Beware Your Friend Trump | Caracas Chronicles

venezuela headline news

Photo: France 24, retrieved.

Imagine my surprise to hear that my Venezuelan friend’s parents like Trump. I suppose that “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” since for many years it had the same effect on me vis a vis Chávez. But while we’re at trite (but true) aphorisms, let’s try “familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s another way of saying that utopias, heroes and mountains always seem so much nicer at a distance.

It took me years (nearly a decade, in fact) to recognize in Chávez all the disgusting traits I’ve always seen in Trump: the intellectual laziness, the arrogance, self-righteousness, narcissism; the clownish entertainer’s need for attention; the admiration for dictators and autocrats which always indicates a hunger for power; the tolerance for corruption, which always evinces moral laxity and personal corruption.  Indeed, it’s almost as if Chávez was the prototype for Trump, his inverted image, the left-wing version of the man occupying the US White House today.

Notice how Chavez/Maduro/Trump govern by family rule, moving into power like a great mafia, bringing their families into the closest rings, followed by all their cronies.

Notice how Chavez/Maduro/Trump govern by family rule, moving into power like a great mafia, bringing their families into the closest rings, followed by all their cronies; how they demand total loyalty and submission, bribing their loyalists by indulging their corrupt practices, and punishing anyone who dares to defy their pretensions to absolute rule; how justice is perverted and reduced to an instrument for the punishment of personal enemies; how politics is reduced to backroom transactions to extend the control of the Leader; how the Leader is above reproach, no matter what outrage he might commit.

There is a name for this way of doing politics, of course: Populism. And increasingly, it is becoming the only political game around, as liberalism dies its slow, self-absorbed death. Populism, unfortunately, has become normalized around the world in such a way that very few can recall a time when governments were run in the interest of the whole society and not just the followers of the Leader; when whoever was currently in power saw his or her term as temporary and subject to the will of the people; when political parties had platforms, principles, and ideas and were not simply organizations to uncritically shore up the rule of a single individual; when there was rule of law rather than rule of the Leader; when plurality of opinion was valued and disagreement wasn’t simply viewed as disloyalty but rather as a positive contribution to public discussion.

Populism, unfortunately, has become normalized around the world in such a way that very few can recall a time when governments were run in the interest of the whole society.

Not that liberalism worked as well as it was conceived in the ideal, but there was an ideal to reach for. Ideals and principles and values have been replaced by personalities, and now everywhere liberalism is crumpling like a paper unicorn before the brutal, ignorant and shallow, but powerful, force of populism. In that sense, Venezuela has been the canary in the coal mine where liberalism died first.

The temptation, then, is to be drawn into the populist project, but there are two ways to do that, both equally dangerous. The first is to bow to the Leader and join his project and reach out to grab the goodies when he breaks open the piñata of the national treasury. This is what so many good leftists, community activists and political opportunists did when Chávez gave away oil revenues to ensure and extend his power. Similarly, it was the working-class white people in the American heartland, and in the rust belt, and deindustrialized urban areas and massive swathes of territory in the US left behind by liberal globalization, that came out to support Trump.

But there’s another way to empower populism, and that is by opposing it with populism.

This is what Chantal Mouffe, Ernesto Laclau and others advocate. The problem, they argue, is not populism per se, but rather what sort of populism you have, whether it’s “left” or “right.” What’s needed, they say, is a populism of the left to build a “hegemonic” project. This is the thinking of many of the Bernie Sanders folks who believe that Trump’s populism can only be defeated by populism of the left.

But there’s another way to empower populism, and that is by opposing it with populism.

In a polarized society created by populism, it’s just as much a characteristic of the left as it is of the right to pit populism against populism. That’s why lower and working-class Trump supporters rallied around a billionaire chieftain to oppose “liberal elites” and “left-wingers.” And that, evidently, is why my friend’s (Venezuelan) parents are looking to Donald Trump with such hope.

But allow me a note of caution here, one I never imagined I’d have to mention to Venezuelans, of all people: populism will never get you what you want, and this is true across the political spectrum, left to right.

As the Kurds can tell you, there are hells beneath hells reserved for those who put their faith in saviors from saviors, and there are greater dangers awaiting people who elected a left-wing populist and then look to a right-wing populist for salvation (or vice versa, in the case of the USA). There’s only one way out of such hells, and it’s nothing glorious: The only true salvation is in the hard work of rebuilding a liberal society from the ruins of populism.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.

This post was originally posted on Caracas Chronicles – View Original Article

Please follow and like us: