Perhaps the most telling moment of President Trump’s State of the Union was his rejection of socialism. The Republicans stood and applauded while most of the Democrats just sat and stared. Did they really just signal to us that they all want socialism?
Keep in mind that America is quite unlike any civilization in history. America is a culture forged by an ethic, not a common background. Immigrants from all over the world came here to seek opportunity, not government benefits. The Pilgrims had no promise of Medicare.
Incredibly, the American population more than doubled in the second half of the 1800s, despite 700,000 Civil War deaths. Much of that growth was due to immigrants. Yet, the latter years of the 1800s were not marked with dangerous social strife between the many cultures living and competing in such proximity.
Yes, there were clashes, but because the U.S. economy grew as much as 400 percent by some estimates, opportunity abounded and America became a melting pot of those pursuing life, liberty and happiness.
That is threatened today.
Government is the largest sector of the economy -- and a good deal of that is social welfare spending. Today, well over half of Americans receive some type of check from government. As for immigrants, according to a report on the 2014 census, “63 percent of non-citizens are using a welfare program, and it grows to 70 percent for those here 10 years or more.”
In short, reliance on government, once disdained, is now becoming an American “cultural” norm.
All of which brings us back to the state of our economic growth. As government growth exploded over the last 50 years, economic growth dropped from an average of 4 percent per year to under 2 percent by 2016. That is not a coincidence. It is cause and effect.
Such weak growth is not enough to sustain America as the land of opportunity. Remember the European Union has had zero growth for some 20 years and government spending and the cost of regulations represent nearly 70 percent of their economies.
If America continues on the path of welfare state socialism, like Europe, our growth will decline to zero as well. Historically, amid such lack of growth, voters turn to politicians to divide up the stagnant, fixed economic pie. If prolonged, that dynamic has meant class warfare. Recently, we have seen both in Europe and the beginnings of it here.
The difference between America and anywhere else is that if we are a society dependent on government, we would no longer be a culture forged together by the pursuit of opportunity.
In a very real sense, and unlike in any place in history, the question of welfare state socialism in America is not just one of political fortunes but a fight over the very soul of our civilization. That is why President Trump is so very right to want to preserve our binding ethic and reject socialism.
Thomas G. Del Beccaro is the author of "The Divided Era."