When confronted with our democratic duty to vote, and do so in an informed manner, Americans are gullible. We fall for terms that are often misused because we have very little education on what these things are. Some of these words have meanings., we believe, that go far into the past. They have taken on dangerous meanings, and it is time to confront this. Partly, the 2020 race to the White House already promises to be full of these political well-trodden tropes. Many are divorced from the dictionary, and we would make a mistake not to question their use in political circles.
Words have meaning, and Americans fall easily into code words. They are meant to create fear, confusion and to sway people. It is beyond the normal scope of politics, and have become a virtual battlefield. The problem is that in our highly divided nation, these tropes have taken a quasi-reality that has replaced the fantasy that they originated in.
Some of these tropes started during the Cold War. Some go further back to the first Red Scare of the 1920s, or even the 19th century. However, it is critical for people to be familiar to them. They are propaganda at its best.
Far Left: This is one of those terms that are used by media, the commentariat, and Republicans regularly. It is used less often by the right of center Democratic coalition. It is funny on its face. The United States does not have an organized left, let alone a far left. We have not had one since the 1960s. You could even argue that the New Left was a moderate center-left group.. and we have some that remain from that era. Whether it is Noam Chomsky or yes, Bernie Sanders.
They are far from the boogeymen that want to radically change the country. Nor are they unprecedented historically. What Senator Sanders wants was very mainstream in 1930, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt would find himself very much at home.
Red Baiting: Business interests have painted any reform that moderates Capitalism as a threat. They like to compare this to the Soviet Union and now that the USSR is gone, to Venezuela. For some odd reason, they always miss the Nordic countries. I suspect that this is because Social Democracy works, but it also regulates capitalism and makes it work for all.
Socialism and communism: One of the all-time favorites false equivalencies is between socialism, any form, and communism. These days the favorite target is once again, Venezuela. Spoiler alert, even though President Nicolas Maduro likes to call his nation a socialist state, it is not. It has a lot more in common with an authoritarian state, with populist undertones. Many of his conditionals are starving while he still enjoys the good life. His predecessor and his family have indeed looted the nation.
Granted, without going into too much detail, some of the troubles in Venezuela come from American foreign policy. As they say, it’s complicated, but it is not socialism… at least not one that works, if we are to be that nice.
However, our professional media commentators and critics will never mention either the Nordic nations or point to the success of 1950s United States. None wants to go to those glory days if they include strong unions, regulations, and high marginal taxes.
Freedom, personal responsibility and pull yourself by your bootstraps: You all have heard these, They are code from the right wing. We do not need any stinking government, that is until we need the government, like during a disaster. But these words are used to signal how opposed we are to the safety net which may help the whole. It is as if we were opposed to things like the fire department until we need to call 911. Many of these programs, like Social Security, are broadly brushed with the collectivist label, and it is pure, sheer propaganda.
Social security is very popular until you mention it by name. The Affordable Care Act is very popular, but damn it, Obamacare is trash (they are the same thing.) This is how it works. It is dangerous and turns American against American. And as the race to the White House starts, we are seeing this once again. Screams of the far left are filling my TV and your editorial pages, It is hardly accidental.
2016 and Bernie Sanders
At the risk of removing some fresh scabs, it is important to understand what happened in 2016. First off, it was a populist year. The Democrats misread the mood of the nation, They believed they could keep the White House with the ultimate pro-establishment figure, and in the process alienated young voters, and engaged in their own form of a dedazo. We all hope they learn their lesson.
However, we need to look at what happened. First off, Secretary Hillary Clinton ran from the center-right. She was the definition of the establishment. She ran on the continuation of neo-liberalism, and the continuation of the 1990s.
Senator Bernie Sanders ran as a left-wing populist. Never mind that his left wing was hardly radical, or too far to the left. His was moderately center-left, drawing inspiration from both American history and the New Deal, and northern. Europe. This was not an unexpected conflict. The establishment that the Clinton campaign embraced came to be in the 1980s, and has led to the current income inequality and new gilded age.
Bernie was the upstart, and none expected him to win. Once he started doing well, he was perceived as a threat to the establishment, and not just center-right Democrats. Bernie advocated for a return of a more equal economic system. His views have now become far more mainstream in the Democratic Party.
Clinton lost the popular vote to Trump because she was the establishment. This is a lesson many Democrats, to this day, refuse to learn. She won the popular vote, but Trump won in the electoral college, due to a quirk of the system.
The 2018 Campaign
So we are off to the races, and it’s early. Partly this is coming from the horrendous effect of a Trump presidency on the nation. His populism is turning out to be quite hollow. However, and this matters, many of the Democratic candidates are adopting Sander’s ideas in part, or whole. He is also running for the presidency, and now is not doing such as an underdog.
We live in a populist era. There is no denying this. The middle class is under great stress and wants changes that will make the ground more equal. There is also status loss anxiety, as the country becomes a majority-minority country.
Many of those running, including Bernie, know this. Why Elizabeth Warren, for example, is not going to take money from big donors. She is following on his path, and why he is no longer the underdog.
I covered the Occupy movement, and much of its agenda has become mainstream in the Democratic Establishment. Democratic politicians address income inequality beyond just talking point. There are concrete policy proposals, for example, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has adopted a 70 percent marginal tax rate as one solution, It’s just not solid policy, but it is mainstream.
Medicare for All has become popular, especially as our medical system continues a slow collapse under its own weight. It is the most expensive system in the world, and the cost-benefit analysis is not there. It is simply inaccessible to millions of Americans. And god help us if we had a public health emergency.
Raising the minimum wage to fifteen an hour has also become popular. Never mind this is not a living wage, but it is closer to one than the present federal wage. Many states, like California, are on the way to implement it.
Making college free (and paying it through taxes) is also popular And then there is the Green New Deal, a way to deal with Global Warming. It is especially popular among the younger cohort in the party, which is the cohort that will have to deal with the consequences. They know they need to decarbonize the economy if they are to survive on a planet that is rapidly heating up.
The Media has tried to ignore all of this, to no avail, But now they are forced to cover this. However, it is not In the balls and strikes of neutral media. They are still making fun and trying to ignore the true issues. Instead, we are getting our daily dose of inane things, instead of policy analysis. Regular anchors, who at times ask leading questions. They are not trying to inform but to lay out traps.
The Commentariat that does not pretend. Even the most progressive in the lot do not like the idea of higher taxes. They also cover global warming as if it was a nonissue, or not as urgent. We can expect more of the same as the race to the White House continues to heat up.
They will sign ignore, minimize, lye, misrepresent t and when all this does not work, they will try to scare the pants off the voters. The American right will do as well. The last time that Americans faced this start a choice, they elected FDR. The changes that came from that presidency were systemic, and some people, a vast majority, did pay higher taxes for a few generations. They do not want to go back to that time.