The Extremes Always Meet
Updated: May 14, 2019
Those of us living in the US for the past two years – those of us who have any common sense, anyway – have become acutely aware of how easy it is to undermine institutions for personal gain. Candidate Trump decided – wisely, as it turned out – to pander to a conservative constituency, easy to manipulate if a powerful message pulled at their heartstrings. Now that he made it somehow to the White House, that same constituency, even in the face of the most shocking crimes and misdeeds, defends him without questioning anything.
Fortunately, history is an eloquent teacher: in 1999, Venezuela was in the throes of a political crisis. Hugo Chávez launched his presidencial candidacy as a non-traditional choice, one who would break down the stale bipartisan mold and clean house (or "clean the swamp," if you will.) He was very charismatic and said all the right things. He won the election and became President. In the following months, buoyed by his unprecedented popularity among all sectors of the population, he proceeded to systematically dismantle Venezuela's institutions (which, sadly, were much weaker than the US's) in order to cement himself in power.
These two cases are very similar, except Trump calls himself a Conservative. Leaving aside that Trump has no ideology of his own and has become a de facto puppet of his handlers, Chávez also gave himself a label that was, ultimately, quite inaccurate. The right label for both Chávez and Trump is Populism. They both identified a weakness in a key section of the population, and exploited it. The substance of their rhetoric is immaterial: what matters is the whistle calls and the extreme views that appeal to the basest instincts of those least intellectually equipped to interpret them.
So here we are, two factions arguing for the wrong things: on one side, staunch Trump supporters who reject any social program that might make their lives better, because it's "Socialism" - while on the other hand, we have so-called Progressives who chant "Hands off Venezuela" in front of the White House, and reject any help the US or the West could offer hungry and desperate Venezuelans because it's "Imperialism."
We must understand, first of all, that the situation in Venezuela is quite complicated, and is best described in shades of gray. Supporting a regime that muzzles the independent press, tortures and kills its citizens, and squanders tens of Billions (yes, with a B) of dollars in corrupt self-enrichment schemes is downright criminal. On the other hand, supporting international pressure to help Venezuelans get rid of a narco-regime is NOT support for Trump or his kleptocracy. Shades of gray.
Finally, Trump and Chávez are more alike than they are different. It's true, and it's scary - but the sooner we realize that, the sooner we'll clean house and bring back an institutional government, by the people and for the people.