I had planned on speaking with Fox Business host Trish Regan about her coverage of the crisis in Venezuela and the U.S.-approved attempt to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. But we wound up discussing a topic much closer to home: whether democratic socialism in America, as many conservatives and moderates fear, is a gateway to authoritarianism.
Regan is in a unique position to offer commentary on that topic. A longtime business journalist at CNBC, Bloomberg and CBS News, and now the host of “Trish Regan Primetime” on Fox Business Network, she was among the first in media to cover the political and economic collapse of Venezuela and has interviewed opposition leader Juan Guaidó and other top Venezuelans involved in the crisis. She has covered Latin America — from an avowedly pro-capitalist perspective — for years, and because she speaks Spanish can interview other top players. Whether or not you agree with Regan’s views on socialism, the crisis in Venezuela isn’t just an abstract news story to her, but an event with personal and political stakes.
When our conversation began, I referred Regan to my recent interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in which Albright criticized President Trump’s threatening rhetoric toward Maduro. That led into a broader conversation about how Regan perceives the Venezuela crisis and what it may reveal about left-wing politics and socialism in particular.
Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, came into power as a socialist “who still has some capitalist principles and understands the market,” Regan said. Later she told Salon that the Latin American leader Wall Street bankers feared most had been former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula, “because he had a much more socialist-style platform.”
Our conversation follows from there. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You seem to be using the term socialist as interchangeable with authoritarian, but there are right-wing kleptocracies, like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. There are nations that could be described as feudalistic, like North Korea. There are plenty of authoritarian regimes that are not socialistic. Do you acknowledge that one can support socialism without going to the authoritarian extremism that we’ve seen in countries like Venezuela?
I think it’s very hard in a country like Venezuela to do so. I understand what you’re saying in that European socialism is a kind of different model and —
I’m also talking about it as an abstract ideology.
Yeah, the ideology is far more palatable, but here’s the problem in a country like Venezuela. Ultimately, and I believe this is one of the fundamental problems with socialism, it’s that human beings do have self-interest. It’s very hard to ignore that self-interest when you’re creating a government structure. This is why our founding fathers were so brilliant in what they did by having some separation of powers. They were able to guard against the selfish, self-motivated instincts that we all have.
But the founding fathers also supported certain policies that today might be construed as socialism. George Washington created the federal post office which was a major innovation within the context of 1790s politics. We had the creation of the First National Bank. We had thinkers like John Taylor of Caroline who argued that just as a concentration of power in the government could be disadvantageous to liberty, so too could a concentration of power in the hands of major economic interests likewise be disadvantageous to liberty.
I personally feel that the problem is with authoritarianism, regardless of the ideology used to support it. There are plenty of non-socialist authoritarian regimes that back up my hypothesis.
Well, first of all, I appreciate what you’re saying, and I hope to stress that Alexander Hamilton is a hero of mine. And I do think that if the European Union had had an Alexander Hamilton, they might not be struggling with some of the issues they’re struggling with right now. One of the reasons we are the great country we are is because there were people that understood the importance of federalism.