It is a conventional wisdom that whoever becomes the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party will be labeled a “socialist” by the Party of Trump, formerly known as the Republican Party. While it is clear that, in recent years, the Democratic Party has been leaning left on the political\economic spectrum, it can hardly be deemed to approach anything defined as being true socialist in nature.
Yes, Bernie Sanders supports public ownership of our utilities. Elizabeth Warren (who has steadfastly denied being a socialist stating, “I am a capitalist to my bones”, supports a Green New Deal that will dictate a major transformation in the fossil fuel industry (meaning: putting them out of business in favor of solar and wind power), and most of the other Democratic contenders support some kind of universal health care for all at government expense.
And, make no mistake about it. The Republican Party will describe Democrats as avowed socialists in the upcoming election season. But, can you imagine the cries that would arise if Democratic spokespersons uniformly appeared at campaign events and on CNN and MSNBC denouncing the GOP and the President as fascists leading our nation towards Nazism and autocracy? However, unlikely this is to happen (if only the Democrats had the temerity to pull off this coordinated attack) calling Trump and his faithful Nazis, fascists or white supremacists – based on actual horrifying events over the past two years – would, in fact, be a label much more accurately describing the Party of Trump than labeling Democrats as socialists.
Labels aside, it is amazing how many voters (1) believe that socialism is some loathsome political disease, even as they (2) fail to recognize just how much our existing government has long been based on some version of socialism. Is it okay to point out to Trumpists and their parents and children that we have, long ago, socialized our postal system, our military, our local police and fire department? Is there anyone out there who detests the idea of socialism yet is willing to waive their right to receive Medicare or Social Security?
Similarly, why, you might ask, are so many of the Democratic Presidential contenders hesitant to be labeled “capitalist” as if there is some loathsome disease associated with the world’s most competitive economy? Is there something inherently to be defensive about if one is in favor of supporting private industry when it shows respect for its well-paid workers and derives legitimate profits from meeting public demands for its products or services?
I have struggled to find out how these questions can be responsibly addressed by the Democratic Party and to understand the connection between what government services are most needed today without labeling their provision as a step forward by our government on the path to becoming a truly socialist nation. And how do we get our nation’s business leaders to recognize the importance of the historical government support for research and development that has benefited not only our businesses but the general public as well? Here’s what I discovered and what I would share with you.
The public has become highly skeptical of government and its role in our lives. Some associate government with seeking “redistribution” of wealth from those who have earned it rightfully while others see the private sector as having complete control over the legislative process by endless campaign contributions i.e., bribes, from lobbying interests that keep the same folk in office year after year. However, history has shown us that the United States became the most prosperous nation in the world because the government\private industry relationship has worked so well for most of our history.
President Trump has not exactly run from actions that are clearly socialist in nature. Farmers (95% of whom are large agricorporations) have been grievously hurt by his tariff wars with China and even our allies. So, what did Trump do to alleviate their pain? He directed the Agriculture Department to give $16 billion in federal aid to farmers, a giveaway that can clearly and honestly be labeled as “socialist” no less than the tens of billions in federal funds given by President George W. Bush to the banking industry to save it from disaster as the Great Recession kicked in. And, let’s be clear: every business is entirely dependent upon public investment in health care, maintaining our roads, our bridges and even our education system.
Democratic plans for universal health care, affordable childcare and a higher minimum wage should, according to Peter Dreiser, professor at Occidental College, be accurately labeled as proposals of social democrats rather than socialist in nature. But that falls far short of pronouncements that the Democratic Party seeks to take “government ownership of the means of production” which matches the dictionary definition of socialism. And, we should remember that Donald Trump won election with a promise to replace the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) with a new law that would cover all Americans, not any different than that proposed by many of the current Democratic presidential candidates are proposing.
The central issue for the Democratic Party is not whether the label of socialist will turn the election in favor of the GOP. Rather, the debate is being configured by the question of which candidate can defeat Donald Trump. A far-left candidate could be more exciting on the campaign trail by mobilizing young, minority and college-educated voters like never before. However, and this is the really big question, will a centrist candidate be the most likely to attract those moderate Republican voters fed up with the excesses of Trump behavior, while holding on to those same young and minority voters who failed to show up in 2016? Are voters, including suburban housewives, minorities and those under thirty years old angry enough at the GOP’s reluctance to take on the gun lobby, promising to take away existing health care for millions and threatening every minority’s belief that, in America, all men are created equal.
From this writer’s perspective, I believe the evidence is mounting in both parties that Donald Trump represents a true existential threat to the democratic institutions most sacred to our nation. If the Democrats select a centrist leader who offers to restore noble character to the Oval Office, renew our historical friendships and treaties with our allies, restore dignity to the immigration process, while providing health care for all that flows from the current Affordable Care Act, the comparison to Trump will be obvious — and welcome — to a clear majority of Americans.