“Socialism” is a scare word in American politics. And lately it’s a fad. It’s thrown around all the time by political figures including Donald Trump. It’s a pink scare word, just as politicians of an earlier era warned about that sinister redness than which one would better be dead: communism.
Of course, Trump doesn’t seem to have any trouble with corporate socialism, whereby huge companies get fat federal subsidies and tax breaks, and giant banks get titanic bailouts from John Q. Public, as they did in the crisis of 2008-09. In fact, Trump’s big tax cut — the one that was supposed to benefit “the plumbers, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers, the truck drivers, the pipe-fitters, the people that like me best” — went mostly to the top 20 percent of earners and left us all with a $984 billion deficit this year.
But for most of us, Dr. Trump prescribes a regimen of true-blue, all-American, capitalist, straight-shooting, Horatio Alger virtue: Hard work, honesty and determination will get you ahead in life. Never say never. Of course, you may not have received $413 million from daddy, much of it through tax dodges, as Trump did, so you’d better just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work.
But rather than helping the plumbers and the cops, Trump is always denigrating as “socialism” the programs that really do help the little guy, the kinds of protections that keep a lot of people from falling off a financial cliff.
It’s called the social safety net, and every society I can think of has one. Some of it is private, and we do well to remember how much good charities and churches do in this country.
The rest of it comes from government, in the form of a plethora of programs: Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the indigent, subsidized food and housing, programs like Head Start, direct welfare payments, and on and on.
At least two nationally prominent Democrats — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have defined themselves as “democratic socialists.” Another, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, insists she’s a confirmed capitalist. But all three support programs that may be too far left for most Americans. All of this stuff — “Medicare for All,” free state college tuition, whatever — costs money, of course.
So we tax everybody (well, except for those rich enough to avoid taxes) for lots of things not everybody uses directly, but all of us benefit from: streets, highways, the fire department, the police department, the Army, the Navy, the guys who plow the snow. Is that “socialism”?
The other big rap the right has against the left is that they always want to regulate everything. Small-business owners, for instance, complain about all the hoops they have to jump through to do business.
As for me (I thought you’d never ask), I feel their pain, but there’s a lot of stuff that badly needs to be regulated. Because the laissez-faire right, which runs the show in Washington right now, is happy to let factories and mines dump poisons into our water, drill for oil in our wide-open spaces, and thinks environmental protection can be entrusted to former coal executives and others who don’t believe the environment should be protected.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.