The word “socialism” has increasingly been used as a way to discredit and vilify the Democratic Party. Trump has been using it as a way of inducing fear in the minds of his misinformed supporters. This misinformation campaign is being deployed on all fronts: Trump, the GOP, as well as the right-wing media. As a result, it’s important that people know what socialism actually is and why, in the context of America, it’s not the diabolical social theory that they make it out to be.
What is socialism?
Socialism, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”
Socialism, in its ideal form, is about fairness. The ideology was developed as a reaction to the lack of opportunity and resources in societies that had class systems, which made the prospect of improving one’s station in life virtually impossible.
While the definition provides a solid description of the underlying idea behind socialism, the trouble is socialism takes on many forms; such as, economic and political socialism. As with most socioeconomic ideologies and systems, socialism doesn’t have to exist in an absolute –all or nothing– form. It exists on a spectrum. There are varying degrees of socialism in every developed country in the modern world.
Socialism’s most extreme form is communism. Dictionary.com defines it as, “a system of social organization in which all economic, political, and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.” This is an absolute form of socialism, which is applied to every aspect of a country. The government has complete control over the policies and legislation in a communist state. These states, in theory, have people working assigned jobs, which contribute to the society as a whole. The production of these jobs isn’t controlled by private companies or individuals, it’s controlled by the state. The distribution of artificial or natural resources are distributed equally amongst the people.
It can be argued, however, that there has never been a true communist state. For example, in Soviet Russia, there was most certainly a class system. A small portion of the population benefited greatly, usually based on their political station, while the rest were subjected to harsh labor conditions with limited resources being distributed.
Democracy, capitalism, and socialism in America
The United States isn’t a socialist state: it was founded as a democratic republic. When referring to our government, we rarely use the term “democratic republic,” it’s almost always referred to as a “democracy.” However, that term can be misleading, especially if taken literally. For example, a pure democracy is a system of government in which every political decision is made at the voting booth. This form of government isn’t practical, which is why the founders didn’t model our system of government on it.
There are, however, aspects of a pure democracy in America at the state and local level. More than half of the states in the union have voting initiatives or veto referendums. This gives citizens in these states the power to vote for or against legislative propositions. There’s also the non-binding “popular vote” used in national elections. As we’ve seen, especially in modern-day America, winning the popular vote doesn’t result in an electoral win. It’s the Electoral College that’s binding.
America’s system of economics is capitalism. The government doesn’t control the means of production, corporations and private businesses do. America became the greatest superpower the world has ever seen due in large part to capitalism. In a capitalist system, companies are competing against one another. This naturally drives innovation: creating a better product or service than a competitor, which will in turn attract more business and thus gain more profit, which is the motivating force behind any business.
Though, just as we don’t live in a pure democracy, we don’t have a pure capitalist system of economics. A pure democracy is impractical and a pure capitalist system leads to various problems, which has a negative effect on the people. For example, if a company becomes too powerful and eliminates all other competitors you get a monopoly. If the consumers don’t have a choice, their only option is to do business with the monopolistic company. If there are no competitors, there’s no incentive to innovate and no need to keep their prices competitive. And it’s for this reason that we have federal regulations, which is essentially applying socialist principles to a capitalist system.
There are countless examples in American history of unregulated industries causing harm to their employees, consumers, the environment, as well as the entire economy as a whole. While there were numerous causes for the Great Depression, the breaking point was due to banks making risky stock investments with the money deposited by their customers. Their deposits weren’t guaranteed, so when the stock market crashed in 1929 it caused widespread panic, leading people to rush to the bank to withdraw their money. This set off a chain of reactions, which led to years of economic depression for the entire country. So, having federal regulations in place are a safeguard for not only the individual, but for the economy, as well.
America has numerous social programs designed to provide a social safety net, as well as opportunities for people who need them. Here’s some of the social programs hundreds of millions of Americans benefit from at one time or another in their life: Social Security Income (for “old-age” Americans, as well as the disabled), Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment benefits, numerous housing programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Family Medical Leave, the GI Bill, Veterans Affairs, financial aid for higher education, small business loans backed by federally-guaranteed loans, etc. On a non-federal level, there’s public schools, fire departments, police departments, among many other community services.
All of these programs are paid for by American tax dollars. Americans pay their share of taxes and are eligible to benefit from these programs if or when they need them. They’re so ingrained into society that most of them are rarely thought of as being a form of socialism. America is still a capitalist system, but has regulations and supplemental social programs to ensure that citizens are protected.
Why they want to brand Democrats as socialists
Throughout American history, the word “socialist” has had a negative connotation. When people hear “socialism” they think of communism. America has had a long, cold, and bloody history with communism. There was a significant fear about communism. Proxy wars between America and the Soviet Union unfolded for decades. The world was on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which at its core, was based on the conflicting political ideologies of America and the Soviet Union.
When other people hear “socialist,” they think of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (i.e. the Nazi Party). Nazi Germany wasn’t a socialist nation, it was a totalitarian dictatorship. They used “socialist” and “worker” in the name of their party as propaganda.
In modern-day America, there’s rampant economic inequality. This is an economic indicator that’s never discussed by the Trump Administration. When the stock market has a good day, he promotes it. When a positive jobs report is published, he promotes it. Trump, however, never mentions the 10,000-pound elephant in the room: economic inequality. It’s the economic indicator that has the greatest effect on most Americans and reflects how the country is doing as a whole.
This is a country where the richest 1% percent of American households own 40% of the country’s wealth, and the richest 20% of American households own 90% of the country’s wealth. Therefore, the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. It needs to be repeated: the bottom 80% of American households own only 10% of the country’s wealth. (Household Wealth Trends in the United States)
Whether his supporters are aware of it or not, it’s the economic inequality in this country that’s significantly oppressing the economic prosperity of most Americans. The American Dream is an antiquated concept. It’s based on social mobility, which the United States is near the bottom of the list for developed countries.
So, as Congressional Democrats and Democratic Presidential Candidates talk about solutions to put an end to economic inequality and seek to form better social programs (e.g. more affordable healthcare), they are smeared as socialists.
The only people in this country who have anything to lose from such programs are the ultra-wealthy. By attacking these policy initiatives, the vast majority of Trump supporters are acting against their own self-interest without even realizing it. This is a phenomenon known as “false consciousness,” which is defined as “a way of thinking that prevents a person from perceiving the true nature of their social or economic situation” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
This false consciousness is being drilled into the minds of people who watch Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. Fox propaganda hosts are millionaires paid by billionaires to misinform, rile up, and instill manufactured fear into the minds of their viewers. They use distraction, deflection, and divisiveness as tools of their trade. If their viewers are misinformed and sidetracked, they’re incapable of making informed decisions. And those decisions not only affect their lives, but the lives of all Americans.
Socialism in America has become a new dog whistle used by the Trump-GOP-Fox propaganda machine with the goal of making Americans vote against their best interests. The swamp isn’t being drained, it’s overflowing and slowly drowning all of us.