During Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, many of the old, white, Republican Senators and Representatives must have gotten more exercise than in weeks, jumping to their feet to applaud almost every sentence of the endless rhetoric.
One of the moments that got the loudest applause was Trump’s attempt to blame progressive Democrats for the problems of the current Venezuelan government, proclaiming the U.S. “will never be a socialist country” to a loud standing ovation from Republicans (and too many Democrats) and chants of “USA, USA, USA.”
Like so much of Trump’s speech, the statement was false. I have news for the Donald: The United States—like every other country with an advanced economy, such as the U.K., Germany, France, and Japan—is already a partly socialist country, with a mixed economy and many government programs that serve the public good.
By this definition, Social Security is a “socialist” program: it’s a government-run pension system that cuts out private money managers. Medicare – a single-payer, government-run health insurance program for those over 65 – is too. Medicare-For-All would simply extend this to the rest of the population.
The minimum wage, maximum hour, and child labor laws that go back over a century are likewise “socialist” programs, in that the government intervenes in the capitalist market to require employers to meet minimum standards that might not be met in a pure, unregulated “free” market. Agricultural and energy subsidies are likewise socialist programs. I could go on and on.
Stripped of the Red-baiting and name-calling, the real debate isn’t between capitalism vs. socialism, but about the appropriate balance between the two.
Conservatives want to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits and reduce the numbers who qualify, while progressives want to increase and expand these programs. Many progressives want to move towards a Medicare system covering all Americans, not just those over 65 (“Medicare for All”) while centrist Democrats want to protect the ACA which is a hybrid between private insurance and government insurance and regulation, and conservatives want to go back to the all-private system which pre-dated the ACA.
The government already supports higher education (that’s socialism) but progressives want to make a public college education free or debt-free. Conservatives support government subsidies for agriculture and the oil energy (that’s socialism) while many progressives believe this is “reverse welfare” for the rich and want to reduce them.
Under the headline, “Most Young Americans Prefer Socialism to Capitalism” CNBC reported on a Gallup poll this summer showing that millennials are more favorable to the socialist side than the capitalist side of the equation. with 51% having a positive view of socialism and only 47% having a positive view of capitalism.
That’s why the election to Congress of New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other young progressives – many of them women, who dressed in dramatic white at the State of the Union, which spoke louder than Trump’s words – represents a generational political and cultural change that will likely transform the country.
Unlike their parents and grandparents, these young progressives were children, or not yet born, when the Red-baiting of the Cold War made socialism a dirty word.
Trump’s false proclamation that America “will never be a socialist country” was an attempt to resurrect the McCarthyite red-baiting of his childhood in order to put his thumb on the capitalist side of the scale favored by the oligarchs in the ongoing debate over how much socialism and how much socialism America should have.
With a rising generation viewing greater socialism sympathetically, in the long-run this is a losing strategy. AOC and her colleagues – not Donald Trump and old, white Republican politicians – represent the future.