american socialism

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When historians look back on this time in history — especially this election — they will probably do so with a particular sense of interest in the amount of political turbulence we seem to have experienced. There looks to be a pattern of political turmoil at the start of a new century, and this century is no different. In 1700, the War of Spanish Succession overtook Europe; in 1803, the Napoleonic Wars, again, overtook Europe; and, in 1914, the world witnessed the beginning of the first of two world wars. Though these skirmishes were ones of munitions, battle lines and treaties, the skirmishes that we find in the U.S. today are over ideology. “What line of political thought should be our guide in resolving disputes, divvying resources or even identifying what are and aren’t human rights?” we ask ourselves.

The top contenders vying for dominance in American political thought today are socialism and capitalism (a binary, black and white choice in true spirit to American democracy), wherein the president, proudly standing arms akimbo in staunch capitalist spirit, proclaims “America will never be a socialist country” to the applause of many. And diametrically opposed to him stands a candidate looking to take the presidency with a succinct, yet powerful message that has radiated cross-country. “Not me. Us.”

As much as the president or his party would like to be contrary, America is a socialist country. Many programs that millions of people rely on, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and government housing, are all socialist programs; they redistribute wealth to take care of those who need it. Seeing how hard older people advocate, donate, vote, scream, yell and fight tooth and nail to keep their Social Security and Medicare running and flowing, it’s no wonder why there is a movement to expand them. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty in every state, and they lift more Americans above the poverty line than any other program.” They go on to say further, “Without Social Security, the poverty rate for those aged 65 and over would meet or exceed 40 percent in one-third of states; with Social Security, it is less than 10 percent in two-thirds of states.” America is socialist, just not for everyone.

I have heard dissent from older people on this point, though. Their concern, as with a lot of rhetoric from the right, is that they have “earned” their bit of socialism by working for it; that they put into the system for decades and are now reaping the fruits of their labor. As wonderful and idealistic as that is, it’s not true. Sure, they worked, and I’ve no doubt very hard, but the money taken out of their paycheck was not put in a nice, neat little account in the treasury labeled “For John Doe, upon retirement.” Absolutely not, that money was sent directly to an elderly person to fund their social security payments. They worked, not for their own retirement fund, but for someone else’s. The same applies to Medicare and all of the other programs I listed before.

What, then, is this ideological debate about? It’s clear that Americans support socialist programs and practices, because they use them and fight to keep them, so why is it that we hear America will never be a socialist country from the highest office? Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark are looked to as exceptional examples of what can be done with socialist policies. These countries are able to provide free healthcare, education, pensions, eldercare, etc. through taxes, of course, to the chagrin of Americans. While taxes are certainly a gripe with people here, the Noridic countries consistently rank as some of the happiest people on Earth. But many will stop and point and say “Those aren’t ‘really’ socialist countries. They are well-regulated capitalist societies with a large social safety net.” Assuming that were true, then the point remains. What those countries have done with their “well-regulated capitalism,” strong safety nets, massively unionized workforce and strong property rights is create countries that even the most highly developed, wealthiest nations look up to.

Socialism in America has a complicated history — to say the least. An ugly, dirty, perhaps sinful word to mutter at someone, this ideology was heretical to most Americans. Today, many well-known politicians and citizens alike have been endorsed by or joined the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist party in the U.S. Perhaps it is this swell of left-wing support, or the rise of politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that has sparked the president to make such remarks. Whatever the case may be, one thing grows clear each day: A large portion of Americans are upset with the system they live, breathe, work and die under and desire immediate and drastic change.

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