On the domestic front, it is hard to argue with many of Donald Trump’s policies, which include strengthening the border, bringing jobs back and defending the rights of the unborn. On the foreign policy front, however, particularly in Venezuela, the US leader seems to have tossed out the democratic baby with the bathwater.
In the course of Trump’s marathon State of the Union Address on Tuesday, there were a few rare flashes of the ‘unity’ that he hoped to inspire amid the worst period of partisan infighting the country has faced since perhaps the Civil War.
One of those moments came when he reported that women took 58 percent of the newly created jobs in the US economy last year. A heavy footnote on that news, of course, is that part of those female job gains came at the expense of the Republican Party. As Trump surprisingly and good naturedly acknowledged, the freshman class of the 116th Congress includes the most women ever (102) to serve in the Legislative Branch.
At this point in his speech, a large group of female Democratic lawmakers – all dressed in white to honor the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes movement – jumped up and cheered and high-fived each other. The cringe-worthy scene, which more resembled a high school rally before the Homecoming Game than a solemn state event, wrapped up with the Democrats chanting "U-S-A” over and over, as if anyone had any doubt they were assembled in the epicenter of the nation’s capital.
But the happy vibes of 'unity' – if that’s what we could call that deranged spell of self-congratulatory giddiness – didn’t take long to dissipate. That moment came when Trump took the opportunity to bash lawmakers in New York who recently passed legislation that allows unborn babies, as Trump rather graphically described the procedure, to be “ripped from the mother’s womb” in the third trimester of pregnancy.
“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” Trump said to cheers from the Republican side of the hall. “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seated directly behind the dais from where Trump spoke, remained passive, as did the rest of the Democrats in the building. The stiff-lipped reaction from the Democratic ladies provided a stark and strange contrast to their lily-white, angelic attire. The reaction was even more surreal coming just minutes after Trump congratulated American women for their great gains in the workforce; indeed, how can we celebrate the “constitutional rights of women” while denying – in the worst imaginable way – the same opportunities for unborn lives?
Late-term abortions were previously authorized under state law only if going through with the birth placed the mother’s life at risk. Those safeguards have now been removed in New York, and are now threatened to fall in other states as well, including in Vermont.
Here is where things went off the rails.
Like a stone skipping along the water’s surface, Trump segued from declaring his desire to protecting “all children — born and unborn” to gloating over America’s $716 billion dollar military revitalization to NATO paying up their dues (“we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests”) to Washington officially recognizing “the legitimate government of Venezuela, and its new interim president, Juan Guaidó.” Anyone feeling the whiplash? In just a few short paragraphs, the audience was taken from an abortion clinic, onward to US-occupied NATO territory, and back across the Atlantic Ocean to the streets of Caracas.
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump declared from the dais.
Predictably, the same Democrats who were stony silent over Trump’s plan to end late-term abortions were fully supportive of the plan to meddle in the affairs of a foreign government – the exact charge they have leveled against Russia in the 2016 election as the reason for Hillary Clinton losing that race.
Although Trump’s comment is a far cry from a full-blown boots on the ground regime change strategy, it has greatly energized the anti-Maduro opposition – in much the same way American support boosted the opposition in Ukraine, Libya and Syria. And the meddling goes far beyond just words.
Last month, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced a sanctions regime against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos De Venezuela S.A., cutting off Maduro’s embattled government to around $7 billion in assets.
Hours after the White House announced the sanctions, Maduro, in much the same way Trump described late-term abortions in his SOTU, went on state TV and called the US action “immoral, criminal.”
Meanwhile, for Trump to call the government of Juan Guaidó “legitimate” without so much as even a poll occurring, not to mention an election, is really the height of arrogance and hubris.
Now millions of Venezuelan citizens, deprived of the right to elect the leader of their choice, will suffer untold hardships as the sanctions and street protests for and against Maduro continue. In the event of a full-blown ‘regime change’ scenario it can be expected that many citizens will have their lives cut short, not unlike the innocent American babies who are aborted in the late stages of their mothers’ pregnancies.
The failure of the US government to work to protect the lives of all innocents, even those who were not privileged to have been born in “exceptional” America, is not the behavior of a country that regularly preaches human rights and democracy around the world.