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.
This article, by the Venezuelan economist Andrés Miguel Rondón, is absolutely on the money.
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.
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.
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.
Look, opponents were desperate. We were right to be. But 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.
To a big chunk of the population, the Venezuelan opposition is still that spoiled, unpatriotic schemer. It sapped the opposition’s effectiveness for the years when we’d need it most.
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.
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.
It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.
Here’s a simple test. If you’re marching and campaigning with people who are against Trump, but who think that Chavez is a great hero of socialism, then you’re essentially campaigning for Trump’s second term.