Democratic advisor and former US Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Europe
“Believe, Cree” are the two words with which opens Juan Verde’s website. This Gran Canarian who left his native Telde at 15 to fulfil his own “American dream” assures The Diplomat, in an interview conducted by Zoom, that now more than ever “it is time to believe” in the change proposed by Democrats’ presidential candidate, Joe Biden, in an “absolutely polarised” United States.
Can this polarisation be reversed?
I believe it can and should be. There is a direct correlation between economic and social instability. In Spain we are in an unparalleled economic crisis; in the United States we are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We should be very concerned. If we have learned anything throughout history it is that these moments are the most vulnerable for any political system. It happened after the Great Depression in the United States, when the country returned to worrying about its domestic priorities. And it was a historical mistake that led to a decade of isolation, nationalism and populism. We may now be facing a very similar situation.
Why do you think populism is so successful in such advanced societies?
We are advanced societies made up of very basic individuals. People, when it comes to politics, don’t remember what you told them, but how you made them feel when you talked to them. And at a time of political, economic and social uncertainty, four years ago, Trump represented a hope for radical change that was a lie. But there is a segment of the population that believes it has nothing to lose when there is such a deep economic crisis, paradigms are beginning to change and the system is showing signs of exhaustion.
Nevertheless, this capitalist system remains the most viable option. It is true that it has not been equally beneficial for everyone and this lack of equality has brought us here. It is time to rebuild, but to do it better. As Biden says, “Re-buildt better”. What doesn’t make sense is to go back to what we had before because that didn’t work.
What would you base this new economy on?
On the three ‘P’s’ that the Americans say. “People, Profit, Planet. The economy cannot take into account profit alone. The new economic model is of course based on profit, but we have to think also about the planet and people. Together, they create an ecosystem that makes the economic model much more sustainable, allowing businesses to make much more money for much longer. Isn’t that better than a short-term vision of making a lot of money for a short time at the expense of the planet and people?
Will that message resonate with the American voter or will Trump win back?
I am very optimistic about this. I believe that on November 3rd common sense will return not only to the White House but to the United States. Trump does not represent the values of the average American. I refuse to think that most of them are xenophobes, misogynists and male chauvinists who want a society where division and hatred prevail. This has been a parenthesis in the history of the United States. The Biden-Harris administration will return to the international community with a more inclusive vision, both nationally and internationally, in the face of major challenges such as terrorism, pandemics, climate change and tax evasion.
Over the past four years, there has been a general confrontation.
I think this has been a very unfortunate setback, for example in the relationship with our European allies. What better allies than the United States and Europe? Last 70 years have been the period of greatest stability, peace and economic prosperity in Europe. And Trump has called everything into question: the viability of NATO, the Free Trade Agreement… We have also walked away from the WHO, in the midst of the worst pandemic in history, and from nuclear non-proliferation agreements. It doesn’t make sense.
Is there any solution to the confrontation with China?
Regardless of who wins on November 3rd, we are heading for a more polarised world, in which we will see two great powers, the United States and China. And there are ways of understanding this. The current one of President Trump: confrontation, distancing, isolation, where there is no one to win; and the vision of Biden, who wants to promote a firm attitude towards China but by sitting down to talk. We all have much to gain by collaborating and much to lose by not doing so.
Speaking about the pandemic, shouldn’t WHO take the lead and coordinate the fight against it?
It is the only way to do it. There is no other way. The pandemic, like climate change, does not understand unilateral responses. Not even bilateral ones. There are no borders to stop viruses. And there is no way to combat it effectively without collaboration between countries. That’s the key, but what do we have? Firstly, a denialist US president. And not only a climate change denier, but also a science denier. He does not listen to his advisors. 215,000 Americans have died and the economy is in chaos. Trump is not to blame for the pandemic, but he is absolutely and solely to blame for the fact that the United States is the country that has managed the pandemic the worst. The United States accounts for 4% of the world’s population and 22% of deaths. This does not make sense.
How is Spain viewed from abroad? Is our situation so serious?
I’m afraid so. Spain is in a historic moment of dysfunction. This is not an ideological commentary. I’m afraid that neither the government nor the opposition is up to it. What I see from afar is a lack of state vision, of understanding politics as the only way to change what we do not like. And I see that in Spain, short-sighted and unsustainable visions prevail. This can be very dangerous.
And how do we find more sensible politicians?
The main problem with democracy in Spain does not have to do with parties or corruption, but with the lack of open lists. We have a system where individuals cannot participate in the electoral process of the parties without someone handing them over. When what matters is that you obey and that you are always in line with your boss’s interests, a perverse, corrupt and unworkable system is created.
For me that is the key to true democracy. And what is happening in Spain has to do with this lack of transparency and participation, because people cannot participate directly. What is my hope in all of this? Civil society.
Is the difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to winning elections that you are more self-critical and it is difficult for you to close ranks around your candidate if you are not convinced?
It’s a simplistic but accurate analysis. In the United States there is no left as understood in Europe. The Republicans believe that they are the owners of the one truth. We Democrats admit that there are other “truths”. And that is manifested in this unconditional Republican closing of ranks or the fact that there are different strings in the Democratic Party. I think we are more democratic than the Republicans.
Which states will tip the balance in this election?
There will be six or seven states. Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Colorado… The big surprise this year is that in the last two weeks we are getting closer in the polls in several states where we didn’t expect it, such as Texas, for the first time in 50 years, or Iowa, where there is practically a technical tie. This demonstrates Trump’s vulnerability and makes us optimistic.
Are you the Spanish embodiment of the ‘American Dream’?
No one has to convince me that the ‘American Dream’ exists. I have experienced it first hand. I went there when I was fifteen, at 22 I was working in the White House with Clinton, and at 39 with Obama. I don’t know if a first generation immigrant would have those opportunities in Spain or in another European country. In the United States there is still a meritocracy. And that is something worth fighting for. That’s why we Democrats are giving everything we have to win this next election. To keep the American Dream real.
If you were to remain in politics, would you like to be mayor of Telde?
At the moment, it is not on my horizon. My life is now in the United States, but when I retire and want to return to the Canary Islands, I may look for a way to do my bit to give back to society some of what I have learned along the way.