Zak Ringelstein Openly Runs for Senate as a Socialist
Zak Ringelstein, candidate for the US Senate from Maine, is the first Senate candidate to formally register as a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Mirrored in the House of Representatives by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, socialism appears to be growing in popularity among the American Left following the 2016 election of Donald Trump. The implications of self-declared socialists in Congress could radically shift the American political climate.
Ringelstein completed his master’s degree in education in 2010, and is the CEO and co-founder of UClass, an internet storage company for schools. He only declared his support and membership with the DSA recently.
The state of Maine voted for Clinton in 2016 and elected one Democrat and one Republican to the House. While Democrats hold a small advantage, Ringelstein’s election is highly uncertain. Some on the left fear that an openly-socialist candidate would motivate Republicans to vote for his competitor, Eric Brakey. Both men are challenging the incumbent Angus King, who is notably one of only two politically-independent congressmen, not beholden to any party, but allied with the Democrats.
Democratic Socialism first gained prominence and mainstream leftist support from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who was defeated in the Democratic primaries by Hillary Clinton. Before Sanders, it was only relevant to a few dedicated leftists who used the term to describe the welfare and social policies of Scandinavia, although said nations still relied on private ownership and market enterprise to finance such programs.
Even during the Sanders campaign, Democratic Socialism was branded differently than the socialism that arose in 19th-century Europe, as essentially a further-left Democrat platform that included free college, free healthcare and expanded welfare at the expense of the rich peoples’ taxes, as opposed to a fundamental change in the means of economic distribution. However, prominent Democratic Socialists have stated their long-term goal as the abolition of capitalism and government control of good and service distribution.
Of course, Ringelstein and Ocasio-Cortez are hardly alone. In politics, elected officials are merely a symptom of the prevailing culture of the people. Pre-Trump there were about 6,000 dues-paying members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Last week, almost two years after his election, that number has risen to 45,000. It should be noted that both Ringelstein and Ocasio-Cortez are very young for politicians, and support for socialism is disproportionately high among young people.
The support of socialism in America was always low compared to Europe, but became particularly unacceptable following the conservative resurgence in the 1980’s, spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and the “Christian Right.” The left’s dominance of American cultural institutions is a recent phenomenon that sought to build on the ideas of the 1960’s “new left” centered on identity and social issues.
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