The thousands of democratic socialists in the United States who have been organizing and fighting for justice in political obscurity for years likely never thought their ideas would be the subject of heated debates on prominent talk-shows like “The View” or feature pieces in such establishment mainstays as PBS and NPR.
“A political revolution is coming, and establishment politicians can get on board or be swept away.”
—Tascha Van Auken, DSA
But—driven in large part by the persistent popularity of Bernie Sanders’ brand of politics and the recent landslide victory of self-described democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s congressional primary—the past several weeks have seen a torrent of news headlines, television segments, and hot takes on democratic socialism’s rapid emergence into everyday political discourse, an indication that ideas previously defined as “fringe” by corporate media outlets, pundits, and politicians are quickly going mainstream.
“Democratic Socialism Surging in the Age of Trump,” reads a representative headline from the Associated Press. “Is socialism having its moment in U.S. elections?” asked the title of a recent PBS “NewsHour” segment.
Even the New York Post, a right-wing tabloid, grudgingly admitted, “Like it or not, America is now seriously debating socialism.”
Here are a few other headlines that have appeared in major publications over the past few weeks:
“Socialism is no longer a dirty word in the U.S,” noted the Guardian‘s Arwa Mahdawi in a recent column highlighting the massive surge of interest in socialism over the past several months, which has translated into a record-breaking membership spike for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Previously hovering below ten thousand members, DSA’s membership exploded past 20,000 in the months following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections. Now, just over a month after Ocasio-Cortez trounced corporate Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley, DSA boasts more than 47,000 dues-paying members.
“One month after voters in the South Bronx put ‘democratic socialism’ in the headlines, real America has registered its outrage at the Democrats’ hard-left turn—by giving the party a larger lead in the generic congressional ballot.”
—Eric Levitz, New York Magazine
It should perhaps come as no surprise that Americans—and millennials in particular—are seeking a bold and humane alternative to capitalism, a system that has produced staggering and ever-growing levels of inequality, rampant poverty, an existential environmental crisis, and, of course, soaring wealth for the few at the very top.
As New York City DSA member Neal Meyer explained in a recent piece for Jacobin, democratic socialists want to build an alternative future where—in contrast to the current economic landscape defined by financial insecurity for most—”everyone has a right to food, healthcare, a good home, an enriching education, and a union job that pays well.”
“We want to guarantee all of this while stopping climate change and building an economy that’s ecologically sustainable,” Meyer added. “We want to build a world without war, where people in other countries are free from the fear of U.S. military intervention and economic exploitation. And we want to end mass incarceration and police brutality, gender violence, intolerance towards queer people, job and housing discrimination, deportations, and all other forms of oppression.”
If the victory of Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) status as far-and-away the most popular politician in the U.S. are any evidence, such an ambitious vision has widespread appeal. As The Nation‘s John Nichols noted in a piece pointing to socialism’s “winning streak,” democratic socialists have also won primary victories in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, providing further evidence that Americans aren’t scared of the S-word.
“A political revolution is coming, and establishment politicians can get on board or be swept away,” Tascha Van Auken, co-chair of DSA’s national election committee, told Nichols.
The fact that so much of the American public finds the ideas pushed by democratic socialists like Sanders has sent the right’s chief propaganda machine, Fox News, into “panic mode” as they struggle mightily to explain why free healthcare and education are actually bad.
Most often, the result has been free advertising for progressive policies:
Right-wing fury and fear-mongering seems to have done little to stem the rising socialist tide.
As New York Magazine‘s Eric Levitz noted over the weekend, “one month after voters in the South Bronx put ‘democratic socialism’ in the headlines, real America has registered its outrage at the Democrats’ hard-left turn—by giving the party a larger lead in the generic congressional ballot.”
From a column last week, The Ringer‘s Justin Charity adds that “socialists have proved more excited, coordinated, and immediately productive than any other Democratic coalition of the past decade.”
“In the short term—which is to say, the midterms—the great excitement about left-wing politics will likely prove indispensable to the Democratic Party’s efforts to recapture the House, if not also the Senate, and to mount a more resilient bulwark against Trumpism in Congress,” Charity concludes. “In the long term, socialism may recalibrate the Democratic Party and the U.S. political equilibrium altogether. “
In these darkest of days, here’s what gives me hope:
First, Donald Trump has been a giant wake-up call that we can’t take democracy for granted. The young people of America get this. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and I don’t recall a generation as committed to social justice, reforming this country, and making it work for all and not just a few.
Look at those kids in Parkland, Florida. Or the millions more who are getting involved in their communities and in politics. They are America’s future, and they won’t give up.
The second thing that makes me optimistic is occurring at the grassroots of America, where there’s more activism than I remember in half a century. The #MeToo movement, Time’s Up, #BlackLivesMatter, #Neveragain, the Poor People’s Campaign, Indivisible.org, swingleft.org.
They and thousands of other groups and millions of Americans are united by a commitment to end abuses of power – whether by sexual predators, or the police, the National Rifle Association, or billionaires out to undermine our democracy.
Third, Fueled by Trump’s election, more women are running for office than ever before. According to Emily’s List, more than 36,000 women are interested in running for office in 2018 and beyond. By comparison, 920 women contacted Emily’s List in the 2016 campaign.
Fourth, I’m optimistic because America’s history shows that every time we’ve gotten off track, Americans mobilize to get our country back on track. We did this after the Gilded Age of the 1880s and 1890s, when robber barons monopolized the economy; politics was poisoned by money; and poverty, and disease, and horrendous working conditions claimed thousands of lives each year.
We did it again in the Depression decade of the 1930s, after the economy collapsed because of Wall Street’s excesses. And again in the 1960s and 1970s, when we embraced civil rights and voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid, and environmental protection. If history teaches us anything, we will again reform this system.
Fifth, I’m also optimistic because these grueling years of the Trump presidency have made us all realize how fragile our democracy really is, and what we need to reform–from the Electoral College and super-delegates to gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and hacker-proof voting machinery.
And most of us now know how important it is to vote.
Finally, I’m optimistic because I don’t like the alternative. We must have hope.
The fate of this nation depends on every one of us becoming an activist, joining with others, and reclaiming this land from those bent on destroying it.