Robert F. Jakubowicz: Republican Party's socialist Pilgrim myth
PITTSFIELD >> Many politicians and their supporters peddle American history to support their political positions and most of it, especially about the Founders of the nation, is nonsense.
An example of this occurred at the GOP convention during a televised an interview of a Donald Trump supporter. He claimed that most Americans don't know that William Bradford, as the governor of the Pilgrims, first established a commune based on socialism. But it failed and when Bradford switched to capitalism, the colony thrived.
His point was that the federal government has drifted too far into socialism with programs like Obamacare and it should change like the Pilgrims, our Founders, did. He stressed that the private sector should deal with such matters as health care, education and the like. In his view this is what is at stake in this election. A drastic downsizing of government with Trump, or the continuation of big government with Hillary Clinton.
Tea partiers looking for an argument against big government in American history have taken up this narrative about the Pilgrims and socialism. They believe that in this election, they found a national leader, Trump, who will actually downsize government and let the free market deal with many of America's problems.
Right wing radio talk hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck use this Pilgrim story, according to William Hogeland who writes and speaks about connections between American history and current political and cultural struggles as a story of "socialism failed."
Hogeland wrote that the Pilgrims were not socialist. I agree. He noted they were "hard-lined Calvinist separationists" whose change from a commune-like society to one based on private property was a practical one so that the joint stock company that underwrote their colony could maximize profits.
One does not have to be a historian to understand the misinterpretation of the history of the Pilgrims as a story of "failed socialism." Their story is one of a small number, only 40, that came here on the Mayflower with the intent of separating from the Church of England. The other 60 passengers were less pious adventurers. They suffered extreme hardships and survived with the help of native Americans. When they came here they were interested in survival and the practice of their religion, not the creation of a political entity based on socialism, capitalism, or democracy.
New U.S. realities
The Pilgrims in America in the 1600s lived in a tiny, agricultural-based society which required hard work. Things have changed drastically since that time.
Now a huge American population lives much longer with many needing help. The elderly suffer numerous medical problems requiring costly medical services. Jobless Americans need help between jobs, if they can find them. Most families are hard-pressed to pay for a college education for their children. Too much poverty still exists, and there are many more similar problems requiring solutions.
How can the free market take care of such problems? It cannot. Former congressman Ron Paul, the consummate libertarian. made that clear, During one of his unsuccessful presidential campaigns, he was asked whether he had a problem with a person who was dying because of a lack of finances to pay for needed medical care. His answer in effect was simply that this is an unfortunate aspect of the system.
The Republicans' answer over the years for removing or drastically scaling back government safety nets for the needy is that reduced taxes and deregulation of business will lead to jobs and a thriving private sector that will take care of many of these problems. This has been attempted in various degrees by former Republican administrations under George W. Bush and Reagan and none of it produced the results predicted by the Republicans.
Those who support Trump based on the misinterpretation of the Pilgrim story and other such distortions of history would be well advised to think hard about finding themselves or family members in what Paul said was an unfortunate situation. They, or members of their families, now receiving needed government assistance (Social Security, Medicare) or who may require it in the future may not find it because of such things as a bloated military budget, drastic tax cuts and a tax law favoring the wealthy.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular contributor to The Eagle.