Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) on Wednesday defended socialism against President Donald Trump, defining it as "society coming together to increase the standard of living of our seniors."
Merkley appeared on CNN's "OutFront," where host Erin Burnett asked him about the critique of socialism Trump made during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
"Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free and we will stay free," Trump said, to wide applause from Republicans and some Democrats. "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
Burnett asked Merkley whether he agreed with Trump's statement about socialism, prompting him to criticize the president for being divisive and "going into campaign mode."
"We heard Paul Ryan when he was speaker say, 'hey, now that we won this big tax giveaway to the richest Americans, we have to dismantle these social programs. We have to dismantle Medicare or tone it down, we have to diminish Social Security,' what they refer to as entitlements. I call them programs earned and very smart programs for our seniors. And I support those. And the president wants to tear those apart."
"But you don't see that as socialism, right? In terms of the word, obviously, it's a word of significance," Burnett said.
"Well, it is a society coming together to increase the standard of living of our seniors, and that is pretty much the definition. And the president's attacking it," Merkley said.
Sens. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who are running for president, have come under scrutiny for their support of far-left policies widely supported by self-described democratic socialists. Warren recently promoted an "ultra-millionaire tax" that would place a flat 2-percent tax on assets of individuals worth more than $50 million. Harris said last week that she supports abolishing private health insurance.
"Who of us has not had that situation where you've got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, ‘Well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this.' Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on," Harris said.
Socialism has different meanings to different people, but Merriam-Webster defines it as "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of good," National Review pointed out.