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The Green New Deal – Living in America Series

February 22, 2019
By

When a haircut can lead to heated words about socialism in Trump’s America

I have not seen much hope of Americans embracing socialism as a possibility in reorganizing this increasingly broken society. Early this week, for example, I paid a visit to my barber. He’s ex-military, an ex-baker, an ex-tattoo artist, and a pretty decent haircutter. He was upset about the Green New Deal.

“What about my car? I won’t give up my Camaro for anyone,” he almost shouted. He was clearly angry. “I want to fill it with real gas.” He was clearly miffed that anyone might suggest he use biodegradable fuel in his hotrod.

He moved on to a perceived threat to this business, a part-time barbershop just off the freeway that he shares with a hairdresser. “I want to decide when and where I set up my business and how I run it.”

I was puzzled as to where the deal was challenging his business, then I realized that his information sources were right-wing commentators and regular Trump advisers Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity. For them this deal was anti-capitalist regardless of its intent to fight for a safer environment.

It seemed my barber had embraced the critics of the deal, some of whom suggested that he “it was a socialist plot to take away your ice cream,” according to a New York Times report. On the other hand, the deal’s proponents claim that it “must also tackle poverty, income inequality and racial discrimination.”

Just to be clear the Times further explains that “the proposal calls on the federal government to wean the United States from fossil fuels and curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions across the economy. It also aims to guarantee new high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.” It’s a non-binding resolution, not a law.

After Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Senator Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts) tabled the deal, Republicans condemned it using what has become the GOP’s usual array of untruths and inaccuracies.

Starting with the nation’s top liar, President Trump said the deal would take away your “airplane rights.” He is concerned that the deal would minimize air travel by creating a new system of fast trains and other more efficient transportation options. My barber rarely flies so that was of less concern than the apparent threat to his 1976 Camaro.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is worried about the rail alternative. For him, the deal would force Americans to “ride around on high-speed light rail, supposedly powered by unicorn tears.” Even my barber knew that unicorn tears would not work very well.

Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) saw the deal undermining the American dream, falsely claiming that “ice cream, cheeseburgers and milkshakes would be a thing of the past because under the Green New Deal, “livestock will be banned.” 

No Republican has proposed another way to deal effectively with global warming through the lowering of greenhouse gases and they agree with President Trump that it is all a hoax. But my barber didn’t seem concerned. He seemed content to be counted among the climate change deniers despite the huge scientific consensus about this very real threat to the globe.  

As my barber clipped around my growing bald spot, I suggested that the deal might not be such a bad idea. I had grown up in Canada where we have often supported a modest form of socialism or social democracy and that it had benefitted me rather than hindering my progress in life.

Hearing that he tempered his tirade against the deal, but he picked up speed again at the word socialism. Americans have an unnatural aversion to the word and my barber was no exception. It’s a holdover from the Cold War, I suppose. No matter how bad capitalism gets, there is no way most Americans will even say the word socialism.

Thank goodness a few clear-thinkers are starting to weigh the possibility of an American socialism and to discuss how to avoid the mistakes of early versions. I considered joking that by Make America Socialist for a Change might replace Trump’s Make America Great Again. But on quick reflection, I thought better of it.

At this point, the hum of the clippers was closing in on my sideburns and I was feeling vulnerable. Not that he would intentionally hurt me, but the clippers were flashing wildly as he paraphrased President Trump’s latest anti-socialist tweet.

As he cooled out, I tried to rationalize the proposed deal. Politics is negotiations, I said. You take a hardline but leave room for compromise. That is what the Green New Dealers are doing. I added that they are probably adopting a hardline strategy not unlike the New Deal that was needed to fight the Nazi threat. Given our increasingly ravaged climate, the strategy is is understandable. Scientists are ever-more clear that the sky will eventually fall; it’s just a matter of when.

He went quiet as he carefully trimmed my eyebrows. He looked out at his Camaro in the parking lot, a sign on the windshield advertised his shop. I paid for the cut and thanked him. “See you next time,” he said. I nodded, thinking how I might negotiate a New Deal on the price of a haircut.

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