Ordinarily what I’m about to say would be code for ‘please send the men in the white coats to take me away’, but I agree with Donald Trump. And, to make matters even weirder, I also agree with Kellyanne Conway who said “[socialism] is creeping throughout the entire party” and that “it will be an issue in 2020”.
In simple terms, they’re both right. America won’t ever become a socialist county; I would ask even the most ardent of socialists to seriously begin to imagine what would need to happen in order for the United States of America to become a socialist county. Nonetheless, it will become an issue in 2020, even if it is contained within the Democrat party.
Socialism — and more broadly the left — has experienced a change in fortunes over the last two years. Hitherto the idea that socialism would be a formative force in the build up to a national election would have been entirely alien. Yet, in 2016, we very nearly had an openly socialist candidate heading up one of the two major parties and mounting a serious campaign for the presidency. There are countless interpretations as to why this is happening, but the crucial thing that politicians have to acknowledge, is that it is indeed happening.
While the force has not yet encroached into the Democrats’ party establishment — exhibited by Pelosi’s applause for Trump’s aforementioned statement — Gallup polling (amongst others) has revealed some seismic, national trends:
To me, the most striking statistics from the above table are that in 2012 nearly 1 in 4 Republicans or Republican leaning voters had a positive view of socialism — one in four! And, that 2018 was the first time that capitalism experienced a net disapprove rating among a major party’s supporters. Although the table doesn’t directly reference this, there are also a number of ‘unknowns’ and where a vacuum occurs, the unknown (in this case, socialism), can conquer much more easily.
Similar trends are happening on a state level, too. Reporting by Axios earlier this month showed that in Iowa socialism has a net approval rating while capitalism has a net disapproval rating. Whether this is a reaction to, or a cause of, stated policy by major politicians is slightly beyond my scope, but there is an increasing comfort amongst the Democrat field to run on a platform made up largely of policies that would have appeared too far to the left for them to previously consider. A view summed up nicely by documentary director, Astra Taylor:
In addition to the Iowa polling — which is absolutely remarkable, by the way — it is worth noting that, albeit on a less quantifiable basis, Democrat candidates have begun to endorse policies that would have been excluded from the political mainstream, only a few election cycles ago.
Medicare for all, minimum wage increases, jobs programmes, support for teachers strikes, large scale justice reform, anti-wall street narrative, anti-super PAC narrative, and a Green new deal, to name a few. In fact, tomorrow, Beto will be joining a protest in El Paso while Trump visits to talk about the wall. I feel that this kind of activity will become part of the litmus test for Democrat candidates in the months to come and how they respond to a fairly arbitrary shift in goal posts will be a tough test even for the most robust in the field.
If you take a more longitudinal look then, yes, attitudes towards the role of the government and its role in peoples lives probably has, on the whole, shifted the other way; it is hard to imagine a president enacting reforms as wide ranging as the New Deal (or Green New Deal…), for example. The long-term attitude of the American people towards grand political ideologies will define academic careers for decades to come. But in the meantime, the Democratic primaries will certainly be influenced by the increasingly accepted view of socialism.
There is little doubt then that ideas typically left out of mainstream debate will take a more major role in the 2020 cycle. But why then, if their ideas are so popular, are the candidates who run endorsing the policies failing to inspire voters?
Across the field, candidate by candidate, mostly Democrat voters are struggling to be enthused by anyone. A diverse and open field with candidates from the left and the centre of the party, some of the old guard versus a new generation, east coast, west coast, midwest, genders and races are all going to represented in the primary cycle, but I am yet to hear much positivity towards any of the candidates who are so eager to embrace a cocktail of the aforementioned policies.
The auto-prompter had barely stopped running before voters and the media were going after Harris; record as a prosector is their chosen weapon. A similarly quick attack of Kirsten Gillibrand came; Hilary 2.0. Elizabeth Warren has virtually been written off too, despite her announcement that she wouldn’t be associated with any PAC money, and Amy Klobuchar’s name recognition is so low that she doesn’t really have the potential to ignite excitement at the moment.
Far from being a female only problem, Biden and Sanders are too old, too left wing, or both. Cory Booker’s reputation as a grass-roots community activist is being challenged as a result of his financial links in Washington. As for Beto, are you even running? I know there are a small handful of other candidates to explore, too, but does anyone really think Sherrod Brown will be bridging the enthusiasm gap?
In 2016 the entire county has asked the question: ‘who do you dislike the least?’. Outside of their minority die-hards, there was very little genuine passion or enthusiasm generated for either HRC or Trump. The Democrats appear to have already framed their primary race in the same question.
No candidate has the right to be liked. They are asking for a hugely important and precious asset; your vote, and are expected to work extremely hard for it. But what I find striking is that while the ideas that these candidates support are increasingly popular with voter, the candidates themselves are not.