The 2016 presidential election cycle brought about several alternative political ideologies, from Gary Johnson’s libertarianism to the grassroots outreach efforts of Jill Stein’s Green Party. One of the election’s foremost political mavericks – Senator Bernie Sanders – espoused democratic socialism to the current presidential election, an ideological framework that combines political democracy and a socialist economic policy.
Sanders’ unique approach to politics and government drew vast crowds of disillusioned Americans to his side. By the first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders had become a serious contender for the Democratic Party’s candidacy. Although Sanders did not secure the party’s nomination, the senator’s popularity raises questions regarding the reason behind his political appeal and the future of his ideological standpoint.
Democratic socialism contends with the economic system practiced by much of the western world and America itself: capitalism. In this election, socialism and capitalism have been cast as mutually exclusive economic states, but in reality the U.S. practices elements from both economic extremes.
Democratic socialists, as explained by the Democratic Socialists of America, “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”
While democratic socialism advocates systemic socioeconomic change, Sanders’ platform was milder, advocating universal minimum living standards and corporate regulation akin to social democracy. Purer forms of democratic socialism – on the other hand – call for a state-run, socialist economy with ownership by a government of popularly elected officials.
Sen. Sanders’ identification as a Democratic Socialist is imperative because of its effect on the American voting atmosphere. In the U.S., the word “socialism” conjures images of a dystopic society in which everyone shares the same gray clothes and vacations on the same sad patch of dead grass.
However, Sanders’ form of democratic socialism is less loyal to a strict economic definition in the same way America’s capitalist society is less loyal to the strict economic definition of capitalism than many may think.
A purely capitalistic nation would be free of governmental economic influence in any form. This is a far cry from capitalism in the United States, which is infused with government regulations. On the other hand, attempts at socialist utopias have produced terrible standards of living and slow economic growth, as in the case of the former Soviet Union.
Taking into consideration these two extremes, it’s safe to say that Sen. Sanders is not 100 percent socialist and America is not 100 percent capitalist – and that’s a good thing. This distinction is crucial because it leaves room for compromise.
Sanders’ critical skepticism of the economic establishments that hold much of the nation’s wealth doesn’t exist in complete opposition to capitalism as an economic practice. Diametrically opposing viewpoints have characterized the American political landscape this election, with the media pushing citizens away from a nuanced understanding of reality and into a dangerous caricature of the nation.
Sanders’ socialism is not the second coming of communism. Neither is America a completely capitalist hell-scape – at least not yet. In reality, the nation is capable of balancing a diverse range of policies that reflect the complex political structure that governs America’s economic decisions.
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