I haven’t mentioned the upcoming presidential election too much because it’s inconsequential. No matter who wins we’ll lose. But Bernie Sanders has offered me a stepping stone into a topic that’s actually useful. Namely history, or more specifically why demonizing opposition prevents us from learning from history.
Sanders’ big selling point, according to many of his proponents, is he’s a socialist. Unlike most of the pathetic politicians running for office in this country, Sanders has no problem openly admitting he is a socialist. To his proponents this means he’s going to give everybody free everything. Healthcare? Free! Education? Free! Food? Free!
Of course many countries have tried the socialism thing before. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany (and don’t scream “Godwin’s Law,” because this is an accurate historical reference that’s especially applicable here since Bernie is a national socialist), Maoist China, North Korea, Khmer Rouge, and many other nations have tried socialism. All of these nations devolved into massive pits of death. And with the exception of China, which is only an exception because it eventually woke up enough to separate itself from Maoism, they have ended in complete economic collapse. Today we’re seeing one of the few remaining socialist states, Venezuela, relive the final days of the Soviet Union. With so much historical evidence demonstrating the futility of socialism why are so many people in this country supportive of it? Usually a dirty libertarian like myself would blame it on idiocy but I don’t think it’s so simple.
The above mentioned states have something else in common: they’ve all been demonized by the United States government. I don’t think this point gets discussed enough. During the Cold War the United States government was creating anti-socialist propaganda like it was going out of style. The problem with propaganda is it doesn’t refute ideas with reason. Propaganda relies entirely on demonizing the opposition and declaring yourself an angel. Bad guys are bad because they’re not us! Americans are better and can do anything! Their leaders rule by terror but ours lead by the will of the people! Those are examples of propaganda. No idea are refuted. The only reason the other side is bad is because they’re not us.
When you believe your team is the paragon of all that is righteous and everybody else is the epitome of evil you’ve set yourself up to fail. For most of Sanders’ supporters socialism didn’t fail because it’s unworkable, it failed because evil people were doing it. In their eyes the United States isn’t evil and therefore can therefore succeed at socialism.
Demonizing your opposition hurts in the long run because it convinces you that you can succeed where your opposition failed. Not falling into the demonizing trap is difficult but the consequences of failing to avoid it are so severe that you’re likely to destroy yourself.