During his State of the Union speech, President Trump spoke of socialism as if it were a form of evil: “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. . . . Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
But we, as Americans, have already put strong socialist measures into our governing structure. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that is, food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security as about as socialist as you can get, and they are very popular programs.
Trump appears to be equating socialism with communism. But those who accept socialism do not propose government dictatorship. What they favor is broader sharing among all members of a society in the benefits of that society. These days, that means assuring health care for all, no matter how impoverished, and guaranteeing a minimum income for all.
The United States stands out from other western democracies by its failure to provide medical care and protection from poverty for its people. Government support for and provision of health care is virtually universal among all other advanced nations today. To a lesser degree, protection from poverty is widespread.
My sense is that the U.S. slowness in adopting socialistic measures comes in large part from our devotion to capitalism and our deification of rugged individualism. We admire the strong, look down on the weak. And yet the religions most of us accept—Christianity and Judaism—teach us to succor the weak and the poor. We revere the biblical quotes from the New Testament that tell us “The poor you will have always with you” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The Old Testament tells us that “The meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
We are, in short, at odds with ourselves. It’s long since time that we moved toward the benefits socialism can offer us. Newly elected Democrats are already pushing in that direction.