global affirmation, it seems.  Obama was, for them, urbane, glamorous, “a gentleman,” as an acquaintance at the New York Times has often characterized him to me, as if these are defining characteristics of great national leaders.

By contrast, Trump is, for them, a national embarrassment with his comb-over, trademark scowl, and unfashionable patriotism.  How are we to stand toe-to-toe with France and Canada when they have socialist beefcakes like Macron and Trudeau?  Winston Churchill, who was neither a gentleman nor glamorous—and whose scowl was likewise perpetual—seems to have worked out rather well as Prime Minister.  Moreover, Churchill biographer Paul Reid has said that Churchill, ever a reactionary, “would out-tweet Trump.”

Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Trump expected, as Haltiwanger maintains, “roaring approval from the audience.”  According to a 2015 Freedom House study of 195 nations—and, at the moment, there are precisely 195 nations in the world—only 46 percent of them are deemed free.  Worse, that same report says the world is trending away from freedom -- 193 of the countries included in this report are member states of the United Nations, North Korea and Venezuela among them.  Trump “seemed to expect roaring approval”?  Please.  Ann Coulter will sooner get applause at Berkeley than Trump before such an audience as this one.

Of course, the reason the author tells us that UN “leaders responded with laughter and weak applause” is because he is, in the spirit of an adolescent, inviting us to join in the mockery and scorn of this president.

Mr. Haltiwanger, who is clearly infatuated with the undeliverable promises of socialism, concludes his argument with what he apparently thinks is his article’s mic-drop moment, proving once and for all that socialism works and that Trump is an idiot for thinking otherwise:

Most industrialized countries, for example, have implemented universal health care.  Moreover, Norway was recently ranked the happiest country in the world, and it pointed to its strong state-support programs as crucial to achieving this accolade….  Several other Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, were also among the top 10 happiest countries in the world, according to the most recent figures….  The U.S., however, can't even make it into the top 10 happiest countries.  It’s ranked at No. 14.

Icelandic and Scandinavian happiness.

Let’s drill down on this a bit and the inference that socialism is the reason for it.  Norway’s designation as the “world’s happiest country” is based on a United Nations report.  You might think that this ranking comes from simple “yes” or “no” responses to the question, “Are you happy?”  It isn’t.  That is essentially what Gallup did and guess who dominated the top ten?  Paraguay and Latin America.  Neither Iceland nor a single Scandinavian country appeared in Gallup’s top ten.

So how did the guys at the UN produce entirely different results?  After spending an afternoon reading the UN report, that is still is unclear to me.  This is because their study is 184 pages of abstruse data and reads like this:

The U.S. corruption index rose by 0.10 between 2006/7 and 2015/6. With a coefficient -0.53 in the happiness regression, the negative effect on U.S. happiness is 0.054. Reversing the rise in perceived corruption would therefore raise happiness by 0.054….

Drilling down still more, we find that this report, as with any UN report I’ve ever read, has a very definite political agenda.  It concludes:

To escape this social quagmire, America’s happiness agenda should center on … an expanded social safety net, wealth taxes, and greater public financing of health and education….  [A]cknowledge and move past the fear created by 9/11 … Trump’s ban on travel to the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries is a continuing manifestation of the exaggerated and irrational fears that grip the nation.

So, from a haze of data on global happiness the report makes the illogical leap to America, Donald Trump, and the lack of “a social safety net”—i.e., lack of socialism—as the sources of unhappiness?  They could have saved themselves time, money, and the clever use of dubious statistics and just interviewed Maxine Waters—or Kim Jong Un.

Should we really be surprised that the UN, the body that commissioned this report, didn’t like Trump’s speech?

As for the myth that Iceland and Scandinavia are socialist utopias, it is interesting to note that these countries rank highest in the use of antidepressants.  Iceland holds the top spot while Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are all in the top ten.  It seems they rank high because they are, well, high.

While speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen rejected the idea that his country is socialist even though it has a much larger social welfare system:  “I know that some people in the U.S. associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism.  Therefore, I would like to make one thing clear.  Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.  Denmark is a market economy.”

I am currently going around the world investigating the question of national greatness.  In the last month, I have been in Japan, Singapore, and China.  Traveling across Asia, you quickly discover that no one outside of Pyongyang has faith in the tenets of Marx and Lenin anymore.  Not even China is truly socialistic.  That is because they know socialism doesn’t work. 

No, the people who believe in that naïve, unworkable, utopian ideology no longer live in Beijing, Moscow, or Hanoi.  On the contrary, socialism’s modern advocates reside in such places as London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and, increasingly, Washington.

Since we are using happiness as an indicator of socialism’s emotional influence, let’s look at Gallup’s least happy country: Ukraine.  I’ve spent a lot of time in that country.  Indeed, I’ve written a book on it, and I can tell you that Ukraine has been economically, intellectually, and spiritually assassinated by socialism.  Five more socialist (or formerly socialist) countries make Gallup’s bottom ten.

Trump is right to say that “wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.”

The failure of socialism is a wholly unjustified confidence in human government.  It is, as Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky observed long ago, “the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from earth, but to set up Heaven on earth.”

Larry Alex Taunton is the author of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist (2016) and the Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation. You can follow him at larryalextaunton.com or on Twitter @LarryTaunton.