Sanders and 'socialism,' Trump and disinformation

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Bernie Sanders at a rally. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 3.0)

With Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic candidates, Republicans are reviving a political dirty word: “socialism.” In the meantime, the Trump campaign has weaponized digital media, assaulting voters with disinformation.

“The term ‘socialism’ has been used by folks on the right to scare Americans for a very long time,” according to Sheri Berman, professor at Barnard College. So it’s no surprise that President Trump is promising repeatedly that “America will never be a socialist country.”

But Sanders says it already is, citing Medicare and Social Security, both of which Trump claims to staunchly defend. The bottom line is that “socialism” is a flexible word with a long political history.

There’s nothing new about political disinformation either, but the Trump campaign is achieving a new standard. McKay Coppins of the Atlantic reports that an average of 3000 data points have been compiled on every voter in America.

“They can overwhelm people with so much confusing content that they almost throw up their hands and decide there’s just no way to sort out what’s true and what’s not,” Coppins says.

He adds that in this kind of “poisoned ecosystem,” facts and investigations may be reported, but “accountability journalism has no effect.”

As to the “socialist” label, Harold Meyerson says, “It retains toxicity among older Americans who remember the Soviet Union. … [But] it isn’t really toxic to young people who came of age after the Soviet Union collapsed.” Meyerson is Editor at Large of the American Prospect, a former columnist for the Washington Post, and former vice president of the Democratic Socialists.

Disinformation weaponized by digital technology is another matter. McKay Coppins warns about “the tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.” And while the Trump campaign has taken it to a new level, Barack Obama and other Democrats have used it too.

It remains to be seen if they’ll decide to fight fire with fire.




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody