he latest State of the Union address was exactly what we expected it to be; in the phrasing of William Shakespeare, “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Nothing else about it was remotely Shakespearean. As a speech, it was mortifyingly bad--disjointed, leaden, periodically punctuated by threats and whines. The close was so banal and cliché-ridden it would never pass muster in any junior high English class. And most of all, it was so brimming with forced pathos that at any minute I expected the doors to the center aisle to be swung open…ushering in a parade of valiant three-legged dogs. Hooray! (If nothing else, can we please ban forever any reference to any person sitting on the second level? Enough, already!)
So, amidst this drudgery, it was easy to miss something truly newsworthy. For me, in passing, Donald Trump unveiled the GOP strategy for the 2020 election. Granted, when he uttered the words, it sounded like most every other throwaway line from the America First playbook:
America was founded on liberty and independence - not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
But there it was— “socialism”. When he heard it, Bernie Sanders bristled. Predictably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was convinced Trump was talking directly to her. But for the main part, it was ignored by the media, who were preoccupied with fact-checking and Nancy Pelosi’s facial expressions. Nevertheless, the battle line was drawn for the next Presidential contest: Donald Trump (American) vs. (any Democrat) socialist. Here we go…
o, let’s roughly define terms:
Capitalism: we have the wealth, we make the rules
Communism: The state owns all wealth, it’s distributed equally (note: this is a theory that has never been truly implemented—people at the top anywhere naturally want and typically take more)
Socialism: People can own individual things; but surplus wealth is owned collectively and distributed by government
It’s ironic that Russia, historically associated with communism, may currently be the most purely capitalist of economies. Oligarchs control the national wealth and determine what will be given to workers. Putin’s government is simply a means of leverage, with any challenge to the oligarchs potentially punishable by death. Democracy there is just a costume. Such a capitalist stranglehold on power is naturally attractive to Donald Trump. It’s what he believes is right.
Socialism in its pure state allows the government (or workers) to control how wealth is divided. This is the red flag that Trump is waving; and he’s right that this is an outcome that should not—and will not—come to pass in America.
Which leaves us with this fact: the U.S., like virtually every other nation in the world, is a social democracy. There you have it— “socialism” and “democracy” in one simple phrase. For the most part, it works. A government impacts the gathering and distribution of wealth via laws, policies and taxation. And virtually no one opposes this concept—even the libertarians will pay to build highways and maintain the military. At the same time, there are no communists to speak of in America. So, we’re left just arguing the balance between the two. More capitalism or more government? What kind of social democracy do we want to be?
Many conservatives point to the Scandinavian countries as examples of what America doesn’t need to become. Let’s use Finland as an example. Total taxes there amount to between 25% and 67% of income, depending on how much you make. The corporate tax rate is 20%. For that, you get ample public transportation…free health care…and free tuition, including college. They have a president, a parliament, and open elections. But wait—there’s more! Finland is ranked as the least corrupt nation, as well as hosting the world’s freest press. And overall, Finland ranks #1 in the annual U.N. calculation of “happiest country”. What do you know? But whether we in the U.S. want that kind of model is up for debate (the index puts us at #18) —but it’s a debate whose time has come.
hich leads back to the argument over how Democrats respond to Trump’s inevitable “socialism” charges on the campaign trail:
First, don’t accept his self-identity. He is not “American”—he is “un-American”. You know the examples as well as me: income inequality, vanishing health care, ignoring climate change while fouling the air and water, cozying up to any available foreign dictator, and, of course, tearing kids away from their parents at the border…throwing them in cages…and then forgetting who belongs to whom. Feel free to add your own examples. He has made America Not Nearlyt As Great…and don’t let voters forget that.
Second, define socialism—beginning with the ample examples of it we already have. Do you like your Social Security check? Your food being inspected for contamination? People being there to help once the tornado or hurricane or earthquake hits? We live in a social democracy now. No one is calling for the factories to be confiscated, or Michael Moore to seize Amazon. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t got a long way to go.
And finally, to that end, go ahead and define some solutions. What exactly do you mean by Medicare-for-All? What number do you intend to put on income taxes…estate taxes…and taxing overall wealth? How do you intend to return to leadership on climate change? How do we get the richest nation in history to provide health care for everyone? Overall, it’s not just a matter of getting back to where we were under Obama, when “dysfunction” had such a gentler definition. How do we promise to make America normal again?
Your key message should be that Americans already embrace both capitalism and socialism, and no one wants to change that. But fine tuning the mixture will produce even better results. Be specific. People are ready to listen.
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