Politics, over the last decade, have made an unprecedented, polarizing shift. The party lines of Democrats and Republicans have become more and more distinct. The election of 2012 saw the beginnings of that polarization and now, four years later, that polarization is front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump has emerged as the leader of the Republican Party, while the Democrats are still tied between two distinctly different candidates: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with Sanders leading the progressives of the party. Sanders and his campaign are truly important and significant in terms of American politics. As many know, Sanders is a Democratic Socialist and for some, that seems worrisome. Let’s delve into this a little bit further and see why Sanders is so significant and why the word “socialist” has become so scary to some Americans.
Ever since the 1950s, socialism and communism have earned the connotation of “dirty words,” which are threats to the American way of life, and there are some good reasons for that. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, the Kim Jong Un Regime in North Korea, Chairman Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Fidel Castro were brutal dictators who killed millions and millions in their countries while enforcing communist and socialist policies.
For those who believe socialism is a viable way to run an economy, the bloody history of socialism makes it very difficult for these people to openly admit they feel that way. Although, there are a few other factors at play here. One of them is the total lack of education about socialism and where it came from, as taught in American public schools.
Socialism has been extremely popular here in America, so much so that in 1912 Eugene V. Debs garnered over nine-hundred thousand votes running as a member of the Socialist Party of America. Perhaps more astonishing, the labor movements in America were partially framed around socialist philosophies, such as the weekend, the 40-hour work week and many other labor regulations. Now, these policies are “just how it is,” and are, in reality, socialist policies. Again, the issue is that the core principles of socialism are not taught in public schools, because people would be upset if one were to teach the reality of the matter, which is that socialism is and has been alive and well in this country.
You can attribute the demonization of socialism in America to one man: Joseph McCarthy. From 1947 to 1957, the Republican senator from Wisconsin used his power in the Senate to spread lies and deceit for political gain—something I think we’re fairly used to now. The strategies used, known today as “McCarthyism,” spread across the country and painted communists as the new enemy of democracy.
Think about it. During World War II, the Soviets fought alongside us against the Nazis. From the USSR’s formation in 1922 and through the late forties they were our friends, and we did not have much against them. Certainly the philosophies of socialism were not a problem for most Americans before the fifties, but once McCarthy came around, that all clearly changed. This still remains true to this day, although thankfully disdain for socialism is lowering daily. The literal definition of McCarthyism is (according to Webster’s Dictionary) “the use of tactics involving personal attacks on individuals by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges.” McCarthyism is, simply put, lying!
So the fact that he was able to convince millions of Americans that socialism was bad based on no concrete facts at the time is insane, but oddly, not too hard to believe in this day in age.
Sanders has done something today that seemed unimaginable just ten years ago. He is an open Democratic Socialist and has a very good chance of beating Hillary Clinton, one of the most powerful people in the country. Many people in my generation of millennials have done research into the actual ideas behind socialism as an economic policy, and a huge portion of us agree with it. Sanders has done the impossible, which is to undemonize socialism and reverse the lies that McCarthy spread over sixty years ago.