Op-Ed: Why the United States should be careful what it asks for

PUBLISHED: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 16:32:06 GMT

By David S. Levin, writer from New York

Right now, socialism is all the rage in America. Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls and packing in throngs of young fanatics at his rallies like they were going to a free Beyonce concert. Throw in a few million baby boomers still dreaming of 1969, stir vigorously, and cook over a politically high heat until boiling, and they’re certain they have the antidote to eradicate the evil orange plague from the White House and save the world from a near-certain apocalypse.

Still, stranger things have happened, like Donald Trump getting elected to begin with. Even Vegas didn’t pick that one. But it was his election that actually set off all this lunacy to begin with. And now, the pendulum is swinging back, and the spectre of a socialist America, and a Sanders presidency, has all of a sudden become a very real possibility.

He’s got over $30 million in campaign cash and, by the most important modern-day measure of them all, close to 11 million Twitter devotees. And he’s feeling it. So much so that he told a raucous crowd of college students recently “We’re taking on the entire political establishment. Both the Republicans and the Democrats!”

Democratic leaders are panic-stricken they’re losing control of their party like the Republicans did when Trump steamrolled them in 2016. And the Republicans, now fully behind him, are gearing up for a bloody, no-holds barred, back-alley brawl when Americans go to the polls in November. In the end, regardless of who wins, the 2020 presidential race will look more like a grisly triple murder scene than an election.

But I have to wonder exactly how a 244-year-old democracy just stops being one overnight? We’ve never been anything else. Will anyone actually know what to do? Maybe there’s an app for it somewhere that will help. But something tells me that socialism might prove to be a little trickier to implement in the U.S. than just flipping on the light switch. It would be more like trying to turn around a cruise ship in a swimming pool.

And there’s a very inconvenient fly in the ointment that nobody is discussing. One that is more intrinsic to our nature. It’s a human trait that can’t be politicised and controlled. Because it’s part of our national DNA. It’s who we are.

Simply put, Americans are hyper-materialistic. We love our toys. Our stuff. You know, the material trappings. Things like technology and cars. Houses. Nice clothes. Travel. Eating out. Everything.

Sorry, but these are all big socialism no-nos.

The golden years of post-World War II America spawned a massive consumer machine designed to devour everything in its path. And that’s the problem. Consumerism is contrary to socialism. So, maybe the easiest way to illustrate what socialism would actually mean to you is this. The fashionista, iPhone toting, sushi eating, smartwatch wearing, BMW driving model of you wouldn’t be available any longer.

Basically, you’d be phased out. Viva la revolution!

And that’s the rub. Because those very same extravagances that socialism discourages, are at the heart of our everyday lives. Still, according to a Harris poll last year, and despite our materialistic inclinations, 50% of adults under 38 said they would “prefer to live in a socialist system” although most of them couldn’t tell you anything about it other than they heard college and healthcare were free, and working is pretty much optional.

But do they really have the courage of their convictions? And are they ready to make the trade-offs socialism suggests? Because you can’t have it both ways. Driving around in a $80,000 Mercedes with a “Bernie 2020” bumper sticker on the back might be viewed as somewhat hypocritical. And you’ll probably get your tires slashed in the parking lot too.

The problem is most Americans really don’t know much about socialism despite the fact that it’s always trending on Twitter along with plant-based meat and $800 Gucci sneakers. We’ve basically fallen for the talking points. Sure, we’ve read about it and maybe even studied it briefly in school. And we know who all the rock stars are like Marx and Stalin. But for the most part, it’s still ambiguous to us except for what we read in the New York Times, which essentially acts like a cheerleader with state-sponsored pom-poms.

Remember, this is hardly the first time we’ve protested the status quo. The American Revolution was certainly one hell of a protest movement, wouldn’t you say? George Washington was like our very own Che Guevara. And don’t forget that back in the sixties the Baby Boomers wanted to tear down the walls too. Our music was all about revolution and counterculture. Long hair and bell bottoms were the look. And we protested all the same things too. Climate change, inequality, opportunity. All of it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Earth Day March. Mortgages, car payments and children all got in the way. And we were forced to cancel the revolution because we had to wake up early the next day to go to work.

So, before we head off to the next Bernie for President rally, and before we write America’s eulogy, just remember that it was capitalism that produced all the stuff we love and use every day. Not socialism. Things like the car and the aeroplane. The telephone and the lightbulb. How about movies and television? And what about some more recent innovations like the personal computer and the iPhone, the iPad, the microwave, email, video games, voice mail, Wi-Fi and the digital camera to name a few.

Oh, and I almost forgot. The Internet. 

And how about the companies that make all these things? Companies like Apple and Microsoft. Coca-Cola. Disney. Nike. McDonald’s. Walmart. Harley Davidson. Twitter and Facebook. Instagram, Snapchat. Uber. Netflix. Google. Intel. Amazon. Intel. Oracle. eBay. AT&T. Dell. Costco. YouTube. Cisco. Whole Foods. CNN. Home Depot. IBM. Starbucks and LinkedIn. The list goes on.

So, here’s the takeaway. None of these companies would exist if the U.S. had been socialist. And neither would any of the things they make. So, take a minute and try to envision your life without them.

Sorry folks, but Netflix has been cancelled tonight.

Of course, some people like to point to countries like Sweden as a possible model for a future America. That’s apples and oranges. The Swedes are primarily Scandinavians of German origin. They have a largely homogeneous, singular population. They are one people. Conversely, the U.S. is 300 times larger and made up of over 150 nationalities with competing agendas. Our national DNA is simply antithetical to it.

So, before we wish it all away and set sail into the great unknown, and before we vote in our next president, whoever it is, take a deep breath. Smell the roses. Because if the U.S. elects a socialist, the next wave of entrepreneurs, and all the innovations that we’re just beginning to imagine like consumer space travel, personal robots and aqua treadmills, might not ever come to pass.

I suppose time will tell if we indeed have the courage of our convictions. But be careful what you ask for. Because you just may get it.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update
Get the best of CNBC Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.