— Bud Norman
The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.