Philip Green
4 min readJan 18, 2024

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Worlds Together and Worlds Apart: A Fearful Contrast

I was surfing MSNBC the other night, and an ad came on, casually you might think. But not so: it was a photo of Michelle Obama, and the caption told us that she was “terrified.” Nothing more, at least not a for a few moments, but the substance was absolutely clear: she was “terrified,” is “terrified,” losing sleep, about the coming election.

And well she might be. There is a 50–50 chance that we are on the way to having the most destructive, the most horrific, election since Germany in 1932. How can be this happening?

A comparison that someone–I think it was Rachel–made the other night- about Jair Bolisaro, the right-wing would-be tyrant running for re-election as Brazil’s President. Lost his bid. And this is a nation where there is competition among multi-parties, several of them on the right. This is how–again I think Rachel–described the pre-inauguration demonstration in Brazil, on several occasions in its history home to military tyrants and torturers, and now was home to its own equivalent of January 6th.

“Brazil’s leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, marched arm-in-arm across the federal government’s central plaza with governors, congressional leaders and judges from both the left and right in a show of unity against the attack.”

Ah! So what, in comparison, then did the right-wing do after being thrown out of power, in the 235-year-old “world’s oldest democracy”democracy, as I’ve noted earlier, that in the 1960’s was, according to Almond and Verba’s certified classic The Civic Culture, the “most stable democracy” of all.

Whereas now it’s about as stable as a cage-ful of starving wild dogs. In Washington D.C. an insurrectionary mob, increasingly reinterpreted by virtually all Republican spokespersons as “patriotic,” had set out to murder Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi — and been repulsed by its own military and police.

In Brazil, “Unity of the left and right?” I mean, I’m liable to cry while writing this. Actually, I’m a sentimentalist and my eyes are tearing.

Where, to continue, “in the hours after the Jan. 6 riot, some Republican members of Congress voted against certifying President Biden’s election victory, and since then, Republicans have increasingly sought to recast the insurrection as a patriotic act — or even an inside job by the left.”

And just to put icing on the cake, “ Brazil’s Supreme Court has expanded its power to investigate and prosecute people it sees as threats to democracy. The approach helped muffle claims of fraud around Brazil’s 2022 election, as one Supreme Court justice in particular, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered tech companies to take down posts spreading such falsehoods. Mr. Moraes has said he has watched online disinformation erode democracy in other countries and is intent on not letting that happen in Brazil.”

A small side-light on that news-item. Would the 1st Amendment make such an action impossible here? Not if you’re an originalist, as Roberts’ Rangers all claim to be! The Court over time has made many rulings detached from the literal language of the Constitution: So, here “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Moraes didn’t, and if a majority of thoughtful American justices rules against a defendant in such a case they wouldn’t either. Congress didn’t desegregate schools, or…that’s for another day.

Bolisaro, meanwhile, who has been enjoined by that Court from running for office before 2030, is quite fittingly enjoying his exile in Florida, where the Republican Party and its enthusiasts know how to put on a reception fit for a…King? Very fitting: the Republican Party of the United States has unswervingly thrown over the Founders’ concept of “Executive Power” for the total demolition of democracy or Republic that accompanies the Madness of King Donald, about as it would be in 16th Century Spain.

Meanwhile, the patrons of an imaginary meritocracy are in full blast, viz, Bret Stephens on Claudia Gay:

“Nobody should doubt that there is still a lot of excellence in today’s academia and plenty of good reasons to send your kids to college. But nobody should doubt, either, that the intellectual rot is pervasive and won’t stop spreading until universities return to the idea that their central purpose is to identify and nurture and liberate the best minds, not to engineer social utopias”

Right on! Here are some of the “Best minds” Harvard has offered us: Tom Cotton, lover of autocracy; Josh Hawley, last seen waving a sycophantic fist to the bloodthirsty mob at the Capitol; Ted Cruz, who proposes extra layers of glass for the doorways to schools to protect students from gunshots; Elise Stefanik, fine mind of boot-licking; hope I’m not missing anything.

To conclude on a different note: On meeting FDR, J.M. Keynes reported that he “had a second-class intellect but a first-class character.” How about that, Bret? In the same issue as Stevens’s idea about how to identify and liberate “best minds,” you can read Claudine Gay’s reflections on the same concept. Quite a comparison.

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Philip Green

Emeritus Professor of Gov’t, Smith College, 40 years Editorial Board, The Nation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Green_(author)