Author’s Note: Election 2020 is already the most important election of our lifetime. America is again at a fork on a rocky road with choices that do more than diverge; the very different roads present competing options to Americans on where we want to go, who we want as fellow travelers and, perhaps most importantly, what country we want to be as we move to an unscripted future.
This space will look at the upcoming election as we move closer to November 2020, and dive into some of the issues and questions that are driving the political narrative as we get closer to voting season.
Is America Already a Socialist Nation?
There are multiple definitions of socialism, but there are three primary meanings:
1. A theory or 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.
2. Procedure or practice in accordance with this theory
3. (In Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collective principles (see: dictionary.com)
This election season, like all others over the past hundred years, the word “Socialism” is being used as an insult, almost exclusively by republican elected officials against Democratic nominees and elected officials.
The charges are most often leveled when discussing healthcare, but is also used when discussing welfare, farm subsidies, and even tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
The argument generally presents two positions that are,
1. Socialism is Un-American, Un-Democratic, and eliminates individual responsibility, and even individuality, and,
2. That much of American society is already socialist and those parts are accepted by all Americans.
Can these competing viewpoints both be true? Can they be reconciled? And on the question of socialism: is it so bad, and if so, why?
There are many nations that are socialist in whole or in part. Healthcare is most commonly associated with socialism — that was the GOP rallying cry against the Affordable Care Act which was and is confusing considering elected officials receive government healthcare for life.
“Socialized medicine for me, not for thee,” I guess.
There are about thirty-five nations that have universal healthcare, including Australia, Austria, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, France, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Bahrain, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, Finland, Denmark Greece, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and, the nation we send the most financial support to, Israel – which I call out here to demonstrate that although the GOP professes to be fiercely anti-socialism, they don’t mind that American taxes support a country that utilizes many socialist programs.
Last I looked, none of these countries were collapsing from the “scourge of socialism.” On the contrary, the nations with socialized healthcare have healthy people, reasonable wait times to see doctors, and access to the best medicine and doctors in the world. And it is also worth noting, most have healthier citizens who have longer lifespans than Americans.
Could all the politicians in those countries, representing hundreds of millions of constituents be wrong?
The aforementioned nations have different forms of government, different approaches to money management, different approaches to military, religion, education, transit, taxation, and different ways of life and living. Yet, they unanimously agree that healthcare is a basic human right, regardless if it is called socialism, welfare, subsidies, or any other word to distract from what it is.
And they are thriving from a healthcare standpoint so why is it so different in America?
America and Americans seem to have general acceptance of some aspects of socialism, though it is not often talked about during the shouting matches on news shows or the halls of congress.
Most Americans agree that public schools, K through 8, and State Universities are a good thing, though the former needs more funding and the latter needs to cost less, many will say.
We all agree to pay for socialized fire departments. No one is keen on trying to put out their own fires these days. Socialized police and law enforcement, no matter their efficacy, are etched into the nation’s collective agreement on socialism as well.
All politicians praise the women and men in the military – a socialized military that accepts all Americans who wish to join and help the rest of citizens not endure conscription.
If you are taking a road trip for summer vacation you will enjoy the socialized interstate highway system. Or if you plan to fly, you will first drive on socialized roads and then you will fly from a socialized airport and then land at a socialized airport.
If you are part of the super-wealthy who recently received part of the trillion dollar tax break, congratulations on the welfare by way of socialism you received.
If you are on the internet and reading this post on your smart phone, tablet, or desktop, you are doing so on a socialized device and socialized internet… since all were funded with loans and investments from the U.S. government who invests in your favorite companies when they were start-ups and needed funding, loans, and other means of government support before launching.
If the discussion around socialization or even just reading this post stresses you out (I apologize) you can certainly reach for a pill that is a mood modifier of some type, while thanking socialized big pharmacy that utilizes taxpayer money for research and development, patents, and eventually marketing and distribution.
It must be mentioned that just because something is socialized doesn’t necessarily make it better, as the current opioid crisis shows, as well as former drug crisis with crack/cocaine, heroin, morphine, opium, and other government run drug programs. is in another in a long line of government created drug crisis.
And if you enjoy your bar-b-queued meat and your grilled veggies this summer you can thank…yourself! for giving billions in “emergency” aid to farmers who suffered massive losses due to an ill-conceived and poorly executed trade war with China.
In fact, all the food Americans eat is subsidized by the government so that the costs remain artificially low. Keeping costs low so that food is sold below what the market can bear is anti-capitalist and very socialist. But Americans accept it because because Americans do not want to pay $10 for a gallon of milk or $7 for a head of lettuce so we accept and never want to think about how our food practices go against capitalism.
Finally, Americans are overwhelmingly Christian and the faith requires socialism as a matter of direction. “Feed the hungry,” “Care for widows,” “Provide shelter,” “Heal” “Help,” “Welcome foreigners,” “Care for children,” and so many other scripture that explicitly directions followers to look after other people – believers and non-believers alike.
But the Christian holy book’s very clear instruction on caring for others is often ignored as most evangelicals say they have no responsibility for caring for any other human outside of their families, churches, and/or those who agree to their interpretation of the bible. And even though most American Christians are not evangelical, the evangelical voting base is dependable and thus elect many evangelical politicians who vote according to their belief of little to no socialism for anyone not like them.
It is a juxtaposition that is baffling and disconnected from reality since States that are “red”, i.e. solidly republican and majority white and against socialist policies receive the most government assistance from welfare to tax breaks, to farm subsidies. It is again, socialism for me not for thee, since these voters regularly vote against the very policies that benefit themselves when they believe those policies will help other people.
A strange way to show adherence to bible teaching.
Of course there are many aspects of American life that have nothing at all to do with socialism but that reflect the type of financial system that rules the country: capitalism. And many aspects of capitalism, like socialism, are beneficial and help the greater good while also benefiting individuality, creativity, growth, and advances in science, medicine, and technology.
As we listen to the candidates debate and argue over what is and what is not socialism, what is good and bad about socialism, and other questions on what the best way forward is for the country, economy, and each individual, it is good to be reminded that platitudes and insults geared toward one system versus the other are often presented without nuance. When we take a deeper more meaningful look at socialism – as with most controversial topics – we find deeper truths, clearer biases, and clearer benefits than what the surface shows.
Maybe it is not that socialism is bad or even anti-American but maybe it’s that Americans have been trained to think socialism is bad without being taught what socialism is and how it benefits each and every American every day in some way or the other that is critical to our health, well-being, and overall happiness.
Copyright 2019 by Myron J. Clifton. All Rights Reserved