Hard on the campaign trail in the lead up to the midterm elections, President Donald Trump is beating the fear-mongering drum hard.
In addition to declaring that the caravan of a few thousand people (estimates run from 3,600 to 7,000) walking at around 28 miles a day and still 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border an “invasion,” Trump said that “Florida will become Venezuela” if a Democratic gubernatorial candidate wins the election.
President Trump made the comments on Monday night in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, who asked him for no clarification whatsoever:
Putting aside the president’s issues with Tallahssee Mayor Andrew Gillum (who is running against Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis), saying that Florida will turn into Venezuela is remarkable and baffling.
To start with, what happened in Venezuela began when people started protesting years of financial mismanagement by the oil-rich state.
That led to a deadly government-backed crackdown, sanctions, a currency freefall, hyperinflation(at the unfathomable rate of 1,000,000 percent — yes, one million), serious food and medicine shortages, and a mass exodus to neighboring countries.
Barring some sort of military secession, Florida will remain a part of the United States and continue to use the U.S. dollar. Florida won’t see the kind of economic collapse that is being faced by the people of Venezuela, where people have involuntarily lost an average of almost 24 pounds each, owing to scarce food and skipped meals.
In the capital, Caracas, people have not had reliable access to clean water, with as much as three-fourths of the city going without it at times. That includes hospitals and clinics.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told ThinkProgress that in order to tank Florida’s economy, Gillum would “need some help from not only Trump but the Federal Reserve, because you can’t get hyperinflation in one state in the United States.”
Calling President Trump’s warning “a meaningless statement,” Weisbrot added “These are federal, national policies that would have to go very, very wrong. These are monetary and fiscal policies, which Florida, he added, does not control those things.”
The drop in oil prices, coupled by U.S. sanctions and currency devaluation, also hurt Venezuela, and it’s impossible to imagine those things happening in Florida (which, again, does not have its own currency).
Even the most corrupt governor — whoever that might be — would never be able to damage a state to that extent.
“You could make that charge for the federal government if you could say that there was a president elected and a Congress who had a set of economic policies that could destroy the economy,” said Weisbrot.
Florida’s economy hit $1 trillion this summer, meaning that if it was its own country, it would have the 17th largest economy in the world.
J.J. Messner, executive director of the Fund for Peace, which produces the Fragile State Index, told ThinkProgress that the president’s parallel does not track.
“When we’re talking about a state versus a country, we’re really talking about apples and oranges…Florida is part of a federal system. Any suggestion that any one single state within the United States could turn into Venezuela is laughable,” said Messner.
Even if Florida was a county, he explained, the nature of fragility in Venezuela is radically different from what we’d see in a North American context. The United States — and even Florida — has a tremendous amount of institutional resiliency, for instance.
A large part of what has pushed Venezuela toward the edge has been the large scale corruption and mismanagement of the country’s oil company, PDVSA. Florida’s economy is far more diversified, so it would be hard to tank the same way, said Messner, by destroying one sector.
“To consider that question you would still have to assume that there is a risk that a gubernatorial candidate has that kind of policy objective…and that’s a tough hill to climb,” he added.
Plus, Venezuela’s collapse hasn’t just been economic — it’s also been made worse by the fact that insecurity has led Venezuelans to flee the country.
“There’s a complete breakdown of the rule of law. The security services are less state security and more the strong arm of the regime, and so even to consider that a state governor has even close to that sort of extrajudicial power to compromise the rule of law…is unthinkable at the state level,” he said, adding “at the national level, that would be different.”
This isn’t to say that damage can’t be done at the state level, said Messner, who cited the current issues with voter suppression in Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp has chosen to remain in office as he runs in the gubernatorial race.
But a Venezuela-like downward spiral would require someone in a higher office.
“Let me put it this way: A president has much more lattitude from the perspective not only public policy, but also rhetoric, to create the conditions that threaten democracy and rule of law than does a state governor,” said Messner.