Donald Trump is no Hugo Chávez. He’s more like Nicolás Maduro – By Francisco Toro | The Washington Post

Donald Trump is no Hugo Chávez. He’s more like Nicolás Maduro.

By Francisco Toro  | The Washington Post

…..  Francisco Toro is executive editor of and a contributing columnist for Post Global Opinions.

donald_trumpNobody can be happy about the way the Clinton-Trump race has gone. But for us Venezuelans, alarm comes with a side of comfort.

For 17 years, as Venezuela has sunk deeper and deeper into a morass of autocratic populism, people have been tut-tutting in our direction.

“How could you let this happen?” our friends in the United States of America have asked. “How could you put your country in the hands of an evident huckster? Wasn’t it obvious what would happen since day one?”

You could try to explain it, of course, and I have. But it is difficult for people to really understand. Having your democracy commit suicide under the lure of a charismatic demagogue is not the kind of experience you can fully make sense of unless you’ve lived it in your own skin.        

Before 2016, no explanation I could give my American friends was enough. Now, every explanation is superfluous. There’s no need to go into involved accounts of the way know-nothing populism and us-versus-them conspiranoia have destroyed the Venezuelan republic since 1998.

Now, my American friends can just turn on CNN and watch it happening live.

If anything, though, I think this approach is too harsh on Venezuela. Hugo Chávez, for all his faults, was a much cannier politician than Donald Trump. Whereas Trump has become notorious for his lack of impulse control, Chávez knew how to bide his time. The work of dismantling the previous regime’s institutions and assuming dictatorial control of society was carried out in a slow, patient, stepwise fashion. It’s hard to imagine Trump having the mastery over his own passions to pull something like that off.

A man who can be provoked by a tweet is not a man with the patience to dismantle the American republic.

For all the obvious similarities, the Trump-Chávez parallel is overplayed. Chávez wove a complicated coalition that brought together civilian leftists, military officers, disenchanted middle-class people and the disenfranchised poor.

Trump, by contrast, has taken a complicated, diverse coalition with a record of winning elections … and wrecked it.

And that’s when it hit me: The South American demagogue whom Trump really resembles isn’t Chávez. It’s his handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro.

Like Trump, Maduro has taken a winning electoral coalition and splintered it, doubling down on ever more extreme rhetoric that appeals to a dwindling core of supporters. Like Trump, he betrays an alarming inability to understand the basics of constitutional government. Like Trump, he seems unable to grasp what has long since become obvious to everyone around him: that letting the crazy rip is a losing strategy and it’s rendering him electorally uncompetitive.

For all his extremism, Chávez understood that it was important to keep up at least the bare-bones appearance of following constitutional norms to retain legitimacy.

Trump seems much closer to Maduro in that neither is remotely able to grasp this.

Again and again, since taking over in 2013, Maduro has run roughshod over the constitution in ways Chávez never dared to. He has even lived the Trumpian dream of jailing his main political opponents.

For all the differences between the American real estate tycoon and the Marxist bus driver, the thing that makes leaders such as Maduro and Trump genuinely dangerous is their obvious contempt for norms – both formal and informal – of constitutional government.

Nothing rings more warning bells to this Venezuelan than hearing Trump promise to do things he plainly lacks the constitutional authority to do. Witness his barely concealed attacks on fundamental freedoms, such as the call to “open up” the libel laws — another area that finds Maduro and Trump in close alignment.

For Venezuelans, the past year has been an object lesson in how dangerous this approach can be.

At the end of last year, Maduro’s governing Socialist Party got crushed in midterm elections. The opposition won an outsize two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, our congress. You might think that would pose some problems for a president bent on running the country all alone, but things become so much easier when you just pay no attention to the constitution.

First, Maduro used the lame-duck National Assembly to pack the Supreme Court with die-hard supporters. He went to the amazing extreme of appointing to the court some Socialist Party congressmen who had just lost their re-election battles. With a fully subservient majority in the court, the rest is easy.

All this year, this kangaroo court has been handing down rulings that flatly contradict Venezuela’s constitution. I’m not talking about a court that sides with the government on disputed points of constitutional doctrine; the newly stacked court routinely rules that the constitution says the exact opposite of what it says. When the constitution says the National Assembly may approve amnesty laws to free political prisoners, the court says that it means it can’t. When the constitution says the president needs the National Assembly’s support to rule via emergency decree, the court says that means he doesn’t.

Last week, we followed this crazy dynamic off the deep end, when the court overturned 800 years of constitutional practice, dating back to the original Magna Carta, ruling that when the constitution says The legislative branch has to vote on the national budget, it means the president can just approve budgets on his own.

I don’t think the Republican nominee has the discipline or the cunning to debase the United States’ constitutional institutions to this extreme, even if he did manage to get himself elected. But I know precisely how scary it is to have to wonder about a question like that.

And I’m here to tell you: However bad you think things might get if you put the country in the hands of a populist demagogue, they can get worse.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On January 20, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    What Investors Get About Trump… That Most Folks Don’t
    Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist, The Oxford Club

    Well, it’s done. Donald Trump is President of the United States of America.

    I never thought I’d write those words. I didn’t vote for the man – or Hillary Clinton – but I’m pulling for him now.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no admirer of Trump’s judgment, character or temperament. He has said (and tweeted) an awful lot of indefensible things.

    As I told Trump supporters during the election, “When you say you’d like to see someone from outside of politics – a successful businessman who hasn’t promised everything to everybody and isn’t beholden to donors and special interests – come to Washington, shake things up and clean out the stables, I say ‘right on.’ But when you tell me that person is Donald Trump, I say, ‘count me out.'”

    In the days ahead, you’re going to see the value of the U.S. dollar decline like never before.

    It could be WORSE than the crashes of the ’80s and late ’90s… and it’s going to punish savers holding cash.

    The stock market rally that has taken place since Trump’s election is evidence that his supporters understood something important.

    It’s not that their man is the ideal person for the job. Nobody thinks that. Outside his small cadre of hardcore supporters, most who voted for Trump are well aware of his many shortcomings.

    But people wanted change. They felt the country was on the wrong track and “business as usual” couldn’t be tolerated in Washington anymore.

    They also knew that Trump is a man with a history of getting things done.

    Sure, you can point to his many business failures: Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Airlines, his bankrupt casinos. But capitalism is a profit-and-loss system. Look at his running total.

    We can quibble about his net worth – Forbes claims it is closer to $3.7 billion than $10 billion – but the man is a multibillionaire because he got more right than wrong. He listened to smart people. He made good decisions. He took smart risks.

    In my experience, millionaires and billionaires aren’t idiots, even when they don’t speak like intellectuals.

    The election is a perfect example. The conventional wisdom was that Trump didn’t have a chance. He didn’t have the organization or the staff. He didn’t have the donations or the ground game. He didn’t even have the full weight of his party behind him. His rival outspent him in every category, including advertising.

    This just wasn’t supposed to happen. But it did. Trump tapped into voters’ desire for change. And now we have it.

    Yes, he isn’t your typical politician. But let’s take a quick look at what our political class has done…

    • The federal debt now exceeds $19.9 trillion. That’s bigger than the U.S. economy.
    • Our unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid top $104.8 trillion – and are growing by over $8 trillion a year.
    • The U.S. tax code is 74,608 pages long. Not even the Internal Revenue Service understands it all. And if an IRS official miscalculates and tells you to pay the wrong amount, you still owe the difference, plus interest and penalties.
    • Federal regulations now cost $1.8 trillion annually. That’s $14,768 per household. Regulatory compliance costs exceed the combined sum of income taxes paid by individuals and corporations.

    And this is just for starters…

    Donald Trump may not fix these things. Who knows, he may make them worse.

    But despite his many flaws, the man struck a chord with millions when he promised to “drain the swamp.”

    I’m not an admirer of President Trump – at least not yet – but I’m with him.

    As business people, investors and Americans, let’s hope he makes some headway.

    Good investing,


    • Anthony Bollers  On January 23, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Your analysis is right on. Your HOPE is what I will be also looking forward to seeing happen!

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 21, 2017 at 5:04 am

    CNN with Donald Trump on Goldman Sachs …. blah – blah – blah

  • Clyde Duncan  On January 21, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Donald Trump adds SIXTH Goldman Sachs Hire ….

  • ndtewarie  On January 22, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Fancisco Toro, you need to be gored by some toros. There’s no comparison ofh Chavez and Trump. Chavez was an idiot, Trump is a business man.

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