On Friday’s episode of “The View,” Sen. Rand Paul sparred with Ana Navarro, a regular contributor to the show, about the nature of socialism in Venezuela.
“You talk about Venezuela in your new book,” Navarro said, “I get a lot of political ads from the Republican Party. Donald Trump has tweeted this. Many have tweeted this. If you vote for Democrats, they will turn the United States into Venezuela. Do you think that’s a fair statement to make?”
Paul’s response was brief: “If you vote for a socialist, you might get socialism.”
As Colby Hall reported in Mediaite, Navarro was disturbed by this answer and replied, “Come on. Don’t do that. Maduro is not a socialist. He’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.” She ended the segment by yelling at the Kentucky senator, “Don’t mansplain me!”
The exchange was a waste of viewers’ time—why ask a question only to shout down the answer? But it was useful in raising a strange point about modern American media discourse: socialists are one of the few groups of people who are not allowed to self-identify.
In today’s post-modern, post-reality world, anyone can be anything just by the force of his own will. Nicolás Maduro is, without a doubt, a socialist. He is the head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which alone should serve to put the question to rest.
That party was founded in 2007 by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, by consolidating all of the parties in the country that supported his Bolivarian Revolution. These parties included, among others, the People’s Electoral Movement, the Socialist League, and Militant Civic Movement. Again: very socialist.
Chavez, whom the United Socialist Party still refers to as its “eternal president” in creepy socialist fashion, did not hide his advocacy for Marxist principles, and neither has Maduro. His close association with communist Cuba made the point even clearer. Maduro has followed rigidly in Chavez’s footsteps. Neither man ever gave anyone any reason to believe he was not a socialist.
No True Socialist
So why the dispute? Because, inevitably, socialism collapses and earnest socialists in other countries do not want the stink of failure on them. In the century since the red revolution in Russia launched the world’s first socialist regime, the failures of socialist states have piled up. Some people would take that as a reason to find a new theory of government. For those not clever enough to do that, the answer is always: “That wasn’t real socialism.”
This is an example of what’s called the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. It goes like this: one person makes a general claim like “No true Scotsman would drink Miller High Life.” Another person refutes that by pointing to a specific example: “My father drinks that beer and he’s as Scottish as Sean Connery.” Instead of rethinking the general principle, the first person just denies that the specific example applies: “Well, then, your father’s no true Scotsman!”
Socialists used to have new ideas. In the 171 years since Karl Marx published his manifesto, though, most people have figured out that those once-novel ideas are doomed to fail. They’ve given up, moved on, thought about some new way to live. Those who are left warm themselves on the embers of those once blazing thoughts, with nothing but the No True Scotsman fallacy for fuel.
It is the last refuge of people with no arguments and no facts. “Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ortega, Chavez? Those guys weren’t real socialists. But I promise, if we try it again here, we’ll get it right.”
Self Identification Banned for Socialists
It is a part of the absurdity of the modern mainstream media that anyone gives this fallacy credence. What Navarro said will not be challenged anywhere outside conservative media because many of the mainstream media personalities believe it, too.
Maduro could shave his mustache, wax his legs, and demand that all the world address him as Kaitlyn, and the media would fall right into line, barking at anyone who fumbled her pronouns. As far as the American media is concerned, the socialist dictator of Venezuela could decide he’s a woman, but can’t decide that he’s a socialist.
The same rules do not apply to Republicans. You can tell because Navarro is still permitted to identify herself as one. A lifelong Republican, Navarro publicly broke with the party over its nomination of Donald Trump in 2016. Yet she is still identified as a Republican because it benefits the president’s political opponents to say, “Look, even a Republican agrees with me!”
Voting against the party’s nominee does not, by itself, void a person’s membership in the organization. Lots of Republicans did not vote for Trump because they did not think he would make a good president. Some of them write for this very magazine. One of them wrote this article. Disagreeing about one candidate while keeping one’s principles conservative is just a difference of opinion, one that any party experiences.
There are different kinds of anti-Trump Republicans. Some did not care for his nomination, but still voted for him to defeat Hillary Clinton. Others voted against him, but were honest enough to praise him when he did something in line with traditional conservative principles, just as they might criticize him when he strays from those values.
But there is still another species of anti-Trumpite—one more prominent in the media than in the rest of American life—who so oppose the president that they have embraced a completely new set of principles, defined as whatever the opposite of Trump is. It’s not a particularly coherent philosophy, but it will get you on CNN.
Navarro credits Ronald Reagan for her long association with the Republican Party, specifically because of his strict anti-socialism. When her native Nicaragua was convulsed in socialist revolution, Navarro’s family did what many well-to-do Nicaraguans did and fled to freedom in the United States. Her father remained there for a time, though, to join the resistance to the socialist Sandinistas. Backed by Soviet arms and money, the socialists eventually triumphed.
If anti-socialism brought Navarro into the Republican Party, it also looks to be driving her out. The party’s principles have not changed, and in resisting socialism Trump and Paul are following in the footsteps of Bush, Reagan, Eisenhower, and Coolidge. Like them, Paul and Trump knew socialism when they saw it. So does Maduro, for that matter. The only one confused is Navarro.