Despite what many Americans fear, this country will never embrace socialism. The political culture here has developed differently from Europe in several key ways that ensure that the left could never get away with drifting that far from the center. American politicians and the media have always deliberately portrayed the very idea of communism as an enemy of America, and socialism is linked to communism in the minds of most. Socialism is seen as oppressive, in firm opposition to the freedom we hold so dear. This is why it is so easy to attack anyone whose ideas so much as bring socialism to mind.
Also key to America’s inability to even tolerate socialism is the American Dream. The idea of the American Dream relies on the widespread belief that this is a country where anyone can work hard and achieve economic stability. This concept has always brought great pride to both those born here and immigrants. Arguing that we need socialist policies counters this by acknowledging that you need more than just a dream and a work ethic to succeed.
Although Bernie Sanders is doing increasingly well in this campaign, there are still plenty of people who do not trust his ideas or beliefs simply because as a country we have been conditioned to be fearful of government, and of any intrusion on our freedoms. European countries long ago accepted and embraced having a welfare state for two reasons: their culture does not place the same importance on individual freedoms, and ‘welfare’ doesn’t have the same negative connotations there.
Europeans, for the most part would rather have more time off (paid leave, maternity/paternity leave, etc.) and be guarenteed healthcare and education, and they are willing to sacrifice personal discretion over larger parts of their income because of this. Americans have more of an ‘every man for himself’ mentality when it comes to these services. I’m generalizing for the sake of argument, but most Americans believe there should be a basic level of government – some healthcare policy, some help paying for college, but are wary of the intrinsic costs that come with accepting socialist style policies and programs.
The fact that Bernie has been able to do so well is a reflection of how drastic the problem of income inequality has become. In a former era, the political career of anyone who was even rumored to have something to do with communism or socialism was over. Bernie’s success in that era is unthinkable, however the economic booms that covered for the lie that it is American Dream are no longer a reality: “Americans might be confused hearing this. But according to all relevant socio-economic indicators developed by the OECD – where the U.S. government has always played a strong hand in economic data management – there cannot be any doubt that U.S. excellence in terms of social mobility is a thing of the past.”
The Democratic party and voters embracing Bernie even this much proves that economic disparities have become extreme, since it should not be taken lightly that voters, at least on the left, actually view inequality as a larger threat than socialist ideas right now.
Another difference in how the US and Europe perceive socialism differently has to do with welfare, and I believe this is crucial to the whole debate. In Europe, welfare is pretty much just a word, meaning the responsibility the state has to secure a basic degree of welfare (rights) for its citizens. Whereas in the US welfare usually has a very specific and negative connotation. This underlying meaning was purposefully and politically created: welfare is for the lazy, those who don’t work hard enough to ensure the American Dream for themselves. And we would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge the crucial roles of racism and classism here.