Conservatives Kept Telling Me to Move to a Communist Country. So, I Did.
Every left-leaning American has probably heard it at some point.
“If you love socialism so much why don’t you move to a socialist country?”
It’s a tired trope, but one that Republicans and other conservatives have latched onto for quite awhile. Fox News pundits have certainly expressed similar sentiments on-air fairly often in recent years, possibly even more so prior to Trump’s presidency during the Obama years.
In the lead-up to Trump’s election in 2016, I definitely heard it a bunch. At the time, I was a passionate Bernie supporter reluctantly planning to vote for Hillary and, being that I have a very hard time biting my tongue when I see something I disagree with, I found myself quite frequently clashing with the opposition in comment threads in political groups on Facebook, or even just on a random local news channel’s page.
“These pu**y liberals wouldn’t last a minute in *insert developing country that conservatives think is communist here*.”
Fast-forward to August of 2017, seven months after Trump’s inauguration, and I was flying across the world to start a new chapter of my life in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A lot of people who opposed Trump talked a big game about taking the advice of conservatives and leaving the country if Trump won, but I actually did it. While it would be rather disingenuous for me to say that their words had any real effect on my decision to leave the US (I was planning to make this move regardless of the outcome of the election), the election’s results certainly reinforced my decision and made me more committed than ever to make the move a reality.
Vietnam’s full official English name is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. On paper, it is a Marxist-Leninist, one-party state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Opposition political parties are illegal, the CPV reigns supreme and sets the tone for the country politically from the local level to the national level, and the country is ranked poorly by some sources in terms of things like press freedom and other various measures that Western democracies consider to be the foundations of liberty.
In short, it would be a boogeyman for conservatives, if not for the ire that their more famous neighbor to the north draws, which certainly takes the spotlight away from smaller Asian socialist states like Vietnam, or fellow ASEAN member Laos.
In reality, however, life in Vietnam couldn’t be further from the communist nightmares that keep Republicans up at night. In 2019, Vietnam had the 35th largest economy in the world by GDP (PPP), and was the 12th fastest growing economy globally, seeing a 7% increase in total GDP according to the IMF. Furthermore, due to its incredible success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, Vietnam is still looking at having a positive growth rate for its economy this year, despite losing an unthinkable amount of tourist revenue due to having effectively closed the borders since March.
Rather than bread lines and unrelenting poverty, visitors to Vietnam are more likely to notice a rapidly growing middle class and quickly modernizing cities as the backdrop to the country’s incredible scenery and vibrant culture. The Maserati dealership I pass by on my commute home from work every night certainly doesn’t evoke images of a centrally-planned economy and brutal oppression, though perhaps concerns about growing income inequality do spring to mind.
As far as my own life here is concerned, I’ve found Vietnam to be a place where I have the time, space, and freedom to explore my passions in ways that I couldn’t have possibly imagined experiencing back home. I can say without hesitation that moving here was the best decision I’ve ever made. Admittedly, my experiences in Southeast Asia as a white male whose native language is English are going to be vastly different and full of privileges that most local people will never be afforded. But frankly, the level of basic autonomy that, at least from my perspective, most Vietnamese seem to have over their daily lives simply does not exist back home in the supposed freest country in the world, where minorities are policed (and even killed) for simply existing.
Of course, that’s not to say that the country’s problems regarding human rights and political freedom are not real, or that socialist economic policies are solely responsible for the transformation occurring here. Freedom of the press is absolutely limited in Vietnam, for example, and there have been liberal economic reforms such as Đổi Mới in 1986, which aimed to create a “socialist-oriented market economy” and led to massive economic growth.
There are also the standard problems that virtually all developing countries have to deal with, such as pollution, corruption, and, in some areas, sub-standard infrastructure. Life here isn’t perfect, and for many Vietnamese it still isn’t easy, either. But for basically the first time in its history, the country is both fully independent and unified, and is finally at peace after generations of war. For the majority of its citizens, life has improved markedly over the 45 years that the CPV has been in power over the reunified nation, and the party’s leadership is responsible for some remarkable accomplishments, such as the total eradication of illiteracy, which was achieved during times of famine and war.
It’s also necessary to note that not all socialist and communist states are created equal. The absolutely abhorrent and evil actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, for instance, are universally condemned as genocidal and indefensible. For a more recent example, China’s ongoing treatment of Uighurs is something that should be denounced globally and thoroughly investigated, and their neo-colonial actions in Africa shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than modern-day imperialism. On the other hand, you’ll almost never catch any conservatives using the highly-developed social democracies of Northern Europe as examples in their arguments against leftist ideas, either, despite the fact that those are the countries that the American left actually wants to model any changes after.
It is, however, important to acknowledge that conservatives’ demonization of developing countries, especially those with any leftist economic policies, is rife with hypocrisy. Human rights violations being called out in places like Vietnam or Venezuela, while certainly worthy of attention and investigation, are more often than not also being committed by the United States and its allies, either at home where Trump is having unmarked federal agents kidnap citizens without due process, or abroad under the guise of “spreading democracy”.
The Republican love affair with the idea that all the liberals should pack their bags and head off to some communist utopia (hellhole?) is absurd, but it’s perfectly on-brand for American right-wingers. That the overwhelming majority of Democrats and even further left-leaning Americans do not even slightly resemble communists is unimportant; the American right loves to disparage and make boogeymen out of anything that will incite a passionate, fear-based response from their supporters. It doesn’t matter that the US and its allies commit war crimes and human rights violations on the regular, because communism and socialism are scary words from a bygone era that Republicans can use to whip their base into a frenzy by telling them that the Democrats aspire to turn the United States into a communist nightmare like *those countries*.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that many of the so-called “communist countries” that Republicans love to denigrate are non-white and non-Christian, which taps into their base’s deep-seated fear of the other, and makes any frightening claims about how liberals want to completely change the very foundations of the Unites States to resemble those countries — or worse yet, open its borders to anyone who wants to immigrate from those countries — that much more powerful and believable.
So, of course far-right conservatives are going to tell anyone to the left of them that they should hop on the next flight to Cuba, or Venezuela, or China. They’re terrified. They’ve been deluded into fearing the specter of communism and the idea that their way of life is going to be ripped out from underneath them by America-hating Democrats, when in reality the things that they fear much more closely resemble fascism, something that’s been developing right under their noses for years with their unwitting consent.
And now, that fascism is coming home to roost. The future of the United States as a stable democracy is murkier than it’s ever been, facing a threat from within that could unravel the entire system. So the next time a conservative offers to fly you out to a communist country of your choosing, consider taking them up on it. It might just be the best decision you ever make.