In recent weeks, President Trump and other members of his administration have seemed to threaten military action against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose nation faces a severe economic, political and humanitarian crisis. Whatever you think of Maduro's government, which appears to have failed on many levels, this calls up memories the unfortunate U.S. foreign policy record in Latin America.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, often identified as a hawk, told me last month that the suggestion of "using military force" provided "an alibi or an excuse to Maduro to say that this is just intervention." Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went much further, tweeting several weeks ago that "we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups — as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again."
Federico Finchelstein and Pablo Piccato made a similar point in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post. They write:
The United States has participated in the overthrow of dozens of Latin American governments since the late 19th century. These interventions have taken the form of direct military attacks, covert operations (often involving the CIA) and aid to internal actors bidding for power. By appointing Elliott Abrams [an official under Reagan and George H.W. Bush, implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal] as its point man in Venezuela, the Trump administration embraces that history of interventions.
Fox Business Network host Trish Regan has covered the Venezuela crisis in considerable depth, reporting on the Maduro government's human rights abuses and crackdown on political opposition and descent. While Regan has not specifically called for U.S. military intervention, she certainly has not opposed it. It's reasonable to say that her reporting could be used as evidence to push for such a policy.
Last Tuesday, Regan aired an interview with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself the "legitimate" president of Venezuela -- although no one elected him to that office. He stopped short of calling for U.S. troops to overthrow the Maduro government, but dropped a few broad hints that issues of regional stability in Latin America are at stake -- which sounds a lot like a pretext for military intervention.
"President Trump’s help has been instrumental, it’s been key for this international coalition," Guaidó told Regan. "It’s important when a tragedy such as this in Venezuela has occurred. I think democracy and freedom are fundamental causes. And the ELN for instance, the liberation movement in Venezuela, we see it’s not going well and this is a threat to Colombia as well. We see an attack just last month in Bogotá. Latin America should be a democratic land, a land of freedom and of cooperation."
So America faces a paradox in Venezuela. On the one hand, you have a nation whose elected leader has descended into tyrannical abuses, and whose people would arguably be better off without him. On the other, you have a world superpower with a long history of imperialist and neo-imperialist meddling, including participation in numerous right-wing coups against legitimate leftist governments. (The cases mentioned by Bernie Sanders, in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, are only the best known.)
Given that dynamic, and Trump's obvious affection for right-wing populist tyrants around the globe, it's reasonable to conclude that U.S. support for the current uprising in Venezuela does not primarily stem from humanitarian concerns. With that paradox in mind, I approached Regan, who hosts "Trish Regan Primetime" on Fox Business Network and was among the first figures in cable news to cover the Venezuela crisis. We had an impassioned debate not just about Venezuela, but about the meaning of "socialism," and what that means both in Latin America and here at home.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When we talk about the situation in Venezuela, my first question is this: How do Americans avoid going down that slippery slope toward authoritarianism? I would like to refrain from bringing economics into this particular question, considering the previous 40 minutes of our interview.
I love talking economics.
I can tell!
It's a fascinating conversation and I joke with my husband, our poor children. We’ll be on a car trip somewhere, the drive up to my family's house in New Hampshire, and we'll go through western Massachusetts and you just look around and see all these buildings that were probably once a thriving factory. My great-grandparents worked in a shoe factory in Manchester, New Hampshire. In the Depression, they lost their jobs. I just think about the transformations America's economy has been through, and I'm very concerned about this specific one. I look at these towns in a place like that -- forgive me, I'll move on to the question in a second -- but in a place like Manchester, New Hampshire, those old factories, when I was a kid, they were completely decimated. Now there are new businesses that have moved in, and that's all wonderful.
Oftentimes I'll talk to a guest in New Hampshire and they're coming to me from a studio at the [former] Amoskeag mills in Manchester. I always think to myself, that's pretty darn amazing, because my great-grandfather worked in those mills and my grandmother grew up in those mills because they provided housing and health care and all the things that you're talking about. ?That was something that was very relevant to my family.
I live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. I live in an area where the loss of the steel industry decimated the local economy for years. I live within walking distance of the hollow husk that was once the main Bethlehem Steel plant. I'm very much familiar with this history. I have taken courses on labor history and studied in depth the steel industry specifically. I will say, however, we did veer into economic questions despite ourselves. I hope you don't mind --
You live near the near the Bethlehem plant, you know what I'm talking about. You look at this and you're like, wait a second, this is a community that once was thriving. Everybody talks about this great transition that you're going to have as an economy, but what about the pain in between? What do you do during that?
Oh, I absolutely agree that it's important. I would say that there needs to be a heavy government presence in terms of regulating the economy to make sure -- now, I think that these government officials should always be directly accountable to the people. My solution is to emphasize the idea of democracy in the broader concept of democratic socialism, the idea that these officials, the government and the people, shouldn't be separate entities.
Government officials ideally in a truly ideal world would be one and the same as the people. There would be heavy turnover in governments so that you wouldn't have people in power for so long that they become corrupt, and when they regulate the economy, they would be doing so with the interests of labor in mind. Historically speaking, it is capital that oppresses labor, not the other way around. Therefore, it is the interests of labor that need to be most vigilantly protected. And I just said a whole bunch of things you disagree with.
Again, we're just coming at it from a different point of view. I agree that labor must be protected and it's a harder thing to protect. In an ideal or insular world, labor is needed by capital. Capital, therefore, would want to protect labor. I think about the people that work on my team, and how hard they work, and how important they are to the success of my show. My goal is always to protect them and help them and foster success, but that's a small, insular thing.
I work for a big corporation, and the reality is we all live in a very global world. That makes all these things more and more challenging. The small local business can do a lot to protect the individual. But once that business gets scaled and becomes bigger and bigger and bigger and it becomes more global, there are people with money who are not related to the individuals and don't see the everyday productivity of the individuals, it becomes more challenging.
Anyway, I think I should probably wrap this up.
OK, human rights. How do we prevent becoming Venezuela? Is that your question?
Yes. Then I'll have one follow-up question after that.
OK. Protecting what we have is very important. Recognizing that freedom is very fragile, and this is something that Juan Guaidó said to me. Actually this is the man that we are now recognizing as president of Venezuela, at least in the U.S. and most of the free world. I asked him how we make sure that we don't wind up on a path for us becoming Venezuela. He said, "Remember how important freedom is and cherish it." I think that's very true.
We need to respect the freedoms that we have. We need to recognize how wonderful it is that we were all born in this country and we need to cherish that. We need to preserve it. You can look around the world and pretty quickly see examples, like Venezuela, of political systems and economies that abandoned what was important. Granted, Venezuela, like many Latin American economies, have seen this scenario. They've had many different incarnations of governments and of economies. We've been fortunate enough to have the same constitution for, what, 230 years? And it has served us really well. We shouldn't forget that.
I know there's a lot of people talking about, well, maybe it needs to be reinvented for the modern age. I would say that those guys had a pretty good idea what they were doing and they wrote a pretty brilliant document. It should be our goal to make sure that we are able to continue to use that document so that we have this separation of powers and we have certain freedoms consistently in our society, because that's what will empower us to continue being the greatest.
I worry about the country. I worry about it a lot. I have three children and I am a student of history myself. I am well aware that societies often do well for so long and then they collapse. It's a question of, why did they collapse? What happened? What went wrong? We need to preserve what we're doing right and continue down that path because we've gotten it right for 200-some years. The founding fathers really knew what they were doing and they were brilliant then --
If I may? I am second to none in my love of American history and, by extension, in my love of America and in my belief in the core values that America represents. At the same time, let's not kid ourselves about the founding fathers. Many of them owned slaves. Many of them were members of what would now be dubbed an oligarchy. Many of them were guilty of horrible crimes in their personal lives.
That does not mean that they did not have valuable ideas and that those ideas should be respected. But I don't believe it is ever healthy for a society to assume that certain ideas should not be challenged or that any conceptual framework should be sacrosanct. The key in my opinion to any society surviving is for it to learn from its mistakes and grow and evolve. That isn't going to happen if any point of view is rendered taboo.
Let me ask you this. Would you say we tear it up and start over again?
Absolutely not. The friend who was kind enough to host me here--
I'm sorry to hear that.
Well, my friend had a great way of putting it. I'm paraphrasing him, but he said you don't tear down the entire building. You build on top of it and try to improve on things that are weak within it.
What is your concern about what is weak within the Constitution itself?
Well, now we're going to go on a tangent because the first amendment that comes to mind is the second one, but I would say at this point --
You know what? That's one where you might actually get to me. I grew up in a Live Free or Die state. I believe wholeheartedly in a person's ability to defend themselves, but things have changed. I don't think that the founding fathers would have anticipated the weapons that we now have at our disposal today.
OK. Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. This has been a very rigorous debate. At one point earlier you said that people on the left aren't speaking to people on the right. Well, I've interviewed you and a number of other Fox personalities, and I would always be happy to appear on any Fox News or Fox Business show and offer my views --
I would be so happy. I've just got to give you enough time!
I would be happy to do it.
Because we have so much to discuss. I think it's all very interesting. I would say this, Matt, we both recognize the problems. Our diagnosis is the same. It's our prescription that is different. I want to find a way to truly empower the individual, to truly empower individual spirit as opposed to the collective community. We run a risk that capital becomes the collective community, when capital becomes so big that labor or the individual loses out, but I would like for there to be some equality between capital and labor. I think if we can strike that balance while still preserving the ability for people to dream and the ability for people to want to succeed, then that is the right prescription.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I hope we have another opportunity to continue this conversation.
We'll do it on TV, OK?