The word fascism is undoubtedly overused in today’s political lexicon. It is used by figures from across the political spectrum as a shorthand for anything that one’s opponent does that is deemed sinister or disagreeable. This phenomenon has obscured the real meaning of the word, creating confusion and misunderstanding within the general public. One of the unfortunate corollaries of this has been a tendency to dismiss comparisons between today’s right-wing populists and early 20th Century fascism as facile and overblown. But this should not stand in the way of drawing parallels that ought to be drawn – those that do not fall into the category of this kind of lazy thinking. Historical comparisons should be evaluated on their own merits and not on whether the terminology surrounding them has been debased through overuse.
In the case of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the appropriateness of the word is now becoming self-evident through the emergence of one of fascism’s major distinguishing characteristics: the trampling over the judicial branch of the state.
On June 26, the Trump administration’s so-called “Special Representative for Venezuela,” Elliott Abrams gave a five-minute update to reporters about the development of the coup attempt against the government of Nicolas Maduro, followed by a brief Q&A session. The event, held at the US State Department in Washington, was textbook Abrams: full of lies, loaded language, double standards and breathtaking hypocrisy. Below, I deconstruct each of his points by providing rebuttals, context and regional comparison.
Visit from Michelle Bachelet
The first thing that Abrams mentioned was the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. From his remarks, one would think that the visit was entirely focused on condemning what Abrams repeatedly referred to as the Maduro “regime” – a classic of Washington’s Goebbelian dictionary used to delegitimize unfriendly governments. “We hope that her report, which is due out July 5th, will reveal the brutal truths that victims of the regime suffer every day,” he said. By using this kind of language, Abrams is sending a number of implicit messages to his audience. First is that the Maduro government is an authoritarian egregious human rights violator while so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido and his hardline opposition faction are whiter than white and, indeed, the sole hope of saving the country from this tyranny. The reality, however, is that Bachelet was there to hear allegations of human rights abuses from both pro- and anti-government actors, including the numerous credible reports of opposition violence such as setting perceived government supporters on fire.
On June 19, The Washington Post reported that Trump has apparently lost interest in the Venezuela coup attempt and taken to attacking members of his own administration for their failure to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro. The article quotes anonymous administration officials who claim that Trump believes John Bolton and other officials working on the Venezuela coup “got played” by both Venezuelan coup leaders and members of the Maduro government. Trump is said to have “chewed them out” at an angry meeting about the failure to topple Maduro. Apparently, Trump believed that doing so would be “low hanging fruit” and an easy win that he could “tout as a major foreign policy victory,”. This should come as no surprise, however. As Counterpunch reported at the time, the coup attempt was already stalling by late February – just a month after it had first been launched.
Like Trump, the coup’s cheerleaders in the mainstream press have been scratching their heads as to why Washington’s puppet – so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido – didn’t quickly succeed in seizing power. Certainly, the lasting popularity of the policies enacted by the late Hugo Chavez and the revulsion at the idea of US intervention held by most Venezuelans are major factors. But there is another more subtle, but also more significant factor at play – the decline of US power in the Trump era. Under his presidency, the US imperial apparatus has fallen into the hands of a child in an adult’s body who can’t stay on subject when talking, let along on point when acting. Indeed, Washington’s traditional foreign policy establishment – including Henry Kissinger – endorsed Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. She was the preferred option because she would be the more competent administrator of empire.
The beginning of this month saw the sorry spectacle of Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom. In spite of him hurling insults at London’s mayor and shamelessly intruding into British political affairs by endorsing Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership race, the UK government nonetheless rolled out the red carpet and spared no expense in kissing his derrière. Though only two members of his immediate family have official positions within his administration, Trump brought the whole clan along for the festivities, including a four-course banquet hosted by the Queen, which the UK government didn’t hesitate to accommodate. This nauseating act of sycophancy was, of course, funded entirely by public money. This is no small matter in a country in which a significant proportion of its population, according to a recent United Nations report, has been subjected to “systematic immiseration” as a result of a decade-long austerity program enacted by successive Conservative governments.
But none of this seems to matter to the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic, which waxed lyrical about the so-called “Special Relationship” between the two nations. Odes were sung to (now former) Prime Minister Theresa May’s jubilant talk of an “enduring partnership” and Trump’s promise that his administration will work to forge a “phenomenal” trade deal with a post-Brexit UK. The coverage got particularly gushing when May harkened back to the two countries’ cooperation on D-day during the Second World War, which forms part of the Anglo-American mythology that it was “us,” rather than the Soviet Union, that defeated Hitler.
With the attempted coup in Venezuela now nearing its four-month mark, commentators in the corporate-owned Western press are scratching their heads as to why Washington’s plan for its proxy, Juan Guaido, to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro has so far failed to materialize. Of course, all of the real reasons elude them because they have never so much as crossed their minds. It is beyond their mental world to consider the lasting popularity of the late Hugo Chavez’s policies and lasting suspicion toward the right-wing opposition amongst large swathes of the population – or the deep revulsion at the thought of US (and especially US military) intervention into their country held by the vast majority of Venezuelans (and, indeed, Latin Americans generally). Rather, both the coup attempt’s puppeteers in Washington and their ventriloquist dummies in the mainstream media have been coming up with ever-more desperate excuses for why Guaido’s attempt to take power has not been a swift and decisive success. The so-called “propping up” of the Maduro “regime” by the traditional the US boogeymen of Russia, China and Cuba seems to have been the most frequently touted explanation. This has manifested itself in increasingly bizarre ways, such as the recent claim by Mike Pompeo that Maduro was at the point of fleeing the country before being convinced otherwise by Russia.