I fled from a dictator in Venezuela, only to witness the rise of another one here in the United States.
I moved to the U.S. in 2011 after a dictator forced me to leave my country, my family, my friends, and my whole life. In Venezuela, I fought, marched, protested and voted, but the dictator won the fight.
Coming from Venezuela, I recognize a populist demagogue promising anything at the expense of a country’s own people. I will never forget Trump’s first campaign speech, it rang an alarm. I saw a man dividing the American people for the sake of his own rise. There is a phrase that summarizes it “Divide y vencerás” (divide and conquer).
When I see a government try to remove judges, destroy democratic institutions, call the media fake news when they expose corruption, a leader trying to punish his political rivals, I remember what I left behind in Venezuela and I see it in the United States with President Trump’s disregard for the rule of law.
Not only did I escape from socialism, I, too, am a victim of a corrupt and cruel regime, and won’t accept the GOP trying to hide Trump’s corruption and failures by distorting what Democrats are doing to help us all. It is outrageous to watch the Republican Party cover their “único líder” (only leader) with excuses for him and leave our democracy in peril.
I remember watching Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez harass people who dissented from his views, calling us “fascists” and “piti yankees.” (little yankees). Now I see Trump and the Republicans call Democrats “socialists” because we defend voting rights; we want to expand access to health care; and, we are making sure that the president is not above the law — as Venezuela’s current president Nicolás Maduro thinks he is.
I will never forget standing in front of our TV in Caracas in 2007, watching in tears the last minutes that Radio Caracas Television — one of the most popular TV channels in Venezuela —was on air before it was shut down by Chávez. He had decided to silence them when months earlier they had exposed the high levels of corruption and the crisis in Venezuela. When a dictator doesn’t like the truth being exposed, they call the media “fake news” and they censor it. If Trump had the power to do the same, you could bet he would shut down CNN and the New York Times.
Never would I have thought that I would come to the land of the free and see the same nightmare start to play out again. I know very well that with Trump, the United States’ fate may follow that of Venezuela.
I was recently asked how I, as an Hispanic, could be supporting Democrats. The answer is simple. I believe in democracy and democratic values. No matter where I am, no matter how far I am from Venezuela, I will always defend freedom and liberty. I lost democracy once and I am not going to lose it again.
Luisana Pérez Fernández came to the United States from Venezuela in 2011. She is the Hispanic Communications Director for the Florida Democratic Party.
‘Naked power has an expiry date,” writes Frank. This is no doubt true. But lest you find the observation overly reassuring, remember that Joseph Stalin stayed in power for 31 years, Mao Zedong for 27, Benito Mussolini for 23, and Adolf Hitler for a hideous 12. So for all the apparent precariousness that can beset a strongman who seizes control of a state by thuggery or violence, the absence of genuine popular support doesn’t always result in his imminent toppling.
In fact, writes Mr. Dikötter in “How to Be a Dictator: The…
Conn Smythe is on the very short of most influential men in the early days of the National Hockey League. He coached the Toronto St. Pats when they became the Maple Leafs, was synonymous with the franchise for decades, and his name adorns the trophy awarded to the NHL’s playoff MVP every season.
He was also a domineering jerk. Nicknamed the “little dictator,” he clashed with both his own players and opponents, and his expectation of obedience was absolute. Smythe once banished two players to the minors for getting married without seeking his permission.
Punch Imlach, the last coach of the Maple Leafs to win a Stanley Cup, notoriously did not get along with young players. He fought with them over dress code and hairstyles, and alienated some of his stars. Mike Walton left the team over what he later called mental-health issues developed from dealing with Imlach.
There is a line to be drawn from Smythe to Imlach to Mike Babcock, the most recent Maple Leafs coach to lose his job. Babcock, who had come to Toronto as the highest-paid coach in the NHL, was known as something of a hard-ass, but only after his departure has a fuller picture of his time with the team emerged. Postmedia’s Terry Koshan reported how Babcock told Mitch Marner, then a rookie, to rank the team’s players in terms of work ethic, and then shared the list with the team. Marner has since said that Babcock later apologized for the bizarre motivational tactic, but it was that story that caused Akim Aliu, the former junior star, to recount the racial slurs used by just-departed Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters when they were player and coach in the AHL a decade ago. That has, in turn, caused a torrent of stories, some detailed and some not, about abusive coach behaviour from youth hockey to the pros and everywhere in between. Daniel Carcillo, a former NHLer who was no one’s idea of a model citizen in his playing days, has become something of a clearinghouse for terrible coach-behaviour anecdotes, and he vows that more will be aired in the coming days.
A key question remains. Is this just an airing of grievances that will soon forgotten as soon as the next tough-guy coach leads his team to a championship? Or are we in the midst of a watershed moment, when the hockey world woke up to the fact that a team is a workplace, and that talented employees are not well served by horrible bosses?
There is a universal theory about coaching professional sports teams, which is this: We really do not know who is very good at it.
There are exceptions, of course. Football’s Bill Belichick? Great coach. Hockey’s Scotty Bowman? Great coach. Both also notorious cranks. Until recently, Babcock would have been on this list. He has a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals, and his reputation upon leaving the Detroit Red Wings was so good that multiple teams pursued him until the Maple Leafs piled so much money in front of him that he could not say no.
Babcock’s reputation has taken a hit in recent weeks. A young and talented Leafs team failed to win a playoff series in three tries under his watch, and a November swoon brought about his dismissal. Suddenly, the team is loose and happy and, over an admittedly small sample size, winning again, under new head coach Sheldon Keefe, who has given his young players more creative licence. Babcock once took won of the most offensively gifted teams ever assembled, the Canadian Olympic entry in 2014, and made it play a smothering, mistake-free style. (It worked; Canada won gold.)
The Babcock-to-Keefe attitude change usually plays out a few times every year. The authoritarian hockey coach is replaced with someone who lets the players loosen their ties, play the music a little louder in the dressing room, and not get yelled at or benched if they make a mistake on the ice. The change sometimes happens in the opposite direction, too. The nice-guy coach is dumped in favour of someone who comes in and orders his players to be clean-shaven, bans poker games from the team plane, and starts giving more minutes to the veterans who are defensively sound and can maybe score a goal if someone shoots a puck in off their butt.
There will always be hockey-related reasons to favour one style of coaching over the other, particularly in relation to the types of players on a roster. But the events of the past week point to another issue involved with coaches with an authoritarian streak: Employ a tyrant and you’ll probably end up with some tyranny.
This is, it should be noted, not unique to hockey. There are hot-headed coaches in all sports, and countless stories of abuse, physical and otherwise, which are often tolerated as long as a team is winning. That this is so pervasive is a result of the inherent power-imbalance in the coach-player relationship. That can be particularly acute at the junior and minor-league levels, where players are desperate to become one of the chosen few to make it to the majors, and coaches have the ability to stop their progress dead. Young players who push back can be labelled difficult and divisive, and those reputations can be tough to shake. Aliu has said that he didn’t confront Peters about the racial slurs when they were together in the AHL because he was just 20 years old and playing a full season professionally for the first time. The coach held Aliu’s future in his hands. And when coaches aren’t held to account for behaviour that crosses the line, they end up crossing the line again. After all, it has worked before. Peters went on to two NHL head-coaching jobs, and has since been accused of punching and kicking players when with the Carolina Hurricanes, which his former assistant Rod Brind’Amour has confirmed.
While the power dynamic is most out of whack at the lower levels, it still exists even at the highest reaches of the sport. We are long way from the days when Smythe could cut a player for nuptials-related offences, but even in the days of a reasonably strong players’ union there is still a reluctance to risk the label of a difficult player. Marner was a junior star and a prized prospect, but even he wasn’t likely to win a power struggle with someone like Babcock, who had a bulletproof credentials. Everyone carried on, and evidently somewhere along the way the Toronto players decided they had enough of this guy.
But, back to that theory about coaching. With the obvious exceptions of the coaches who win repeatedly with different teams and different rosters, it’s hard to separate the accomplishments of a coach from those of the players on the roster. A coach who looks great with one team might look lousy for another, and one who struggles with a bad franchise might flourish when handed talented charges. And yet hockey has long been devoted to the Cult of the Coach. There’s a mystique around the furrowed-brow yellers, the Leaders of Men who keep Patton biographies on their office shelves and look askance at a player who asks to miss a game to attend the birth of his child.
Might that be at an end? The coach-as-dictator model has long been tolerated as long as it works. But the revolution could be at hand.
We’re up against a crisis I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: a dictator-like attack by President Donald Trump on everything this country stands for. As last week’s impeachment hearings made clear, our shared tolerance and respect for the truth, our sacred rule of law, our essential freedom of the press and our precious freedoms of speech — all have been threatened by a single man.
Our shared tolerance and respect for the truth, our sacred rule of law, our essential freedom of the press and our precious freedoms of speech — all have been threatened by a single man.
It’s time for Trump to go — along with those in Congress who have chosen party loyalty over their oath to “solemnly affirm” their support for the Constitution of the United States. And it’s up to us to make that happen, through the power of our votes.
When Trump was elected, though he was not my choice, I honestly thought it only fair to give the guy a chance. And like many others, I did. But almost instantly he began to disappoint and then alarm me. I don’t think I’m alone.
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Tonight it pains me to watch what is happening to our country. Growing up as a child during World War II, I watched a united America defend itself against the threat of fascism. I watched this again, during the Watergate crisis, when our democracy was threatened. And again, when terrorists turned our world upside down.
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During those times of crises, Congress came together, and our leaders came together. Politicians from both sides rose to defend our founding principles and the values that make us a global leader and a philosophical beacon of hope for all those seeking their own freedoms.
What is happening, right now, is so deeply disturbing that instead of the United States of America, we are now defined as the Divided States of America. Leaders on both sides lack the fundamental courage to cross political aisles on behalf of what is good for the American people.
We’re at a point in time where I reluctantly believe that we have much to lose — it is a critical and unforgiving moment.
We’re at a point in time where I reluctantly believe that we have much to lose — it is a critical and unforgiving moment. This monarchy in disguise has been so exhausting and chaotic, it’s not in the least bit surprising so many citizens are disillusioned.
The vast majority of Americans are busy with real life; trying to make ends meet and deeply frustrated by how hard Washington makes it to do just that.
But this is it. There are only 11 months left before the presidential election; 11 months before we get our one real chance to right this ship and change the course of disaster that lies before us.
Let’s rededicate ourselves to voting for truth, character and integrity in our representatives (no matter which side we’re on). Let’s go back to being the leader the world so desperately needs. Let’s return, quickly, to being simply … Americans.