Since Trump took power, membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has leapt from 6,000 to 47,000 – and even conservatives are struggling to articulate what is so bad about free education and healthcare
Sun 29 Jul 2018
Here’s a fun game to play with a right-leaning American: say the word “socialism” and count the number of seconds it takes for them to scream “VENEZUELA” in response. It is unclear how many conservative Americans could identify Venezuela on a map but, boy, they all seem keen to inform you that the beleaguered country is a shining example of why socialism will never work, certainly not in the US.
For a recent example of how Republicans go completely Caracas at the mere mention of the S-word, please see Meghan McCain, the daughter of the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain. Last week, Meghan McCain had a meltdown on the daytime television chatshow The View when the subject of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who recently unseated a 10-term New York congressman, came up.
Joy Behar, a co-host on The View, mentioned that Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, which includes outlandish proposals such as paid sick leave and healthcare for everyone, sounded like a pretty good idea. At that point McCain, another co-host (a position she clearly got for her oratorical abilities and not her famous last name) yelled over everyone that this sort of attitude makes her “head explode”. It took McCain, whose parents are worth more than $200m, a fortune that is largely inherited, 20 seconds to bring up Venezuela as an example of why socialism is bad and capitalism is good. To bolster her argument, she quoted Margaret Thatcher, saying: “At a certain point, you run out of spending other people’s money.” McCain, who has benefited from unearned wealth all her life, concluded her rant by stating: “It’s petrifying to me that [socialism] is being normalised! Some of us do not want socialism normalised in this country.”
McCain is right. A lot of people, people so rich they forget how many houses they own (as John McCain once did), don’t want the idea that wealth should be distributed to the many, not the few, to become normalised in the hyper-individualistic, increasingly unequal US. Unfortunately for them, however, there has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards socialism in America; a country that, for a long time, has stood apart from other industrialised democracies in not developing a notable socialist movement. Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the US, certainly not among millennials, anyway, who face a far grimmer economic future than previous generations. It isn’t surprising that a number of recent polls show millennials are increasingly drawn to socialism and wary of capitalism.
The popularisation of what has been termed by some as ‘millennial socialism’ in the US arguably began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign gave it further momentum, and Ocasio-Cortez’s recent win added more fuel to the fire. You can see this trajectory reflected in the membership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Founded in 1982, it had about 6,000 members for most of its history. Shortly after the 2016 election, the organisation saw a boom in membership, reaching 11,000 paying members in December 2016. Since Trump took power, interest in the DSA has grown exponentially. A spokesman said it hit 47,000 members last week, and has “seen the fastest growth in our history following the win of Ocasio-Cortez”.
Perhaps the most significant thing about the rise of millennial socialism in the US is that it is forcing conservatives to articulate what exactly is so bad about a more equal system – often with results that are beyond parody. A writer for the ultra-conservative website the Daily Caller, for example, recently attended an Ocasio-Cortez rally and reported, completely straight-faced: “I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be … as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.” Kids deserving healthcare, imagine that! It’s a slippery slope, it really is. You start with accessible healthcare and pretty soon you end up just like Venezuela.