The Paradox of American Socialism

Americans will be hearing the word socialism a lot over the next 21 months.

President Donald Trump believes that the emergence of some Democrats who embrace this label (in various forms) offers him a big political opening, just as the 2020 presidential election shifts into high gear. "We believe in the American dream, not the socialist nightmare," he recently told the Conservative Political Action Conference, an audience that responded with ecstatic applause.


It's a politically shrewd tactic. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that just 18 percent of Americans view the word "socialist" in a positive light. About 50 percent see it as a negative.

Some 68 percent say they could support a gay or lesbian presidential candidate, 49 percent could support a Muslim, but just 25 percent say they could back a "socialist." No wonder the vast majority of American political candidates work hard to avoid the label.

Here's the paradox: A recent Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Americans say money and wealth "should be more evenly distributed" in their country. Just 31 percent think the current "distribution is fair."

Other recent polls found that 75 percent of Americans support higher taxes on the ultrawealthy, 67 percent back a law guaranteeing paid maternity leave, 83 percent want strong net neutrality rules, and 92 percent want Medicare, a federal health insurance program, to negotiate for lower drug prices.

Americans don't like "socialists," but they do like social security, federal safety standards for food and medicine, unemployment insurance, federal disaster relief, and child labor laws. Younger voters, in particular, associate socialism with Scandinavia, not the Soviet Union.

But this is less a story about political philosophy than about political branding, a problem that will cloud honest debate over what's affordable and what isn't. It's going to be the major battle line for the 2020 US presidential election—and the future of US politics.

It was inevitable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make India's elections a referendum on Narendra Modi, and now that the vast majority of 600 million votes cast have been counted, it's clear he made the right call.

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Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

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It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.