President Trump’s attack on socialism was a highlight of his state of the union address. Trump declared:
We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.
Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
The point is well-taken. There are, indeed, alarming calls to adopt socialism in the U.S., and some Democratic members of Congress support socialist policies.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is such a member. She was not amused by Trump’s shot at socialism:
I think he sees himself losing on the issues, he sees himself losing on the wall in the southern border, and he needs to grasp at an ad hominem attack and this is his way of doing it.
Ocasio-Cortez once again displays her ignorance. An ad hominem attack is directed against the person making an argument, rather than against the person’s position.
Trump made no attack on any person. He attacked a position, socialism.
It’s true that socialism is a label for a set of policies and ideas. But there’s nothing illegitimate about using the label. Otherwise, we would have to ban labels like “progressive” and “conservative” from thoughtful political discourse. This would harm political discourse because each of these labels has an understood meaning and provides a useful shorthand.
Moreover, Trump didn’t use the label “socialism” without more. He defined it in terms of “government coercion, domination, and control.”
Ocasio-Cortez did not deny either that this is a reasonable working definition or that the policies she advocates would substantially increase government coercion, domination, and control.
Trump did the country a service by bringing the question of the desirability of socialism in America into the open. American socialists will need a better response than to pretend that this in an ad hominem attack.