It’s hard to exaggerate what a repugnant U.S. Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore of Alabama was. Right-wing bigot. Mean-spirited homophobe. Alleged pedophile. An intolerant theocrat who rode to the polls Tuesday on horseback to highlight the antediluvian past he and his followers want to drag us back to.
It’s also hard to picture a more deplorable head of state today than Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Shameless dictator. Sophomoric homophobe. Clueless clown. An incompetent ideologue who’d rather watch 30 million Venezuelans suffer crushing food and medical shortages than give up his catastrophic Marxist dogma.
So why did the darkest incarnation of Trumpism lose his U.S. Senate bid this week – even after President Trump himself endorsed the creep – yet the most disastrous embodiment of socialism celebrated his party’s sweep of Venezuelan municipal elections?
Why aren't we calling Alabama something like “Alazuela” or “Venebama” right now?
In two words: democratic institutions. Even in the Age of Trump, the U.S. still has them. Venezuela – and myriad other countries, developed or developing – don’t. And if non-Trumpist Americans want to pull their country out of its benighted political tailspin today, that’s the cockpit lever they have to grab.
MSNBC rants won’t do it. Pouting on Facebook and Twitter won’t. Screaming at Breitbart won’t. But working America’s functional democratic institutions – like the ballot box, which even retro Alabama couldn’t compromise this week – will.
In fact, that would have been the case in last year’s presidential election – whose popular vote was won decidedly by Hillary Clinton, despite Trump’s delusional denial of that fact – had the democratic process not been compromised by our most absurdly undemocratic process, the electoral college.
And before Trumpites accuse me of hating the college just because it put their guy in the White House, I’d remind them Andrew Jackson hated it too. Jackson – a populist/nativist demagogue just like Trump – was the first U.S. candidate to win a presidential popular vote but lose the electoral college and therefore the election.
Weeks like this are why Latin Americanists like me are apt to point out that aside from America’s large (if shrinking) middle class, democratic institutions are what keep the U.S. from becoming the Venezuelas of the world. It’s not vast wealth. (If so, we wouldn’t consider China’s repressive society the antithesis of America’s.) It’s not religious piety; it’s not military might; it’s not affected patriotism. It’s reliable institutionality.
Trump disparages that institutional reliability as brazenly as Maduro does. Like Maduro, he reacts to independent judiciaries, dissenting legislatures and non-partisan media the way vampires hiss at crosses, garlic and daylight.
But while Maduro can go on national television and extinguish those estates – a la this year’s demolition of Venezuela’s National Assembly, replaced by Maduro’s new lapdog legislature – Trump can only take to Twitter and revile them.
RAPE OF INSTITUTIONS
Which is why, even in seemingly hopeless situations like Venezuela, opposition forces need to keep engaging those institutions.
For example: participating in the election process even when that process stinks. Yes, you might lose fraudulently – but at least then you can show the world you lost fraudulently. When the rape of democratic institutions is visible, it brings more international pressure on the perpetrator regime. Standing on the sidelines – as almost all the Venezuelan opposition foolishly did in last Sunday’s races – lets that regime win fraudulently under the radar.
What Maduro’s opponents are left with is ranting – the same ineffective tool so many Trump opponents believe is their most effective tool. Instead of sharing Occupy Democrats posts on social media – or crowing about their recent victories in Virginia, which wasn’t exactly a Trump hotbed – they might focus a tad more on the art of political stumping in places where Trumpism is hot.
Like Alabama. Republican Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, ran the kind of shrewd campaign (admittedly aided by sexual predator accusations against Moore as well as robust black voter turnout) that Clinton should have run in states where disaffected white voters handed the electoral college, and the presidency, to Trump.
Thanks to Jones’ politicking, democracy became a conduit for decency this week. It’s the kind of outcome that can still be found in the U.S. – even if it’s been lost in places like Venezuela.