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Don midwest
Don midwest

Lessons From The Bolivian Coup
We need to learn to see through lies and recognize right-wing power grabs.

Second, we can see very clearly here a lesson in why liberalism always helps totalitarians get into power. The liberal philosophy is “Wait and see, let us be reasonable, don’t let’s cast accusations until all of the facts are in.” However, when an important political moment comes, and the right tries to seize power, one must be prepared to full-throatedly call out what is happening. If you grant the “benefit of the doubt” to the far right, by the time you realize what is going on, it will be too late. This is what happened to all the German conservatives and liberals in the 1930s who thought they could work with the Nazis. By the time it was obvious that the Nazis would just massacre anyone who opposed them, it was too late. One has to have a very clear understanding of what the far right is trying to do, and not believe it when it says that all it wants is democracy.

We need to make sure we understand how political power works and how people get it, and avoid being fooled by euphemisms. The right are often very clever at maneuvering. They understand, for example, that the best way to get power is to put on the presidential sash and declare that you are the president, then challenge anyone to stop you. (See, for example, the dispute over the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2017. The Obama appointee tried to get control by filing a court case while the Trump guy just showed up at the office, sat in the chair, and handed out donuts to the employees. Guess who won?) At the moment, the right is following a very obvious playbook in Bolivia, and Western media are helping them. Delegitimize the president, ignore the fact that his term isn’t up, declare that democracy needs restoring, declare your enemies terrorists, round them up, then hold an “election,” claim a mandate, and reverse all the socialist policies even if a majority of people supported them. Right-wing governance tends to rely on undemocratic measures like this, because right-wing politics rarely command majority support (after all, they support enriching business elites at the expense of ordinary people). So they need to find ways to make undemocratic policies seem like democratic ones, hence Germany 1933, Brazil 2018, the U.S. 2000, Bolivia 2019.

The central lesson here is: Call things what they are and do not hesitate, because if you hesitate it will be too late. Our media organizations need to be shamed for their failure here. When a minister promises to hunt down the opposition like animals, your headline needs to be “Right-Wing Government Threatens To Hunt Down Opposition Like Animals,” not “Interim Leader Sets Conservative, Religious Tone.” We must talk about massacres as massacres, not pacification and order-restoration. “Controversial” must not be used when “illegitimate” is the correct word. The right will always try to claw back the gains made by socialist parties, but the very least we can do is recognize that this is what they are trying to do and point out when they are doing it.

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