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.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Do some of the Facebook's best features, like the newsfeed algorithm or groups, make removing hate speech from the platform impossible?

No, they do not. But what they do do is make it a lot easier for hate speech to spread. A fundamental problem with Facebook are the incentives in the newsfeed algorithm and the structure of groups make it harder for Facebook to remove hate speech.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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