Thursday, February 2, 2017

Anti-Trumpers: The Cautionary Tale of Venezuela

Gloating asshole week continues here on the Slog, as I transition from yesterday's posting about how marvelously groovy my music was to today's posting about how smugly right I've been about the whole Trump thing (this is what happens when I lapse my meditation practice for a while; by next week I'll be a full-on megalomaniac).

There've been a bunch of articles circulating from writers living under authoritarian regimes (usually from anti-Putin Russians) warning Americans about what to expect. But this one's special...and terse (you can read it in five minutes). From the Washington Post (which continues to really rise to this occasion - man, have I gotten my money's worth on my $99 digital subscription), check out the article entitled "In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did".

The subtitle says it all: "How to let a populist beat you, over and over again." I'll highlight some passages which may sound familiar. Most of it amounts to "Don't be trolled", and "Fight the polarization". Forgive my butcher-like excerpting:

...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.


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.


Show no contempt.
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.

I heard so many variations on these comments growing up that my political awakening was set off by the tectonic realization that Chávez, however evil, was not actually stupid.


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.


[note that this is me, Jim, bolding the bejesus out of this next part, not the Washington Post]:

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. ...

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