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Beware the enemy within

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Niall Ferguson

Mar. 13 2019

If you'd told me 30 years ago America would be in another Cold War with another communist superpower by 2019, I wouldn't have believed you. If you had told me that, simultaneously, socialism would be the height of fashion with young Americans, I would have directed you to a psychiatrist.

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In 2016 a Cold War between the United States and China seemed like the febrile fantasy of Steve Bannon and a few fringe academics. Even Donald Trump's campaign threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods struck me as a throwback to an earlier era. I remember patiently making the counterargument that the incoming Trump administration would be better served by improving relations with China and Russia and making the permanent members of the UN security council act like the five great powers after the Congress of Vienna — maintaining a global balance of power.

I had been reading too much Henry Kissinger. I should have listened more to Graham Allison, another Harvard-trained veteran of US national security policy. When he told me he was writing a book on the US-China relationship with the title Destined for War, I was incredulous. Chapeau, Graham. You were right.

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But I am more worried by America's enemies within, who are surely much more numerous than during the Cold War. I don't mean the Chinese immigrants, though I fear that in a new Cold War they might have their loyalty called into question, like German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during the world wars. My concern is with those native-born Americans whose antipathy to Trump is leading them in increasingly strange directions.

The vogue for socialism among Democratic voters is one sign of the times. According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents view socialism positively, as against 47% who view capitalism positively.

The left-wing firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done much to make socialism sexy on Capitol Hill this year. Even more disturbing, because it is much more subtle, is the way her fellow Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, is making Islamism acceptable. Last week she and her allies won a significant victory by turning a resolution intended to condemn Omar's recent anti-semitic remarks into one that also condemned "anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities" and deflected the blame for those who "weaponise hate" onto "white supremacists".

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