Acton Institute Powerblog

The top 5 insights of RNC 2020, day 1

The 42nd Republican National Convention, the first virtual convention in GOP history, commenced on Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Its lineup of speakers highlighted the fact that the American dream is an enduring reality for minorities and immigrants, the harms that teachers unions inflict on students (and some teachers), and the incompatibility of socialism with Christian teaching.

1. Christianity and socialism are incompatible.

Maximo Alvarez, the Cuban emigré who became a successful American businessman, recounted the way socialism came to dominate his homeland by deception. “When Fidel Castro was asked if he was a communist, he said he was a Roman Catholic. He knew he had to hide the truth,” Alvarez said.

When Castro came to power, aided by media deception that portrayed him as a liberator, the American people understood that Christianity and Marxism are antithetical to one another. “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms,” wrote Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno. “[N]o one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” A generation earlier, Pope Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum that “it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected.” Socialism, he added, “only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind,” and would “destroy the structure of the home.” Historically, all branches of Christianity – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant – condemned socialism as incompatible with the faith.

This message should be heard by the Jesuit publication America, which ran a glowing obituary of Fidel Castro and has made a putative “Catholic Case for Communism,” or by the National Catholic Reporter which has dubbed democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the “future of the [Roman] Catholic Church.”

2. Medical innovation saves lives; socialized medicine kills.

When doctors diagnosed Natalie Harp with “a rare and a terminal bone cancer,” she saw her options dwindle. After traditional cancer treatments did not work for her, “no one wanted me in their clinical trials; I’d make them look bad.”

Some in the medical profession implied that she should embrace death as a sacrifice to scarcity. “I was told I was a burden to my family and to my country – and that by choosing to die early, I’d actually be saving the lives of others by preserving resources for them rather than wasting them on a lost cause like myself,” she said, heartbroken.

Harp warned that, under “government-run healthcare,” her nightmare would be nationalized:

We wouldn’t just be unable to keep our doctors, we’d be lucky if we could see any doctor. Even then, some of us would be denied care – for in socialized medicine, you don’t beat the odds; you become the odds. And I would lose my Right-to-Try, just like Charlie Gard, that terminally-ill British baby whose government-run healthcare system decided it was too expensive and too “cruel” to keep him alive.

Baby Charlie Gard’s tragic fate would be repeated by Alfie Evans. Harp’s case compares best with that of Barbara Wagner, a cancer patient told by the Oregon Health Plan that the state would not cover the cost of her treatment – but it would pay $50 for her assisted suicide. Citizens learn quickly that, under socialized medicine, healthcare is anything but universal.

Thankfully, unlike these cases, Harp survived due to the Right to Try Act, which gives people with life-threatening illnesses to avail themselves of as-yet unapproved treatments. Harp expressed her gratitude to President Trump, who signed the bill into law on May 30, 2018. “Without you, I’d have died waiting for [the cure] to be approved,” she said.

3. Teachers unions put their members’ interests above children (and some teachers).

As the school year commences, “states with stronger teachers unions … are significantly less likely to reopen in person,” according to Corey DeAngelis of the Cato Institute. Some union bosses made unrelated demands, like the abolition of charter schools and defunding the police, a precondition for reopening.

“When other dedicated teachers and I served within the unions, we spoke up in defense of children, parents, scientific fact, and American values,” said Rebecca Friedrichs. “For our trouble, we were brutalized, booed off the platform, barred from committees, shouted down, and even spit upon by union leaders” and called “spawns of Satan.”

Friedrichs led her fellow teachers in a battle against compulsory union fees, which violate the educators’ consciences while facilitating the NEA’s radical political agenda. The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in her case, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but overturned compulsory public union fees in its 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

Like all unions, teachers unions exist to extract the highest possible advantage for its members, not to look after the common good. This is why Franklin D. Roosevelt believed public sector unions should not exist. Teachers unions “spend hundreds of millions annually to defeat charter schools and school choice – trapping so many precious, low-income children in dangerous, corrupt, and low-performing schools,” Friedrichs said – although students who attend Chicago’s charter schools are 7% more likely to graduate and 11% more likely to enroll in college. Unions have even blocked thousands of children from accessing online public charter schools, because traditional public schools could not compete.

However, teachers unions do not wait for a virus to threaten children’s education. Public school teachers in multiple states held strikes before the coronavirus pandemic, despite the fact that studies find teachers’ strikes have a “statistically significant” and “negative” impact on students’ test scores.

Denying students an adequate education not only impacts children but has implications for the civic health of our nation. “The only way to keep a free republic is with a well-educated, moral citizenry that can self-govern,” she noted. “Unions are subverting our republic.”

4. The American Dream is alive and well for the black community.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., explained how the “evolution of the Southern heart” let his family go “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.” He drew on family history to show how hard work and opportunity allowed his family to enjoy nearly miraculous progress since his grandfather’s generation:

Growing up, he had to cross the street if a white person was coming. He suffered the indignity of being forced out of school as a third grader to pick cotton, and never learned to read or write. Yet, he lived to see his grandson become the first African American to be elected to both the United States House and Senate. Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime. And that’s why I believe the next American century can be better than the last.

That one lifetime – his mother’s – traveled the difficult road of work, private poverty alleviation, and sacrifice. “We lived in a two bedroom house with my grandparents – me, my mom, and my brother sharing a room and a bed,” he said. “My mom worked 16 hours a day.”

In time, a Chick-fil-A employee taught Scott that “having a job was a good thing, but creating jobs would be better. That having an income could change my lifestyle, but creating a profit could change my community.” Finding his place in our system of free exchange allowed Scott to say, “I am living my mother’s American Dream.”

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, so were many others in the black community. Tax cuts and deregulation created the lowest black unemployment level in U.S. history, and the number of business startups founded by black women more than doubled between 2016 and 2018.

Scott’s story echoes the even more dramatic life of Robert Smalls, a runaway slave who fought in the Union army, then bought his former owner’s plantation and served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smalls is featured in our forthcoming issue of Religion & Liberty. Both lives eloquently refute the notion that black lives do not matter.

5. The American Dream is indispensable for the rest of the world.

Maximo Alvarez delivered by far the most moving speech of the night because he, too, invoked family. His father, who had a sixth-grade education, fled totalitarianism in Spain, then again in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. When his family arrived in America, his father gave him the heavy charge of American citizenship: “Don’t lose this place. … There is nowhere left to go.”

“By the grace of God, I have lived the American Dream – the greatest blessing I’ve ever had,” Alvarez told the RNC. “I’m speaking to you today because my family is done abandoning what it’s rightfully earned.”

Americans stand in danger of losing their republic, he warned. Demands for socialism, couched as an ever-expanding patchwork of government programs, echo in the voice of Castro and Ché Guevara:

Those false promises – spread the wealth, free healthcare, defund the police, trust a socialist state more than your family and your community – they don’t sound radical to my ears. They sound familiar. …

When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland and other cities, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises – I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun. …

I still hear my dad: “There is no other place to go.”

Alvarez’s emotional speech underlines the importance of preserving American freedom – not merely for “ourselves and our posterity” but for those all over the world yearning to breathe free. Legal immigration (let alone illegal immigration) has not reached an historic high over the last 30 years because of “our tragic history” or because the United States employs a secret racial “caste system.” Immigrants risk their lives because they see the United States the way Ronald Reagan did, as “the last best hope of man on Earth,” or as what Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright called “the indispensable nation.” The United States remains the land of constitutionally limited government, unalienable rights, and free enterprise – a land whose inclusion and acceptance allows well-meaning people of every race, language, and culture to offer their gifts and rise as high as their God-given talent allows.

You may watch Maximo Alvarez’s passionate speech below:

 

 (Photo credit: Screenshot.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.