Sunday, January 29, 2017

Is Trump our Hugo Chávez? If so, what can we do about it (him)?


Andrés Miguel Rondón references this tweet when he writes: "Label ["the bad guys"]: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior."

"The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them. . . . Caricature them. . . . Then paint yourself as the savior. . . . [E]nrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

"That’s how it becomes a movement."

-- Andrés Miguel Rondón, in his Washington Post op-ed piece

by Ken

It's not a question that would ever have occurred to me: Do Venezuelans who botched their dealings with Hugo Chávez have anything to teach us about how to deal with Trump? Not, that is, without prompting from Andrés Miguel Rondón, whose biographical note, accompanying a Washington Post op-ed, reads:
Andrés Miguel Rondón is an economist living in Madrid. He is a Venezuelan citizen who was born and raised there.
The WaPo piece (of which we're told, "A version of this article originally appeared on Caracas Chronicles") is titled, pretty graphically: "In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did." And it's blurbed: "How to let a populist beat you, over and over again."

The Caracas Chronicles version of the piece was timed for Inauguration Day, when Rondón began:
The whole world’s eyes are on Washington today, and not in a good way. As Venezuelans, we’re looking North with more trepidation than most today, even though — in fairness — the panic over Trump-as-northern-Chávez is premature. A politician is to be judged by what it does in office, not by what he says before he gets there. Beating Chávez historic economic demolition of the richest oil country in the world, during the biggest oil bonanza ever, leaving behind an inflation-ridden, bullet-stricken, hungry, ailing country — is quite an ask. But let’s see what happens.

Because in one way, Trump and Chávez are identical: they are masters of Populism.

The recipe is universal. . . .
Rondón begins the WaPo version:
Andrés Miguel Rondón
Donald Trump is an avowed capitalist; Hugo Chávez was a socialist with communist dreams. One builds skyscrapers, the other expropriated them. But politics is only one-half policy: The other, darker half is rhetoric. Sometimes the rhetoric takes over. Such has been our lot in Venezuela for the past two decades — and such is yours now, Americans. Because in one regard, Trump and Chávez are identical. They are both masters of populism.

The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

The problem is you.
"You," of course, meaning us. Rondón goes on to ask, sensibly: "How do I know?" And he answers:
Because I grew up as the “you” Trump is about to turn you into. In Venezuela, the urban middle class I come from was cast as the enemy in the political struggle that followed Chávez’s arrival in 1998. For years, I watched in frustration as the opposition failed to do anything about the catastrophe overtaking our nation. Only later did I realize that this failure was self-inflicted. So now, to my American friends, here is some advice on how to avoid Venezuela’s mistakes.
This notion of us as "the enemy" is crucial to Rondón. He makes it his first piece of advice to us:
• Don’t forget who the enemy is.

Populism can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. “But facts!” you’ll say, missing the point entirely.

What makes you the enemy? It’s very simple to a populist: If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit.
The Venezuelan version of this lesson?
During the 2007 student-led protests against the government’s closure of RCTV , then the second-biggest TV channel in Venezuela, Chávez continually went on air to frame us students as “pups of the American Empire,” “supporters of the enemy of the country” — spoiled, unpatriotic babies who only wanted to watch soap operas. Using our socioeconomic background as his main accusation, he sought to frame us as the direct inheritors of the mostly imagined “oligarchs” of our fathers’ generation. The students who supported Chavismo were “children of the homeland,” “sons of the people,” “the future of the country.” Not for one moment did the government’s analysis go beyond such cartoons.

The problem is not the message but the messenger, and if you don’t realize this, you will be wasting your time.
From here the lessons get harder, and from Rondón's standpoint we are probably wildly mishandling Trump, just as he and his fellow Venezuelans so badly mishandled Chávez.
Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind.
That includes rebukes such as the one the “Hamilton” cast gave Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the election. While sincere, it only antagonized Trump; it surely did not convince a single Trump supporter to change his or her mind. Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion.

The Venezuelan opposition struggled for years to get this. We wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid Chavismo was, not only to international friends but also to Chávez’s electoral base. “Really, this guy? Are you nuts? You must be nuts,” we’d say.

The subtext was clear: Look, idiots — he will destroy the country. He’s blatantly siding with the bad guys: Fidel Castro, Vladi­mir Putin, the white supremacists or the guerrillas. He’s not that smart. He’s threatening to destroy the economy. He has no respect for democracy or for the experts who work hard and know how to do business.
Which leads Rondón to a point that will be familiar to those who have been reading Ian Welsh on Trump, in which a central theme has been that, however abhorrent the man may be, far from being stupid he's extremely competent. As Rondón puts it:
[M]y political awakening was set off by the tectonic realization that Chávez, however evil, was not actually stupid.

Neither is Trump: Getting to the highest office in the world requires not only sheer force of will but also great, calculated rhetorical precision. The kind only a few political geniuses are born with and one he flamboyantly brandishes.
Case in point:
 “We are in a rigged system, and a big part of the rigging are these dishonest people in the media,” Trump said late in the campaign, when he was sounding the most like Chávez. “Isn’t it amazing? They don’t even want to look at you folks.” The natural conclusion is all too clear: Turn off the TV, just listen to me. The constant boos at his rallies only confirmed as much. By looking down on Trump’s supporters, you’ve lost the first battle. Instead of fighting polarization, you’ve played into it.

The worst you can do is bundle moderates and extremists together and think that America is divided between racists and liberals. That’s the textbook definition of polarization. We thought our country was split between treacherous oligarchs and Chávez’s uneducated, gullible base. The only one who benefited was Chávez.


Venezuelans, uUnderstandably desperate, tried everything, Rondón says.
Coup d’etat? Check. Ruinous oil strike? Check. Boycotting elections in hopes that international observers would intervene? You guessed it.
"But," he says, "a hissy fit is not a strategy."
The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy. And all the while you’re giving the populist and his followers enough rhetorical fuel to rightly call you a saboteur, an unpatriotic schemer, for years to come. . . .

Attempting to force Trump out, rather than digging in to fight his agenda, would just distract the public from whatever failed policies the administration is making. In Venezuela, the opposition focused on trying to reject the dictator by any means possible — when we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving.


"Don’t waste your time trying to prove that this grand idea is better than that one."
Ditch all the big words. The problem, remember, is not the message but the messenger. It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot. Your challenge is to prove that you belong in the same tribe as them — that you are American in exactly the same way they are.
The Chávez opposition, Rondón says, "fell into this trap in a bad way."
We wrote again and again about principles, about separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.

Because if the music keeps going, yes — you will see neighbors deported and friends of different creeds and sexual orientations living in fear and anxiety, your country’s economic inequality deepening along the way. But something worse could happen. In Venezuela, whole generations were split in two. A sense of shared culture was wiped out. Rhetoric took over our history books, our future, our own sense of self. We lost the freedom to be anything larger than cartoons.

This does not have to be your fate. You can be different. Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires. Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.
And his final words:
It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.

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At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very concise description: " Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. ... The problem is you."

He further warns us not to let der fuhrer turn us into ... what he saw in Venezuela.

Too late. We've been a populace of restless lazy greedy stupid evil xenophobes just looking for a demagogue to lead us by our upturned noses to the Nazi promised land. We've been awaiting our fuhrer for nearly 4 decades, since Reagan won a landslide by promising that simple math was wrong.

Now we still don't know math but we sure as hell think we're the greatest hominid society on earth and all "others" should die. Our congress is elected to serve the white money and, now, to kill the "others" slowly or quickly... if they can work and make money for the money, they'll die slower. If they're of no value or very scary... they should die quickly.

His advice won't work here. You cannot send even the white lefties into the white south to commiserate and convince. They don't listen to even white lefties, because we don't hate the blacks, meskins, muslims and LGBTQs. And they regard whites who don't hate as traitors. And you certainly can't have nonwhites doing that work. Even a moderate among themselves is quickly ostracized the moment they show the least bit of tolerance.

And THAT has been brewing in this nation for over a century now... ever since the Emancipation Proclamation.

You can't change 140 years of devoted religious hate, sanctioned by the white Christian god no less, in a couple of years of hard "community organizing". Can't be done.

The best outcome would be a true left party coalesces and runs 350 winning candidates in 2018 or 2020, congress then totally repudiates all 10 Reagan admins, trickle down, torture, war, low taxes, austerity, vote fraud, finance fraud, monopolies and all the rest; impeaches Clarence Thomas; and basically forces altruism and egalitarianism upon the white dumbfucktard south and rural america until they realize (or not) that this way is far better.

Or if I were Pelosi or scummer, I'd say let der fuhrer and his evil band of Nazis do their thing for a cycle and kill a quarter to half million poor, elderly and/or sick... totally do away with any middle class... and maybe that would do it for the dumbfucktards. But I don't even think that would work. We're a lot dumber and more evil than when we elected FDR. And we don't have a true left party to give us any hope for change. All the white racists would need do is to blame all the dead and poorer on some scapegoat demographic. Like I said, we're a lot dumber and more evil.

I know... we had all that between '45 and '76 or so, and we took a dump on it and lit it on fire in '80... but maybe we'll learn.

Yeah... I'm laughing at that one too.

At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not Chavez. Ceausescu. Romania had the remedy.

At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, back to Chavez, that effin' SOCIALIST!!!

With the proof provided by Herr Hair (not to mention China), perhaps we can finally realize that capitalism neither needs, protects nor guarantees functional, democratic representative government.

On the metaphorical, capitalism is the doctor who puts a tourniquet on the leg of socialism and six weeks later heaps contempt on the patient for developing gangrene.

John Puma

At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Dameocrat said...

The real reason you just can't bring yourself to leave the Democrats is that you buy into most centrists neoliberal myths. You and Schumer deserve each other.

The only reason Venezuela is a wreck is that it become too dependent on oil revenues, long before Chavez was ever even a known quantity!


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