Trump’s Cynical Attacks on Socialism Shows He Cares Nothing for America
As Donald Trump is already in the midst of his re-election push, the chaos in Venezuela has arrived like manna from heaven. Facing plummeting ratings and fierce opposition to his border wall, Trump has cynically turned the power struggle between embattled President Nicolás Maduro and challenger Juan Guaidó into his new campaign pillar, enabling him to denounce socialism and paint the Democrats as seditious radicals.
This strategy certainly makes political sense. It enables Trump to dredge up the blood-red folk demon that has haunted America for the last 100 years, rousing his conservative base while radicalizing progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist who is helping to spearhead the anti-Trump movement.
Yet his manipulation of Guaidó and the Venezuelan crisis is also deeply flawed, for two principal reasons.
For one thing, the idea that socialism is responsible for all Venezuela’s woes is grossly simplistic, a shoddy historical rewrite that ignores left-wing progress in Caracas and elsewhere. For another, Trump willfully ignores the damage that his own rampant capitalism has wreaked on America, where one in six people still lack basic medical coverage. Trump may cynically claim to be rooting for Guaidó and his liberal reforms, yet when moderate reformers raise their voice in Washington, he does everything in his power to suppress them.
Today more than 50 countries around the world now recognize the rightful government of Venezuela. The Venezuelan people have spoken and the world has heard their voice. They are turning the page on Socialism and Dictatorship; and there will be NO GOING BACK! pic.twitter.com/C3DL5RFfiE
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2019
None of this, of course, excuses Maduro’s failings. Caracas boasts the world’s largest proven oil reserves yet it is currently battling inflation of 1.3 million percent, leaving many unable to afford basic essentials. Far from falling on his sword, Maduro has doubled down, jailing high-profile opponents, bypassing the national parliament and quashing street protests with deadly force.
For the global left, this is all rather embarrassing. Socialists from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lionized Maduro’s charismatic predecessor Hugo Chávez, both for his progressive policies and his feisty resistance to American imperialism. That many of them still refuse to condemn Maduro, while undoubtedly regrettable, demonstrates their emotional investment in the Chavismo project.
Yet, as many analysts note, Venezuela’s biggest problem isn’t its political ideology, but a rampant culture of corruption that has spooked foreign businesses and fueled soaring tax evasion. Such corruption is, of course, hardly unique to the left; the World Economic Forum’s ‘most corrupt countries’ list now includes states such as Iraq and Zimbabwe, whose political hue could scarcely be further from socialism. Neither is corruption a recent phenomenon for Venezuela. Older readers might recall the 1950s dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez, characterized as much by its gaudy kleptocracy as its vicious treatment of leftist dissenters.
Chávez, elected in 1998, certainly faced his own allegations of crooked dealing, yet he also sought to modernize. At the height of his regime, analysts even suggested he was pursuing a form of state-sponsored capitalism, working with private banks while encouraging international investment. Although many of his policies, such as price controls, are now blamed for the current crisis, it’s worth remembering that Venezuela was the fastest-growing economy in the Americas in the mid-2000s. That’s not to mention the huge social advances, the rising literacy, and life expectancy levels, catalyzed by Chávez’s welfare spending.
Ultimately, it’s undeniable that both Chávez and Maduro flunked their biggest challenge: to diversify away from oil. In direct consequence, the collapse in global crude prices has wreaked havoc, with no alternative exports to plug the gaps. Yet, once again, this problem is decades in the making. Venezuela has been hostage to the oil markets ever since crude was discovered in the 1920s, oscillating wildly between boom and bust. No one, from either left or right, has managed to fix the problem.
One might reasonably argue that Chávez did as much as anyone to change things. He certainly stimulated the farming community and pushed investment in renewable energy. These policies may have failed, but Venezuela isn’t the only country to suffer from the so-called ‘paradox of plenty.’ History is littered with examples of resource-rich states that have suffered economic catastrophe, suggesting that a single, all-consuming national industry is as much a curse as a blessing.
Of course, conservative commentators will ignore these nuances. They’ll label Venezuela another leftie basket case, just like Cuba, North Korea, and the Soviet Union. China, they’ll add, only thrived after casting off the shackles of its planned economy.
Yet if they looked a bit harder, they’d see that several of Europe’s most vibrant economies are run on left-wing principles – the same principles, in fact, that the likes of Ocasio-Cortez espouse. Sweden, for example, is famous for its high taxes and redistribution, the antithesis of Trumpian economics. Yet the economy is booming, characterized by strong GDP growth, high employment, and strong credit. Sweden’s finance minister claims this “reverse Trump” model is actually responsible for her country’s success, creating jobs and encouraging people to work.
It’s a similar story elsewhere. Denmark until recently had the highest taxes in the world, yet this has allowed Copenhagen to train a talent pool revered for its competitiveness. Germany’s economy keeps growing, despite the huge amounts of money it exacts from its people to reinvest in public health. The French economy is gathering pace, in direct correlation with the government’s recent tax-and-spend campaign.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the economy is stalling, prompting talk of a recession. Trump’s supporters may point out that national poverty rates are falling, but these rates are still higher than they were 20 years ago – and income inequality is rising at a worrying rate. The boss of the Federal Reserve has even warned that, unless things change, some regions will be left behind. The President’s policies may help his fellow billionaires, but they’re doing little for the heart landers he purports to protect.
So instead of invoking tired shibboleths, perhaps Trump should consider what policies he can lift from his left-wing foes. Instead of stoking fear of Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk, he’d be better off listening to them. These opponents aren’t plotting to recreate Venezuela on American soil; they’re simply trying to repair the failing economic model Trump himself represents.