At the end of June, when 28 year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez convincingly defeated Joe Crowley in the Democratic Primary of New York’s 14th district, we started to hear the echoes of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign return to mainstream airwaves. On-screen political pundits and Washington insiders once again asked: Do ordinary working people actually like all this Socialism stuff?
Since then the conversation has been ongoing. Not long after Ocasio-Cortez’s upset, conservative mouthpiece Sean Hannity highlighted her platform as if it was sent from outer space, establishment Democrats offered up their same tired lines about how progressive politics can’t win in conservative states, and most recently Meghan McCain — the daughter of former GOP presidential candidate John McCain — got absolutely destroyed in her attempt to attack Ocasio-Cortez’s social policies:
I had a lot of fun watching Meghan McCain completely melt down at the thought of Democratic Socialists coming for her inherited wealth pic.twitter.com/IFBkTKL4K6
— 𝕕𝕠𝕣𝕤𝕖𝕪 (@dorseyshaw) July 24, 2018
Whenever someone uses Venezuela as their argument against Socialism, or Democratic Socialism, it means they have no argument. And if Joy Behar, a morning talkshow host, can so easily debunk this lazy and recycled line of thought among conservative ideologues, it might be an appropriate time for them to go back to the drawing board. But back to the point:
Bernie Sanders remains the face of the American Left, but it seems like Democratic Socialism did not become mainstream until Alexandria’s tide-shifting win over Joe Crowley. I’m not sure why that is, really. It could be that, outside of Russia and ICE, the mainstream news doesn’t have a whole helluva lot to talk about. It could be that Bernie’s identity as an old white man doesn’t make for a particularly interesting personality, while Cortez, a young Puerto Rican woman, legitimizes the message (and puts to shame the whole idea that the only people who support Sanders are white men). Or, it could be something else entirely.
What we know is, the progressive platform is resonating with people all over the country. While the electoral college — a completely undemocratic aspect of American elections — makes it so most states are either Red or Blue, with only 8 or 10 legitimate battlegrounds, Democratic Socialism is a true 50-state strategy. There are a couple reasons for this, and they should both be evident.
The first is that many Americans do not find Republican and Democratic leadership, and the anti-worker goals of the decision makers, to be markedly different from one another. Both parties support tax cuts for the rich, both support deregulation of every industry you can imagine, and both support pouring almost a trillion dollars a year into the military industrial complex. In other words: they are Capitalists who support the interests of the Capitalist class. They generally coalesce to make more egregious the system that already benefits those at the very top, and gives little back to those struggling at the bottom.
The second and more important reason why Democratic Socialism is a 50-state strategy is because it is focused on the working class, and the working class exists everywhere, overwhelming in numbers all other classes combined. By definition, Democratic Socialism advocates for populist ideas. Ideas that are popular to working people.
I talk a lot on this blog about how class is the issue of our time. My conservative friends disagree and cite all manner of items as defense — whether it be a biased, “liberal” media, immigrants flooding across the boarder, Donald Trump not getting enough credit, or a host of other non sequiturs — but the writing is and has been on the wall, and the truth is colorblind to partisanship.
According to a 2015 study by the Social Security Administration, 51% of American workers earn less than $30,000 per year, and 71% of American workers earn less than $50,000 per year. That means of the roughly 320 million people who live in the United States, a staggering 225 million are supported by what is considered working class or, if you are being generous, lower-middle class income. Which is outrageous.
I am not trying to suggest that 225 million people can or should agree on everything, but when it comes to economics those people have much more in common than they do with, say, the eight- and nine-figure politicians who control the two-party system. So the reality of working class people getting so bent out of shape about whether they are on the red team or the blue team, and defending the positions of said team regardless if they are moral or justifiable, is the ultimate fool’s errand. The party leaders don’t give a shit about you. They never did, and they never will.
That is why Democratic Socialism can work all around the country, because the poor and working class will forever outnumber the middle and professional classes. The interests of those making $30,000 or $50,000 a year ought to be significantly more in line with one another than those earning $250,000, or $1 million, or $10 million. Yet somehow the ultra rich — I’m talking about billionaires at this point, who own the TV networks, the newspapers, Google, YouTube, and Facebook — have convinced working people that the real fight should be amongst themselves, rather than rallying together to fight back against the corrupted system.
By offering people popular ideas, Democratic Socialism is in some way trying to remedy this imbalance. As examples:
- 60% of Americans (and half of Republicans) say it’s “very important” to reduce the influence of corporate money in politics; another 28% say it’s “somewhat important.”
- 59% of Americans — which includes 75% of Democrats and 58% of independents — support Medicare For All.
- 74% of Americans (including 58% of Republicans) want to raise the minimum wage.
- 86.4% of Americans believe war should be used only as a last resort, as opposed to the pointless occupations the U.S. is currently engaged in.
- 66% of Americans agreed in 2015 that “taking steps to make Social Security financially sound should be a top priority for President Obama and Congress.”
If you are uniformed or unclear about the platform of Democratic Socialism, look no further than the ideas that are most popular, particularly among workers. The above statistics are not contained by the boundaries of a two-party system, and do not require making Donald Trump out to be the boogyman. It tells a story in the straightforward way that only data can.
So it should say something that despite having the broad support of a majority of Americans, and sometimes eye-poppingly so, the federal government sits back and folds its arms apathetically over these issues. From presidency to presidency, and term to term, Republican and Democratic leadership have had not even the slightest willingness to give in to the will of the people. The people, mind you, that they are supposed to be representing in Congress, in the Senate, and in the White House.
To be clear: Neither Republicans, nor Democrats, has any desire to overturn Citizens United, which allows corporations to funnel unlimited sums of campaign donations to politicians through Super PACs. Neither, until very recently, has made a serious push to implement Medicare For All (and it’s debatable if they are at all genuine). Neither has supported the fight for a $15 minimum wage. Neither wants to end the wars. And neither wants to expand Social Security. (In fact, for the Barack Obama Was A Socialist crowd, he once had his sights set on cutting Social Security. Some socialist!)
A majority of Americans back all of these ideas, and yet neither party can muster the moral fortitude to deliver even a single one of them. To that end, what Democratic Socialism offers is not so much a third option in a two-party system, but rather a second option to one-party control. The one party is the Money Party, the donors who have bought Democrats and Republicans alike, who own the legislators and policy-makers.
A democracy is supposed to be a government that represents the people, but what America has right now is very clearly not that. Not when the number one goal of the political establishment is to squash the agenda of the working class, and to ignore the ideas that are supported by a majority of the people. Further, none of these ideas even made their way to the table until Bernie Sanders campaigned in 2016.
Instead of a true representative democracy, America is currently a nation that more closely resembles a banana republic. To be truly wealthy in the United States, in the top 1% of wage earners, that is, is to understand Socialism all too perfectly, as their profits are privatized and stashed in-pocket while their losses, as with the bank bailout in 2008, are socialized… paid for by the taxpayers.
If you are wealthy, that’s a pretty great system. And what makes it so great is the fact that the people writing the economic policies making it so great are bought and paid for by the already-wealthy. So if the dollars being extracted from the working class and middle class aren’t enough — and they never are — the donor class can simply hire some millionaire douchebag to lobby the politicians to enact more favorable, business-friendly conditions.
To me a takeover of Democratic Socialism is inevitable, if only because looking longterm the American economy is untenable without it. The super rich are currently having their moment in the sun while simultaneously navigating through their own twilight, as some forty years of tax cuts and short-term thinking will eventually meet an expiration date. That date figures to come sooner rather than later. Given the hundreds of thousands of people going bankrupt every year over medical bills, the ongoing housing crises, the ongoing student debt crises, to heap on top of the environmental crises, the chickens are coming home to roost. The great proletariat awakening has already started, and it won’t stop until it wins.
Part of my preoccupation with Democratic Socialism is helping people better understand that it’s not as scary as most older generations believe. If you grew up around the time when communism was a threat — spreading from the Soviet Union down to China and Southeast Asia — then you will probably always feel like socialism is evil.
But we’re well past that point. The Cold War is over, and has been over. Russia and China are both capitalist countries now, as are we. The only difference is they, somehow, have the ability to give free healthcare and education to their people. In America, the place of exceptionalism, we do not.
Democratic Socialism offers people a real choice about the society they want to be a part of. Do people want to live in a place where where their government values healthcare, education, and a greater chance of prosperity? Or do they want to continue giving their tax dollars away to the military to perpetually fight a handful of unpopular wars?
The choice is in our hands, in the workers’ hands, and so the workers will have to do what needs to be done to create a society more equitable to all. If Socialism scares you, I would encourage you not to just take my word for it. Author Thomas Frank uses organized labor as the focal point of his two most popular books — What’s The Matter With Kansas? and Listen, Liberal — the former being a critique of the Republican Party, and the latter a critique of the Democratic Party. As I’ve mentioned and as he goes into detail, both parties have abandoned the workers in favor of the corporations.
My challenge to the reader is not to change anyone’s mind, or have them blindly accept that my version of events are the one and only truth. I merely do this to provoke a question, and that question is this: If both parties are in agreement to crush workers and help corporations, what makes them worthy of support?