A virtual roundtable of Democratic Joe Biden supporters who have experience fleeing totalitarian states like Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam and Haiti charged Wednesday that even as President Donald Trump expresses opposition to totalitarian regimes he increasingly acts like he wants one himself.
“This week we see an alternative reality on display,” said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, one of several speakers including Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park who joined a virtual press event organized by the Democratic National Committee Wednesday. “It’s bizarre.”
Murphy, Rodriguez, and several other speakers such as National Security Advisor Fernando Cutz accused Trump of talking tough on Cuba’s and Venezuela’s socialist regimes only to try to win votes in Florida, while not actually doing anything to promote freedom, democracy or human rights in those countries, or to support their refugees in the United States.
They also charged that Trump also has, in less scripted moments, openly expressed respect, admiration and tolerance for such totalitarians as Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan.
And while Trump has done so, Rodriguez and many of the other panelists in the press event charged, he has openly pursued many totalitarians’ favorite tactics. The Democrats contended Trump seeks to undermine democratic institutions from courts to the postal service, turn government operations such as the Department of State and Justice Department into political tools, dehumanize opposition, promote xenophobia as a form of nationalism, repress dissent within the party of power, lie, and vilify a free press that challenges any of his narratives.
“I feel I am living a deja vu,” said Diego Scharifker, a former government council member in Venezuela and now a refugee. “I see the same situations I saw in my country. Attacks against democracy.”
“When we see Donald Trump… we’re alarmed. We’re terrified,’ said Danella Ferrara, who fled Cuba with her family and now is co-founder of Cubanos por Biden. “We’re reliving the trauma that we lived in Cuba.”
Rodriguez went so far as to charge that First Lady Melania Trump‘s military-fatigue style attire during her speech Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention struck him as an in-your-face fashion statement paying homage to Cuba’s Castro regime.
“Literally she’s wearing Fidel‘s fatigues. Right? I don’t know whether that’s sort of mocking the community or that nobody caught that, but it is, just on the basis of imagery, just sort of an authoritarian thing,” Rodriguez said.
He also charged that the President does not have any policies to encourage democracy or human rights in Cuba or Venezuela, and “he just panders to whatever [U.S. Sen.] Marco Rubio tells him to do.”
Cutz, who served as a Latin American expert on the White House National Security Council under both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump, said Trump’s actions and general rhetoric undercut diplomatic efforts overseas, especially when trying to convince foreign leaders to adopt more democratic institutions and promote human rights.
“I feel like we can’t stand behind our words when the actions of the President don’t match,” Cutz said.
Murphy said Congress has had to take the lead, sometimes in bipartisan efforts, against totalitarian regimes, and to discourage Trump’s own tendencies because Trump would not do so. She said that began with her bill that essentially would have blocked Trump from putting his political adviser Steve Bannon on the National Security Council, a bill she credited with making Trump back down and cancel the appointment. Likewise, she said Congress has sought to restrict arms sales to Venezuela and seek to provide temporary protective status to refugees because Trump would not do so.