Hi Phil. Rand moved to the United States in 1926 — three years before Stalin took power. Her father’s pharmacy was confiscated by the Bolsheviks following the October revolution in 1917, and her family fled to the Crimean Peninsula, which was controlled by the anti-soviet White Army. Rand returned to Russia for college, and her course to graduation was also disrupted by the Bolsheviks. She did finish, though, and discovered in her course work many of the writers that influenced her.
As you say, it is understandable, given the tumult of her youth, that Rand would find any hint of socialism upsetting. At the same time, Rand was never interested in learning where advocates for social safety nets “were coming from” and framed her analyses of American society on the false dichotomy of capitalism vs. collectivism. She failed to make necessary distinctions between Stalinism, social democracy, democratic socialism, state capitalism, welfare states, market socialism, and so on. She, I think intentionally, “misinterpreted” the meaning of any talk of democratically decided taxation and regulation as “mooching” and “looting,” without ever taking into account how democracy fosters industry in the first place.
I say all of that because many of Rand’s defenders claim that she is misunderstood. I would answer that she misunderstood her critics. She was, in fact, wholly uninterested in understanding her critics or anyone who simply thought differently than she did and it shows in all her work — from John Galt’s speech to her non-fiction “philosophy” to her public interviews. So, I’m not sure she’s worth understanding. I’m not sure if that’s where you’re coming from — if you think Rand was on the right track but is misunderstood today. If so, then perhaps you’re right, but I’m not certain that it matters. Rand’s ideas were toxic; her strict division of social classes — productive achievers at the top, sycophants in the middle, and moochers and looters on the bottom — is fascist on its face. I would like to think that of Americans did understand her better, she and her admirers on capitol hill would be cancelled immediately. Given what I’ve seen in the rise of MAGA, however, I think “the virtue of selfishness” is alive and well on the American right. That shows that ideology does trickle down; Rand’s ideas are mobilizing a thriving movement, whether the MAGA minions have read her books or not.