When Kirstie Alley, star of Cheers and Look Who's Talking, was last in headlines, she was explaining how she had traded a cocaine habit for a flower addiction.
It's actually a really sweet story, but whatever is in those flowers must be pretty great stuff and seems to have overwhelmed any awareness of our cultural moment or political realities, because she has since been feeling herself on Twitter in a way that is truly remarkable. The latest entry in the saga arrived around the time the impeachment vote was announced on Wednesday night, when Donald Trump officially became the third president in US history to be impeached. If you want to say that impeachment may not be the right political move, or that other articles of impeachment would have been more effective, there are valid arguments to make. But Alley's take is not one of them.
Alley adopted a sage tone to declare it a "dangerous precedent" and let the world know that "it's gonna be a bumpy decade," as if allowing a president to exchange political help for military aid would not be a dangerous precedent, as if the coming years could somehow be anything but "bumpy" to the point of terrifying division and chaos. What world has she been living in? Does she not realize that the US is currently more divided than at any time since the Civil War? That every Republican lawmaker is beholden to a Trump-adoring constituency in a way that precludes any criticism of his petulant whims, racism, or corruption?
This is not the first time Alley has tweeted regrettable opinions about Trump and the Republican Party. She actually endorsed him in 2016 before walking back that endorsement after the Access Hollywood "grab them by the pussy" tape came out. So maybe she has an ulterior motive in criticizing the Democrats for finally standing up to this absurd regime. More importantly, when she talks about the dire backlash that's headed our way, what does she think that will look like? Will Republicans no longer allow a Democratic president to appoint a Supreme Court justice? Will they redraw maps to cling to power? Or adopt obstructionist tactics with the explicit goal of ensuring that the next Democrat in power only serves a single term? Or maybe they'll just track down a petty personal scandal to build an impeachment case on. That would be so crazy...
In case you don't feel like clicking those links, I'll just let you and Kirstie Alley know that all those things have already happened. And the process of avoiding craven political retaliation from the Republicans would be literally indistinguishable from letting them do whatever they want. So… nice try.
But Alley has other opinions, too. On Monday she also wanted the world to know that she is staunchly anti-socialist. So much so that she recently compared the term "democratic socialist" to "gentle nazi." Strange, then, that the handful of Democratic Socialist countries in Europe are listed as full democracies, according to the Democratic Index. This is in contrast to America's "flawed democracy." And really, all the countries rated "full democracies" incorporate more socialist-leaning policies than the US—like single-payer health care, or fully socialized medicine, just as an example. Is it possible that Kirstie Alley doesn't know what she's talking about? Did she grow up in an era that poisoned her mind with trickle-down, free market, American exceptionalism, domino effect Cold War propaganda? Is she maybe…a boomer?
The reality is that, whatever the issues with its implementation, the underlying ethos of socialism is fundamentally more democratic than that of capitalism. Under true capitalism—and to a lesser extent America's dilute form—owners necessarily control everything from work to speech to political power. You have rights to the extent that you can own things, and the right to ownership is the only one that's fundamental. Under true socialism—and to a lesser extent the dilute form found in Scandinavia—workers are in control of their work and the nation's wealth belongs to the will and the needs of its citizens.
In other words, a Democratic Socialist is far from the contradiction Alley lays out in "gentle Nazi." So as long as we're in agreement that Nazis are fundamentally violent and bad, maybe we can get on the same team with standing up to the politician who has made them feel welcome in America? And if we aren't going to impeach him for creating concentration camps at the border and deporting tens of thousands of people to face death and sexual assault as a result of violence that we export to our southern neighbors, can we at least hold him accountable when he tries to cheat his way through reelection? No? That's a bad precedent?
The truth is that the truly bad precedents in our politics stretch back decades. Since at least the days of Newt Gingrich, the GOP has adopted the approach of pushing as far right as they possibly can while labelling taxes, regulations, social services, and critiques of expanding wealth inequality as "Socialism." In response, Clintonist Democrats have tacked toward the center on economic issues, running away from any accusation of radicalism or a desire for dramatic change.
The result has been that the political left in America has spent decades slowly eroding while the "center" has shifted further and further toward the economic right—toward favoring ownership above all else. And while those economic right policies are not really all that popular with Americans today, the regressive social agenda that the GOP has attached to it has a vocal, enthusiastic core of straight white support—one that makes plenty of room for figures like Donald Trump, Steve King, David Duke, and real, live, non-gentle Nazis.
Now Millennials are faced with being the first generation of Americans since the New Deal who have worse prospects for the future than their parents. And Kirstie Alley apparently sees nothing wrong with that. While many of us are waking up to a potential for economic progress and wondering if the socialist boogeyman was all that scary to begin with, Kirstie just wants to go back to the civil politics that brought all of this on—back to a time when the idea of a more equitable distribution of wealth was not even on the table.
Fortunately, not everyone is so rigid in their mindset. Alley's thoughts on socialism were prompted by an interaction with Hillary-Clinton-advisor-turned-darling-of-the-far-left Peter Daou, who had offered a challenge to Twitter at large: justify the existence of billionaires. Come up with a reason why any individual should own so much money. So much power. Money rules our lives—our politics, our press, our legal system—so what could possibly justify one person having such immense sway over all those sectors? The power to buy legislation, kill negative news stories, and get away with any crime you want to commit. Who deserves that?
Alley had a lazy and thoughtless response ready to go: all you have to do is come up with something really nifty! If enough people want to give you money for it, you deserve to have dominion over the world! The follow up was even less compelling, but I want to dig in on this idea. Don't get me wrong, people who create great products and services deserve reward and recognition. Of all the world's ultra-wealthy people, the small group of successful creators are the ones who most nearly deserve what they have. But a billion of dollars?
Let's say you invent a cool video game that everyone likes? Well, now you have enough money that you can blast your awesome opinions about race and sexuality as loudly as you want. Good for you, Notch! Though you might want to spread your wings and buy up some media companies like some other billionaires have done. If you do that, you can basically just run for president and everyone will have to take you seriously! All because of that video game you came up with, Notch. Or the money you illegally inherited from your dad, Donald. Or that emerald mine in Africa, Elon. Makes a lot of sense.
Definitely looks like a kid who deserves even more money
It would be easy and petty to run through Kirstie Alley's acting credits as though the legacy of Veronica's Closet precludes her from doing some background reading before involving herself in politics. I don't think that actors of any stripe—or anyone else with a platform, an audience, and a message—should be excluded from a conversation on the basis of benign things they've done for money. That isn't why Kirstie Alley is out of her depth here.
You can make movies about talking babies and even be a Scientologist and still have important things to say—though maybe not about psychiatry. You also don't need to have three degrees in political science to have a valid opinion on current events. But if you really think that creating a thing that people want is so inherently good as to justify the wild excesses of unrestrained capitalism, you should at least be willing to read The Lorax to get a sense of where that leads.