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America's future could resemble Venezuela's if we don't push back

People line up to try to buy basic food items outside a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela June 1, 2016. |

After many years as a failed state, most Americans aren’t aware that Venezuela was the top five wealthiest nations in the world just a few decades ago. That relative wealth continued up until around two decades ago when Venezuela devolved into socialism. Today, Venezuela’s infrastructure is deteriorating, its economy is imploding, hyperinflation has left its currency worthless, 75% of the country's population lives in poverty, and millions of residents have fled.

Most importantly, Venezuela went from a thriving democracy, with constitutionally protected rights, to an authoritarian nightmare. Freedom of the press, speech, and political opposition are crushed under the weight of a one-party socialist nightmare.  America should pay more attention to how Venezuela fell as warning signs so we don't make the same mistakes.

First, it’s important to understand the depth of the problem and why it will be a miracle if Venezuela ever changes. Unfortunately, socialism quickly snuffs out any means of opposing it and brainwashes those under it.  American University student and Venezuelan immigrant Andrés Guilarte warned about what has happened in Venezuela. According to Guilarte, things got so bad that those in the middle class had to eat garbage: “we didn’t even know if we’d have three meals a day … The government in Venezuela, they didn’t care if people didn’t like that, they didn’t care if their liberties were going to be taken or their lives were going to be left out of options.”  According to Guilarte, even after such complete impoverishment, many Venezuelans hold fast to socialism. They have been “indoctrinated” in school to love socialism, hate capitalism and believe “that (socialist dictator Hugo) Chavez … was like Jesus on earth.”

Despite Venezuela’s previous success, students are taught to believe pre-socialism Venezuela was a corrupt and terrible country.  It’s so bad that according to experts, even if Venezuela were able to overturn socialism, “few Venezuelan institutions will emerge with much credibility … Much of the judiciary succumbed to the regime’s control long ago, and there is not much of an independent media sector left … The effects of two decades of endless liberationist and populist rhetoric on Venezuela’s political culture will also be hard to shake off.”

Before Venezuela’s descent into socialism, Christianity was a vibrant force in culture and society, primarily Roman Catholic, but with a growing Protestant presence. Like all socialist systems, secularism was pushed, and people taught to put faith in government. In the case of Venezuela, the government has also attempted to undermine traditional Christianity with imported competing pagan religions. Under socialism, Christian belief among Venezuelans has declined markedly, particularly among the young.  As Whitaker Chambers wrote in Witness: “The Communist revolution, like all great revolutions, occurs in man’s mind before it takes form in man’s acts.” The Rev. Ben Johnson, former executive editor of the Acton Institute wrote: “As socialism makes inroads … it replaces Christian eschatology with a secular narrative. It supplants traditional morality with alternative ends and means for this life. Left unchecked, it erodes both the adherent’s religion and society’s liberty.

The similarities between what happened in Venezuela and what’s happening in America are profound.

For decades — and getting much worse in recent years — American university students and schoolchildren have been taught that traditional capitalist America is flawed, racist, and in need of being transformed. Among 18 to 24-year-old Americans, recent polling shows that only 42% have a positive view of capitalism. The credibility of key Americans institutions, including media and federal agencies, continues to plummet due to perceptions of bias in favor of Democrats and progressivism. Freedom of speech is under attack, including even attempts of Homeland Security to create a department to combat alleged disinformation. As government growth and entitlement spending have skyrocketed in recent years (national debt has gone from around $5 trillion in 2000 to over $30 trillion today), we have also seen the cratering of religion in America, particularly among the young. Traditional values, particularly regarding marriage/family/sexuality, have become thoroughly secularized. In just the past decade, the number of Americans without a belief in God has almost doubled (81%), and stands at 68% among young adults.

The time is now to push back. Our collective faith in God is a critical defense. The proper teaching of American history (and the truth of socialism’s failures) is another key bulwark. It’s past time to limit the power of government and demand better constitutional checks and balances, integrity, and accountability. The American constitutional republic has succeeded beyond measure for over two centuries, and we cannot be the generation that lost it.

Bill Connor, a retired Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book Articles from War.

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