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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Michael Rowan: How to Deal with Populism Before It Kills Us
"One year out from a presidential election in the (dis)United States, the populist script of Venezuela and Bolivia is being writ large in the north," writes U.S. and Latin American political expert Michael Rowan. "Trump has divided Americans into warring tribes where facts, reason, law, and norms are being abandoned in favor of revenge against the inequality of the system."

By Michael Rowan

One year out from a presidential election in the (dis)United States, the populist script of Venezuela and Bolivia is being writ large in the north. Trump has divided Americans into warring tribes where facts, reason, law, and norms are being abandoned in favor of revenge against the inequality of the system.

Help is not on the way. Republicans are basking in self-righteous rage against the system. The Democrats don’t understand the problem, no less the solution. TV and internet media promote populism by isolating opposing tribes in impenetrable bubbles of bias confirmation. America’s establishment is trying to shrug off populism as if it is just politics as usual.

It is not. Populism is a mindset, a wave of resentment against the system and its elites who have produced the unfairness of the system.

In Venezuela, Chavez got 54% of the vote in 1998, revolutionized the system, and eventually destroyed democracy and economy. In Bolivia, Evo Morales got 54% of the vote in 2006 – the indigenous revolution – and thereafter hobbled democracy and economy. In 2016, Trump got 47% of the vote, has done significant damage to democracy, but is in position to win again in 2020.

Populists are totally dependent on the rage of their bases. As long as inequality is omnipresent, populists will be there. If the opposition to Trump does nothing about inequality, the wave of populism will grow in 2020, threatening a result similar to Venezuela’s.

Chavez ruled with an iron fist for 14 years, died of cancer which he blamed on the US, and still rules in the form of his henchman Maduro, the don of an oil and cocaine criminal gang posing as a government. In a similar vein, Morales ruled autocratically for 13 years and may come back into power if the rage of his indigenous protesters is any indication of the future.

In both cases, opposition parties, media and elites capitulated to Chavez and Morales or were confiscated, prosecuted or intimidated into silence. In both nations, predators invited by Chavez and Morales from Cuba, Russia, and Iran cannibalized democracy and economy while facilitating corruption.

Similarly, Trump is supported by a hard 42% which turns out at 90% levels, which could statistically win in the Electoral College even if he loses the popular vote by over six million votes (he lost to Hillary by 2.8 million). Trump is intimidating many individuals and institutions into silence, while foreign predators are waging cyberwarfare openly in America, proliferating polarization.

If Trump is impeached, convicted, or defeated in 2020, the populist wave will not lose but gain force. The wave is not deterred by defeat because it believes America is in a death match with enemies (the deep state). The solution to calming the populist wave is: don’t fight the wave; use it to fight for more equality in the system.

A solution to inequality does not require a wealth tax. It requires a private sector investment in America. The Alaska enterprise solution, which I was part of in the 1970s and which I describe in my book, How to Prevent Trump from Doing to America What Chavez Did to Venezuela, reduced both poverty and inequality fast.

By capitalizing businesses of the population especially the working class, Alaska soared from one of the poorest and unequal states in 1970 to the richest and most equal state in the union by 2000. As Yogi Berra liked to say, you could look it up, but none of the Democrats seem interested.

Michael Rowan is an author and political consultant who has advised presidential candidates throughout Latin America, including Governor Manuel Rosales in Venezuela, President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. In the U.S., he has advised winning candidates in 26 states. He has been an award winning columnist for El Universal, The Daily Journal -- predecessor to LAHT -- and the Latin American Herald Tribune since the 1990s. He is the author, with Douglas Schoen, of The Threat Closer to Home - Hugo Chavez and the War Against America.


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