Language is the tool that most separates humans from the rest of the animal world. We can articulate speech, use devices to write, convey nuance with facial expressions and body language, and even use technology to broadcast our words and images to others. In this way, we seek to change our world to suit our wants and needs. The art of persuasion relies on our ability to use language to move people to our views and beliefs. To that end, some co-opt this tool and turn it against people through the language of hate.
One of the best examples of this is the current trend to use “Socialism” as a cudgel against those with progressive views on social issues such as gender and race inequality, or economic issues such as income inequality. So, let’s look at some definitions of socialism. Conservative politicians and pundits frequently claim adopting socialism will destroy our democracy, often pointing (incorrectly) to failed states that claim to be socialist, but are really just dictatorships (e.g., Venezuela).
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), often considered the highest reference standard for the English language, defines socialism as, “Frequently with capital initial. A theory or system of social organization based on state or collective ownership and regulation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange for the common benefit of all members of society; advocacy or practice of such a system, esp. as a political movement. Now also: any of various systems of liberal social democracy which retain a commitment to social justice and social reform or feature some degree of state intervention in the running of the economy.”
This broad definition affords a range of government involvement in a society, from complete control of a country’s industrial base to government intervention to protect its population. Using the first interpretation would seem to justify the cries of alarm by conservatives. However, there are no sitting politicians at the federal level calling for our government to take control of businesses. To be clear, none are calling for America to adopt socialism. Rather, progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez call for “democratic socialism” to provide for regulated capitalism that will protect both the citizenry and wealth generation.
Perhaps then we should look at the definition of democratic socialism, which the OED defines as, “A form of socialism pursued by democratic rather than autocratic or revolutionary means, esp. by respecting a democratically elected legislature as the source of political change; (also more generally) moderate or centrist socialism.” This definition more accurately describes the position of modern progressive American politicians who recognize both the need for some government controls (such as environmental regulations) and limits on government controls (such as the Bill of Rights).
The key term is “democratic.” By adding this term, progressives recognize the need for our government to respond to the will of the people through its elected representatives. Democratic socialism has been a part of our government from the beginning. In fact, without it, we would not be a nation, much less the world leader we are today. Democratic socialism provides the infrastructure needed by all American people and businesses not just to survive, but to thrive. The bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, recently passed by both chambers of Congress, is a classic example of democratic socialism in that the democratically elected legislature chose to change (improve) our infrastructures across the country.
This bit of socialism will provide good-paying jobs for Americans through construction projects to build and improve roads, bridges, rail lines, and ports so necessary for businesses to produce and deliver products to their customers. It will also provide access to high-speed Internet connections for millions of people in rural and impoverished areas, improving their opportunities to engage in global business regardless of zip code. And it will give economic incentives for cleaner energy infrastructures so critical to creating a sustainable environment for our posterity.
We have talked in the past about the need for meaningful communication about the challenges we face as a nation. The politics of hatred clearly works to energize a portion of our population into participation in our elections, and we would never want to discourage people from participating in our democracy. But, perhaps now that we have engaged so many more people, we should begin to work more reasonably towards the compromises that will serve to improve our democracy.
Benjamin Franklin said in his speech to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787 (a speech we believe all Americans should read as it was instrumental in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution), “I meet with no body but myself that’s always in the right.” We should all recognize that no one person is right on all issues. It was our collective wisdom that founded this country. It was our collective wisdom that built this country. And it will be our collective wisdom that continues to grow this country.
But we cannot reap the rewards of our collective wisdom through hate. We must learn to listen to each other and compromise. Unfortunately, such compromise is rare now in our legislatures.