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Are We Living in ‘Late Soviet America’? Niall Ferguson and Jonah Goldberg Debate.

A few weeks ago, fresh from being knighted by King Charles, historian Sir Niall Ferguson officially joined The Free Press as a columnist. His first piece was rather provocatively called “We’re…

A few weeks ago, fresh from being knighted by King Charles, historian Sir Niall Ferguson officially joined The Free Press as a columnist. His first piece was rather provocatively called “We’re All Soviets Now.” He argued why he thinks today’s United States resembles the decaying Soviet Union of the ’70s and ’80s. We’re physically unwell, heavily in debt, run by an out-of-touch gerontocracy, and subjected to a bogus ideology pushed by elites.

This was published before the disastrous presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Since then, Niall has only doubled down. He argued in his most recent column that the reason our system only offers up an embarrassing blowhard and a senile old man lies in contemporary America’s similarities to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Unsurprisingly, these provocative arguments drove some people crazy. We’d scarcely updated the homepage with that first column before the rebuttals came pouring in. But none were quite as passionate and thorough as the one written by Dispatch editor-in-chief Jonah Goldberg, who devoted an entire column to pushing back on Ferguson. In “No, We Are Not Living in ‘Late Soviet America,’ ” Goldberg conceded some of the basic facts presented by Ferguson, but aggressively objected to the idea that the United States was in any way similar to late-stage Soviet communism. “Do we have problems that have some superficial similarities with the Soviets? Sure. But. . . come on.” Goldberg continued: “The Soviet Union built a wall to keep its subjects trapped inside their evil empire. Many Americans understandably believe we need a wall to keep millions of people desperate to live here out.” Because at the end of the day, Goldberg argued, “America is simply not like the Soviet Union.” 

Ferguson fought back on Twitter in an 18-part thread, in which he accused Goldberg of “pure cope.” And back and forth they went for days.

We’re happy to announce that they agreed to hash it all out on this very podcast. . . today. 

The debate we ended up having was much bigger than merely whether the U.S. can accurately be compared to the USSR. It got to the heart of a core disagreement on the right in recent years about the health of American democracy—and whether the nation is still exceptional, albeit flawed, or if the country is in a state of inexorable decline. 

It’s a fitting conversation to have right after the Fourth of July and as pundits and politicians fill airtime and columns with questions about our leader’s fitness for the job, presidential transparency, and whether it’s undemocratic to replace Biden on the election ticket. Because today’s conversation gets to the heart of how the American project is faring, and what we should do to save the country we all love before it’s too late.

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