There is substantial irony in John Henager’s announcement of the GOP’s essay contest, “Socialism v. Capitalism.” Mr. Henager started out quoting Donald Trump in his State of the Union Address, “America was founded on liberty and independence – not government coercion, domination and control.” Then he followed up by giving a strongly worded and partisan opinion about how potential applicants are expected to respond.

Jackie Stephens

Jackie Stephens

The creators of this contest do not seem to grasp that telling young people how to think is a significant aspect of domination and control. Apparently, party leaders are not seeking a thoughtful analysis of socialism vs. capitalism, but instead, they seem to want a regurgitation of their own rigid ideology. Sadly, I suspect that the goal of this essay contest is not to get our young folks to think for themselves but to indoctrinate them so that they don’t learn to think for themselves.

How this issue was presented by Mr. Henager is: Democrats = socialism (EVIL) and Republicans = capitalism (GOOD). This is just wrong. Our current political system contains aspects of both socialism and capitalism, and it is merely the balance of the two systems where our parties diverge. I know of no mainstream Democratic candidate (including Bernie Sanders) who advocates for pure socialism, just as I know of no mainstream Republican candidate who advocates for totally unregulated capitalism.

I would like the Bonneville County Republican leadership to acknowledge that this is true. Otherwise, they should concede that spinning untruthful versions of the opposing party’s platform is part of their official campaign strategy.

What the GOP is asking students to do in this essay contest is confirmation the bias of their party’s own dogma. If they are truly secure in the rightness of their political ideas, they should have no fear of what an honest analysis might reveal. Wouldn’t it be better if students were encouraged to read original literature, analyze what economists, historians and political scientists have written and then to think about what they have learned? And wouldn’t it be better to encourage them to discuss their thoughts with their parents, teachers and friends, and only then articulate their thoughtful conclusions?

I would encourage the local GOP to redo their appeal for this essay contest. Confirmation bias is a dangerous habit to fall into and too many of us (on both sides) already have. Only when we all learn to look at different aspects of an issue and to think for ourselves will any of us be equipped to become the voters that our society needs to thrive.

Jackie Stephens is a precinct captain for the Bonneville County Democrats. She is one of the many local volunteers who worked to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot. She lives in Idaho Falls with her husband, two dogs, one cat and five chickens.

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