What Turned Americans so Virulently Against Socialism?
Socialism, or elements thereof, are commonplace throughout the modern world and they’re generally accepted as just another legitimate political option to be included in the democratic mix. Every place, that is, except the United States, where socialism has been systemically demonized over the last century. Today socialism is almost universally rejected as false, subversive and actually dangerous, as it allegedly leads to communism. Americans appear to have forgotten that their society already embraces many aspects of socialism including the police, fire department and public schools, as well as social security and public employment. The two collectives that benefit most from American socialism are the military, with full health benefits including dentistry, and–oh irony of ironies–the United States Congress, most of whose members shun and berate “socialism” but all of whom enjoy a 72% discount on their healthcare as well as comfortable retirement plans, all of which they awarded themselves.
Meanwhile, the entire civilized world is enjoying the benefits of both capitalism and socialism. There’s Germany populated by consumate capitalists who compete über-successfully in world markets. At the same time all German citizens enjoy the advances of socialism: universal health care, month-long vacations, generous maternity and paternity leaves, living wages, worker participation in company boardrooms, free education through college… The same model prevails in many other countries around the world, starting with Scandinavia. Norway, one of the most socialized countries in the world, also has one of the world’s most successful sovereign investment funds. Most of the European Community has similar rights and benefits. Some extend to foreigners who can go to college for free both in Germany and Scotland, though the latter requires English students to pay. Outside Europe; Japan and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are all similiar, well-ordered capitalist countries, sweetened with the solidarity and generosity of democratic socialism.
Why hasn’t the United States done something similar? Why must the streets of their cities be populated by cold and hungry homeless families? Why are the young lives of their college students blighted by long-term debt? (On the subject of student debt in America, Derek Newton writing for Forbes.com about Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos, whose family, it is reported, owns ten yachts, says: “As the Queen of Student Debt, DeVos is burdening students with debt she knows many can’t pay in order to advance the interests of those who take advantage of them.” It gets even better. See Newton’s full article here.) Why does the United States have the highest encarceration rates in the world? What about the hopeless working poor and millions of citizens bereft of any health care? Why are their billionaires so obscene and so obscenely rich? Aren’t they taxed? And where did that President come from?
Have the Americans forgotten that theirs is the richest country in the world? Or have they forgotten that riches are not just for buying yachts and wars? These are not rhetorical questions. Why don’t the Americans look around and see what the governments of the rest of the world are achieving for all of their citizens and fix their own country?
Trick Bag, Can’t Fix
They can’t. They’re living in a trick bag, victims of the false American ethos of rugged individualism, the self-made man and dog-eat-dog competitiveness. It’s a country where people are judged primarily by how much they have with all other considerations coming in a distant second. Where did this twisted, unnatural and anti-human set of values come from, and how did it get a death grip on what was potentially the greatest country in the world? The answers to these fundamental questions are not secret. They just require a bit of research.
Ironically, it was a historical coincidence that caused socialism to set the anti-socialism ball rolling. It was during the low point of the 1930s that many American citizens noticed that there was one country in the world that was conspicuously unaffected by the Great Depression. It was not only not affected but actually enjoyed a booming economy. The Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan in 1928 brought with it redistribution of wealth, universal health care, and full employment. (Source: Wikipedia) There was a period, before Stalin’s brutal excesses became known, when the Soviet system looked attractive to the American Left and the Communist Party enjoyed a honeymoon with the American working class. With unemployment figures hovering around 25% (much higher for minorities), desperate American workers formed long lines to emigrate to Soviet Russia. Business Week reported at the time that the Soviet Union needed 6,000 American workers and more than 100,000 applied.
This unexpected set of economic circumstances (particularly the implicitly negative comparison between America and Russia) sent American businessmen into paroxysms of fear. What would become of their economic dominance if Soviet successes continued? That fear has continued to dominate their world down to our own times. It fueled the First Red Scare (1917-20), which coincided with the Russian revolution, and the Second Red Scare in 1947-60 which was supercharged by Joseph McCarthy, the ambitious and unscrupulous Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy’s fear mongering to the lowest common American denominator debilitated the labor unions, political associations and cultural organizations of the American left, responsible for the reforms of the 30s and 40s. In the process McCarthy virtually wiped out the American Communist Party, along with the creme of Hollywood talent, which was blacklisted by his House Un-American Activities (HUAC) committee. Ninety percent of the tarnished filmmakers never went back to work in Hollywood. (Source: The Untold History of the United States)
Socialism, Just Vanilla-Flavored Communism
With anti-Communism firmly consolidated as American scripture, the United States moved on to the Cold War, the Soviet-American geopolitical confrontation which lasted from 1946 (with American diplomat, George Kennan’s, “Long Telegram” from Moscow in which he enunciated the United States’ policy of containment of Soviet expansionism), until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Source: Wikipedia) It was during this period that the United States made maximum use of “the Communist threat” to justify their colonial wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as American-sponsored proxy wars in Latin America, Afghanistan, Iran and other places.
That’s more than half a century of selling hard-core anti-Communism as one of the basic pillars of American thinking, so it’s no wonder that “socialism” (which, as all American patriots know, is just vanilla-flavored Communism) should be anathema to all right-thinking Americans. For that matter, today perhaps half of Americans consider a “liberal” to be the first cousin to a dangerous commie.
The Future of American Socialism
The upcoming American presidential and congressional elections, scheduled for November 3, 2020, have a lot to reveal about the future of the country. At stake, besides the presidency, are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of 100 Senate seats. The choice for American voters is between more of the same and a radical departure from President Donald Trump’s atypical administration. The issues right now, just over a year from the elections, are centered on President Trump’s alleged wrongdoing on several fronts, and his possible impeachment. But all of that could prove irrelevant if his well-entrenched and loyal backers re-elect him or, as he has hinted, he refuses to accept the election results.
If the elections should tilt the other way and the Democrats were to win the presidency, maintain their majority in the House, and gain ground in the Senate, the task of restoring the government to sanity and decency would be massive. There democratic persuasions of all stripes, including socialism, would enter into the mix. The question becomes, would the outrages of the Trump administration persuade middle-of-the-road American voters to opt for more-socialist-leaning solutions: more regulation of big business including a fair tax structure, more robust social programs, investment in public education, a clearer division between church and state, cutting back on military spending, sane administration of international relations… This may sound like a left-wing Christmas list, but everything is possible in turbulent times such as these, and progress on even half of these issues would be a step forward. It will not be easy in any case, considering the considerable influence of corporate money on the United States Congress, on both sides of aisles.
Who would lead the left’s campaign to take responsibility for the government of the United States? Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who will be, respectively 79 and 77 years of age on election day, might be considered too old. (On the other hand, age connotates wisdom…) That leaves Elizabeth Warren, who would bring competence and decency into the presidency and would not be reluctant to include democratic socialists in her government. Would she include any of the four young ethnic congresswomen the press refers to as “The Squad.” President Trump, himself, is one of their promoters, prompted by the fear they inspire, with comments like, “Go back where you came from!” They look like the future of something. It remains to be seen what.
“We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
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