The last several days have been overwhelming. It all put my brain in a kind of logjam that made it difficult to do anything besides sit and stare. Another domino has fallen in the rise of global fascism. Brazil has elected as its President Jair Bolsonaro, an unapologetic fascist strongman who has made open his yearning for the country’s fallen dictatorship. He has been compared to Donald Trump, but he’s much more open about his nefarious ends and the extreme means he’s willing to take to achieve them. Bolsonaro’s frank admiration of Pinochet is particularly chilling. I’m quite frightened for the people of Brazil, many of whom, simply by existing as Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ, female or immigrant, will find themselves on the wrong side of the rage of the grandson of a Nazi. Bolsonaro’s lineage is important: It’s becoming clearer by the day that the Nazis never went anywhere; they’d just been quiet.
In addition, Brazil is a linchpin in the world’s future, because it is the home of the Amazon rainforest — the lungs of the planet. Bolsonaro has been clear in his desire to raze much of the rainforest to serve corporate interests. This will further accelerate climate change and destroy ecosystems. Not to mention the horror that will befall the Indigenous tribes whose homes will be destroyed. The rainforest is so vast and dense that there are still uncontacted tribes living there. There will be another brutal wave of colonization, destruction, and pillage.
To the north, in the United States, President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric is radicalizing White nationalist terrorists. A bomber steeped in Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories targeted a dozen of Trump’s political opponents for assassination by IED. A gunman murdered two Black people in a grocery store in Kentucky after failing to enter a Black church. A synagogue in Pittsburgh was shot up by a gunman who killed 11, including Holocaust survivors. Imagine that: having survived the Nazis and made it to your twilight years only to be murdered as you worshipped by a raging anti-Semite who had been radicalized by the President of the United States. A President who is continuing to stoke fears of a caravan of Latin American migrants fleeing nations that have been violently destabilized by American interference. The caravan is in southern Mexico, weeks away from the United States border. Nevertheless, 5,200 troops are being deployed to the border to repel the asylum-seekers, who are being described as “invaders” and rumored to carry disease. We’ve seen this film before.
President Trump is doubling down and promising to end birthright citizenship. His pledge to use an Executive Order to do so has been met with derision. After all, the Constitution is clear. Its Fourteenth Amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” As for those troops being sent to the border, we’re being reassured that federal laws (most notably the Posse Comitatus Act) should prevent them from behaving too badly. We keep being told what can’t happen, not who’s going to stop it. And it will take a who or several — pieces of paper with writing on them are meaningless without the force of human action behind them.
Do people not understand that the rules have gone out the window?
There are already camps in the desert. Troops are being deployed. What do people think is going to happen next? The overwhelming majority of the soldiers will do whatever they’re told, because it’s how they’ve been trained and conditioned. In addition, it’s unclear what the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court will do if a case seeking to undermine birthright citizenship makes its way to them. But does it even matter what the courts say if the world’s most powerful military has committed itself to another course of action? What’s also not being said enough is that the 14th Amendment was intended to grant citizenship to emancipated slaves and their descendants. If it is attacked, how far could all this go? This is about much more than immigration. Every horror we know fascists are capable of is on the table. Anyone telling you these matters are merely “distractions” can’t see beyond the ballot box and doesn’t understand what is happening.
There is a refusal by too many people of influence to have the conversations this moment requires. American Exceptionalism has to go right out the window if Trump’s ascendancy and regime are to be discussed honestly. The unwillingness to jettison the ahistorical myth of America as inherently good and decent, and this goodness and decency winning the day, because it must is going to “civility, please” people into mass graves. These lies are why so many of the people who oppose Trump’s policies can’t bring themselves to realize, much less say out loud, that the caravan shouldn’t go anywhere near the American border, that those refugees presenting themselves to people who are building camps in the desert is a horrible idea that will likely end in tragedy.
It’s deeper than America not wanting to look at itself, though. A similar recalcitrance is evident in the Western media’s coverage of Bolsonaro. A man who venerates his country’s past of brutal dictatorship and thinks Pinochet should have gone farther is being described as “rough-talking” and “controversial” by major international news outlets.
Following Bolsonaro’s election, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation tweeted, “Brazil’s new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is a right-winger who leans towards more open markets. This could mean fresh opportunities for Canadian companies looking to invest in the resource-rich country.” A naked, unrepentant fascist, who has been open about his desire for there to be a “cleansing” in Brazil is being described as merely a “right-winger” and “fresh opportunities” for Canadian business are being talked up. Whatever is failing in the United States and Brazil has infected Canada too. It just isn’t as obvious.
It feels like the world is ending, because it is. It has to. That tweet from the CBC gets to the heart of why: so long as the Trumps and Bolsonaros of the world are good for business, they’ll be tolerated by the ruling class. It doesn’t matter if the entire planet is destroyed along the way, so long as some people get their money. It’s why there’s so much reluctance to call a spade a spade in the establishment news media — they get some of the money and influence too. If we dismantle capitalism to rein in climate change and produce fairer societies, they will lose some of that wealth and influence. If Whiteness is devalued, that will knock people off the top of the pecking order when the spoils are distributed. These paroxysms of fascism are predictable when you consider how entwined capitalism and racism are and how necessary violence is to the preservation of both.
The fascists understand that the world cannot continue as it is, that we all will choose something else, because we want to survive. They have to withhold that choice from us, hence the battering of democracy and the descent into violence. Fear and brutality are the only ways to maintain a system so unjust that it has us hurtling towards a mass extinction event so a handful of people can hoard gold like dragons. The world as we live in it has to end. We have to choose something else, something better. Accepting this, believing it is the first step in defeating the rising tide of fascism.