“The trouble with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
This was the text of the bumper sticker adorning the old Chevy pickup in front of me in traffic today. As fate would have it, it was actually the second anti-socialist bumper sticker that I would see during my daily commute. The odd, coincidental nature of the two messages got me thinking about the nature and content of political expression these days and more specifically the lack of depth of those expressions.
While I am hesitant to be overly judgmental of Mr. Chevy experience has taught me that he likely would have difficulty explaining to me the difference between communism, fascism, and socialism. He likely has little or no concept that there are socialist governments that produce things such as universal healthcare, free college tuition, and progressive environmental policies and have made no efforts at global domination.
Here in the rural south such anti-socialist sentiment is, of course, not usual and I cannot lay all the blame on the drivers’ lack of political education. Beyond this region there is a portion of the American public at large that is woefully deficient in basic civics, misunderstanding not only foreign political philosophies but also the structure of their own government.
This is not a new reality for us, reducing true political nuance to catch phrases such as the expression of Mr. Chevy. We have heard these from “Just Say No” to “Make America Great Again” and everything in between. All of these exclamations are presented as succinct answers when, in fact, they leave much more unsaid and unexplained than they enlighten. Their appeal is to the emotions and not to the intellect encouraging us not to look too deeply into our political belief systems. I’m sure my fellow drivers’ fundamental disdain for socialism would not include any efforts to curtail his police and fire protection or his Medicaid and Medicare which are decidedly socialist programs.
Politicians are more than willing to play into these tendencies, offering simpleminded solutions to complex problems that they know are insufficient but that play well in media sound bites. On the right this strategy is usually all too easy to spot. A factory worker with two kids, a mortgage, and a car note loses his job because the business automated or outsourced his position. To call out the actual cause would put a republican politician at odds with the corporate interest that are a major funding source to his party. Instead said politician expresses some vague claims about the unregulated immigration system and connects unemployment problems to a supposed porous border.
For conservatives it has been an effective strategy as they use simplistic political stances such as “pro-life” to drive wedges into the American electorate. This action plan has produced results such as senior citizens who reliably vote for a party dedicated to taking away their Medicare and Social Security because they feel a moral obligation to oppose abortion. There is no examination on the policies that advocate defunding things like early childhood nutrition programs, medical care for poor or underserved children, or educational programs for children and youth. They simply look for the pro-life label and vote accordingly.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not admit to the prevalence of similar policies and tactics on the left. As we approach the midterm elections of 2018 the catch phrase of the democrats is “Vote Blue no matter who.” This dovetails with the rhetoric of progressive pundits that continue to castigate any non-republican that did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. They have no compunction about telling those that cast their ballots for a third party candidate that they effectively voted for Donald Trump. The Green Party and the Russians, we are told, are responsible for stealing the election.
The discussion of the hacking of DNC emails centers on the duplicity of the Russian hackers and avoids any discussion of the substance of those emails. There are no serious conversations about the machinations of the democratic political establishment to assure that Hillary Clinton and not Bernie Sanders would be the party nominee. The dialog is always anti-Russian or anti-Trump (admittedly both are well worthy of criticism) and not on the qualifications are lack thereof of the democratic candidate.
We are told to forget the body of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up on that Turkish beach in 2015. A victim of the Syrian conflict, he epitomized the thousands of dead and displaced children that can be partially blamed on the regime change strategy perpetuated by the Obama administration. This was a part of the foreign policy initiatives that included the deposing of the democratically elected President of Honduras, the destabilization of the Brazilian government, and the destruction of Libya. The fact that these actions were enthusiastically carried out by Secretary of State Clinton is irrelevant. We are to simply “Vote Blue no matter who.”
Am I saying that in the end the Trump administration and the Obama administration are the same or that this is some kind of zero sum game? Of course not. There is no ignoring the regressive goals of the Trump presidency, the flagrant personal greed and self-aggrandizement, or the disregard for any semblance of democratic principles. What are we to make, however, of a more palatable democratic administration that continues to funnel millions into the armed forces of Israel and Saudi Arabia which in turn sacrifices the lives of more Palestinians or Yemenis? Is it a simplistic equation that exchanges thousands of dead Muslims for a possible Supreme Court Justice? Were the record deportations under President Obama the price paid for the implementation of Obama Care?
So the hard questions are avoided or ignored and we follow the lead of Mr. Chevy and adorn our vehicles with our catch phrase political philosophies. The simplistic logic is always that we republicans are better than you democrats or we democrats are better than you republicans. You don’t have to look any deeper or apply any nuance as the answers are simple; the republicans want to make the rich richer at the poor’s expense, the democrats want to take your hard earned money and give it to lazy immigrants or any one of a thousand arguments that reduce issue analyzation and political discourse down to digestible soundbites.
The truth is that life is complicated and none of those easily digested slogans adequately elucidates the complexity of our world or the thoughts and motivations that drive it. We should not be able to look at the body of young Alan Kurdi lying dead in the surf and separate it from the policies of regime change or the body of Tamir Rice on that Cleveland playground and not understand why Colin Kaepernick took to his knee. No amount of flag waving or anthem singing can erase the blame or wash the blood away.
If I could have a real conversation with Mr. Chevy I would tell him that properly implemented socialist programs could assure him universal healthcare, low cost education, and a cleaner environment. Unfortunately he will likely continue to hold to those simple sound bites; real honest political dialog won’t fit on his bumper sticker.