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America Has Entered the Weimar Era: Walden Bello on How Neoliberalism Fueled Trump & Violent Right

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Democrats in Congress are pushing ahead with impeachment following the violent insurrection that killed five people at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The single article of impeachment against President Trump cites his incitement of insurrection and accuses him of subverting and obstructing the certification of the 2020 election. This comes as authorities are warning of more right-wing violence around Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, with possible armed far-right protests planned at all 50 state capitols as well as the U.S. Capitol. We speak with Walden Bello, an acclaimed sociologist, academic, environmentalist and activist, whose latest column argues the United States has entered a “Weimar Era,” in which democratic elections are increasingly delegitimized as street violence becomes the norm. “This is not something that’s unusual that has happened in the Capitol. Right-wing groups, when they begin to lose electorally, … they resort to the streets and to violence in order to stop that process,” says Bello.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to what’s happening in the Capitol. The Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to vote to impeach President Trump as soon as Wednesday, unless Trump resigns or Vice President Mike Pence first invokes the 25th Amendment to remove him, which looks unlikely. On Monday, House Democrats unveiled a single article of impeachment against the president for incitement of insurrection against the government of the United States, a week after Trump’s supporters violently attacked the Capitol. Trump is also accused of subverting and obstructing the certification of the 2020 election. The article of impeachment states, quote, “Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”

This comes as authorities are warning of more right-wing violence around Joe Biden’s inauguration January 20th. The FBI has warned of possible armed far-right protests being planned in all 50 state capitals, plus the U.S. Capitol, beginning January 16th. In Washington, 15,000 members of the National Guard are expected to be deployed ahead of the inauguration. The New York Times reports Pentagon officials are preparing for a number of nightmare scenarios, including snipers targeting attendees of the inauguration, drone attacks and “suicide-type aircraft.”

Authorities have also expressed concern about the number of active-duty soldiers and veterans, as well as police officers, who took part in the insurrection last week. Commanders at Fort Bragg are investigating the role of a PSYOPS Army captain — that’s a psychological operations Army captain — who led a group from North Carolina to D.C. last week to rally for President Trump. Meanwhile, two Capitol Hill police officers have been suspended, and at least a dozen others are under investigation, for aiding the attack that left five people dead, including a Capitol Hill police officer, who supported Donald Trump.

For an international perspective on the crisis facing the United States, we go to the Philippines to speak with Walden Bello, the acclaimed sociologist, academic, environmentalist and activist. His latest column for Foreign Policy in Focus is headlined “America Has Entered the Weimar Era.” Walden Bello is also a senior analyst at the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South, as well as an international adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Bello is the author or co-author of 25 books. Part of his book Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right looks at the social roots of Trumpism. Bello served as a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 2009 to 2015. He’s the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Walden Bello, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. If you can talk about what you thought as the insurrection unfolded last week? If you could put this in a global context?

WALDEN BELLO: Yes. Well, Amy, thanks a lot, and Juan, for inviting me to your program.

Well, let me just say that the first thing that came to mind was, of course, shock at this insurrection right at the very heart of the American political system. But, on the other hand, having studied counterrevolutions, it was sort of something that, although I did not expect it to take this dramatic form, you know, that this kind of street-type warfare, mobilization of the streets, you know, that the right wing, or the far right, in the United States would resort to this.

And, you know, things that came back, came to my mind, were, for instance, the right-wing gangs in Chile that created the chaos that resulted in the military intervention that ousted President Allende back in 1973. And, you know, we had these groups like Patria y Libertad that pretty much were like this, the Proud Boys in the United States and the other right-wing gangsters.

Another image that flashed into my mind was the fascist squadristi of Mussolini, you know, that took power first by taking over the streets. And because the socialists in Italy at that time were becoming quite popular at the ballot box, the ruling class fought back mainly by promoting the fascist squads in their very violent ways of repressing the left.

And, of course, the other image that came to my mind was, you know, in the late ’20s, the last years of the Weimar Republic, where basically there was a strong political polarization that was taking place, and the fascists, or the Nazis, wanted to resolve the stalemate, parliamentary stalemate, by basically taking over the streets and beating up people, beating up social democrats, beating up the communists, and using that surge from the streets to be able to push Hitler to power, both through electoral as well as the street terrorist means.

So, this is not something that’s unusual that has happened in the Capitol. Right-wing groups, when they begin to lose electorally, when they begin to see that their opponents are gaining the upper hand in terms of being able to win elections and electorally, they resort to the streets and to violence in order to stop that process.

So, those are the things that came to mind. It was very dramatic. But, on the other hand, it was something that I, having studied counterrevolutions, expected something like it would happen at some point in the United States, given the developments over the last few years, which has really resulted in this move to the far right of significant sectors of the population that are allied to the Republican Party.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Walden Bello, I wanted to ask you. In another article you wrote back in May, titled “The Race to Replace a Dying Neoliberalism,” you write — and I’m quoting you — “Crises do not always result in significant change. It is the interaction or synergy between two elements: an objective one, meaning a systemic crisis, and a subjective one, that is, the people’s psychological response to it that is decisive.” And you go on to say, “Unfortunately, it is the extreme right that is currently best positioned to take advantage of the global discontent.” And you mention that in both the Global North and the Global South. Could you explain why that is?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, OK, I was referring to the fact, you know, that the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 dragged on and on without any real resolution, because the steps were not taken to really control the banks, save homeowners and bring a significant employment back to the United States. You know, that was a very alienating process. So, that neoliberalism, as I said, you know, helped create this situation. So, if in 2008 you did not yet have the conditions for radicalization, by the time COVID-19 erupted in 2020, the conditions were there for this polarization, this radicalization, to increase even more.

Now, when I say that the extreme right has been the one that has been able to benefit from this more than the left, I mean mainly that — several things, you know, that there was this appeal to racism, a dog whistle-type Republican politics that started with Richard Nixon with the Southern strategy, you know; so, the second one was, of course, the impact of neoliberalism that created so much unemployment, deindustrialization. And especially among workers, including white workers, you had significant unemployment and deindustrialization hitting their communities, and then the fact also that so much of the working class, of the white working class, began to no longer see the Democratic Party as the party that was carrying their interests, because of a sense that somehow the Democratic Party had begun to buy into the neoliberal narrative, starting, for instance, with Clinton and up to Obama.

And so, there was this mass of people, white workers, that was ready to be mobilized someplace, and it was Trump and the right in the United States that took advantage of that, mobilized them, but in a right-wing direction, in a racist direction, basically. So, that’s when basically you had this process of right-wing mobilization, that which said, you know, “You have liberals taking away what should be yours and giving that to the minorities,” so explaining the economic crisis of workers in racist terms, you know? So, this is the kind of base, this is the kind of hidden mass, that Trump was able to cultivate. And let me just say that with respect to Trumpism, you know, that Trump is as much a creature as the creator of that base. There’s this synergy that’s taking place there.

So, on the other hand, when you look at the left, the left was the one that recognized the critique of globalization. And unfortunately, that came from the independent left. But the broad left, with social democrats in Europe, the Democratic Party in the United States, was pretty much seen as complicit with neoliberal, pro-Wall Street policies. OK? And so, you know, an alternative that would come from the mainstream left and the Democratic Party, that wasn’t coming at all. And so, what we saw happening in this process was, yes, there were great ideas coming from the left — you know, deglobalization, degrowth — fantastic ideas that were for an alternative society; the unfortunate thing is that it wasn’t gaining any political traction. Right down to the grassroots, it was just — you know, the progressives were just not gaining that kind of mass base that was very necessary.

And that’s why I said that, and especially during that Trump years, it was the right, it was people like Trump, that was cherry-picking anti-globalization and other elements that had been offered by the left, cherry-picking them, but putting them —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, if I can —

WALDEN BELLO: — in a right-wing gestalt. Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, if I can ask you about another issue that you’ve focused on? And you say that the COVID-19 pandemic has really accelerated the decline of the United States as a worldwide power and the rise of China as — the continued rise of China as the industrial heartland of modern capitalism.

WALDEN BELLO: Yes. Well, I think that, to link that to what I said earlier, so much of the deindustrialization, the shipping of jobs that took place, you know, was carried out by corporate America, and a lot of those jobs and industrial processes were shifted to China. And it was the U.S. corporate, transnational class that carried this out, you know? Now, of course, China played a role there, but China was seeking developmental objectives, whereas the TNCs, the U.S. TNCs, were using it purely for exploitative purposes.

So, what happened, basically, was China became the workshop of the world. You had a massive industrial base that was created, that produced value and became the new center of global accumulation, whereas what happened to the United States was deindustrialization, people thrown out of jobs, communities deindustrialized and the economy financialized, so that it became — the United States economy basically began to run mainly on financialization and speculation. So, that core of a healthy economy, that was centered on industry and the creation of value, that disappeared. And so, this is the background of my comment, that you had the creation of a strong center of capital accumulation in China that paralleled the collapse of the industrial capacity of the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how has the failure of our government to deal with COVID accelerated that?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, when you look at what happened with COVID, was when it hit, because so much of the supplies, even of personal protective equipment, had been sourced to China, and the United States was no longer capable of producing this because so much of its manufacturing capacity had been shifted over to China, OK, that you saw that, in addition to the pandemic, you also had this crisis of global supply chains, that began to stop because the Chinese economy in the first few months of 2020 also stopped, you know? So, basically, you had this interaction of an economic crisis and a pandemic coming together, especially in the United States, which was, of course, accelerated by the fact that Trump never took COVID-19 seriously. And so you had this concatenation of events, economic, political and ideological, that just created this tremendous crisis of leadership in the United States and an economic crisis at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Walden Bello, you were a young student in Chile on another September 11th: September 11, 1973, when the Pinochet forces rose to power, overthrowing the democratically elected president of Chile. If you can talk about — I mean, you’re talking about the pandemic now. Three thousand people die a day in the United States alone, by far the worst death toll in the world. Three thousand people, that’s a 9/11 every single day in the United States. What does the Pinochet years have to teach us, in Chile? What does the Marcos years in your home country of the Philippines, and even what’s happening with Duterte today, have to teach us about President Trump and what you talk about as the crises to come in this country? I mean, the FBI just warned that in the next days we could face violent attacks in all 50 state capitols. What lessons should we understand?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, several things, Amy. Firstly, key lesson that we should understand here is that when the forces of reaction, when the right, begins to lose at the ballot box, begins to lose in terms of voting in parliaments, it resorts to street warfare to be able to stop the democratic process. And this is what happened in Chile, basically. You know, we had a duly elected government, and the right tried to stop it, in terms of legislatively and bureaucratically. And when it couldn’t do that, then the right-wing mobs came and basically took over the streets and beat up the left and created a new situation, you know, that then invited military intervention. And that’s where Pinochet came in, quote-unquote, “for the sake of political stability,” but really in a process that favored the right.

The second thing that comes from that is that Chile had a very proud tradition of military nonintervention in politics from the early days of the Chilean republic. But in 1973, when you had a situation of political polarization, the military came in and intervened in favor of the right. Now, what I’m saying here is that we should not underestimate or overestimate the strength of political institutions like civilian control of the military. You know, at some point, if there’s great political polarization that takes place, then those sort of principles begin to become more loose, and we should expect that there will be elements within the security forces, within the agencies of the state, that would say, “Hey, the civilians can’t work it out. The political elite is divided. We have to be the ones to stabilize the country. And we stabilize it by eliminating democracy.” OK? So, basically, this is the same thing that happened in the Philippines in 1972. Marcos basically said, “Democracy is now stalemated. We have to move forward. And therefore, we have to declare an authoritarian regime.”

So, that’s what I’m saying at this point in time, you know, that do not overestimate the strength of American political institutions, because Trump has shown over the last four years how he could easily violate so many U.S. traditions, and we have not seen the end of that. In fact, I’m thinking, at this point in time, you know, that since the demographic balance is going against the white population in the United States, since the political balance is going against the Republican Party, and we just saw, for instance, how Georgia and a number of other states, Arizona, through political mobilization, have gone over to the Democrats — we saw how the popular vote was won by Biden with over 7 million votes — so, basically, the political, electoral weight is shifting over to the left, to the broad left, to this coalition of progressives, liberals and minorities. And I think — given that, I think you should be expecting more street warfare being waged by the right in the United States at this point in time. And I think this is something that people should just be prepared for, because if they can’t win electorally, they’ll win through trying to control the streets. And if that happens, then that creates the possibility or the opening for military intervention.

So, I think they enter — the U.S., in fact, I think, is entering what I call the Weimar period, which is basically the period of both electoral and street struggle and chaos that characterized the last days of the Weimar Republic and ended with the elevation of Hitler in 1933 to the chancellorship. So, you know, of course things may not happen exactly the same, OK, and we should always remember that history never repeats itself in quite the same way. But at the same time, there are lessons that we should be taking from the rise of counterrevolutionary movements in the 20th century and in this century, and that the United States is not exempt from this. The United States is no longer the kind of exceptional society. The United States, as events have shown over the last few years, and especially the last few months and the last few days, is becoming more and more like the rest of the world. So, this is the end of American exceptionalism.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, we want to thank you so much for being with us, acclaimed Filipino scholar, activist, author of many books, including Counterrevolution: The Global Rise of the Far Right. We’ll also link to your latest piece, “America Has Entered the Weimar Era,” and also encourage people to go to our conversation with Allan Nairn last week, who talked about what’s happened in the Capitol as a mild version of what the U.S. has supported abroad, for example, in Chile, in Guatemala, in El Salvador.

Oh, and this breaking news: Billionaire casino owner and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson has died at the age of 87. Adelson was Donald Trump’s largest single donor during the 2016 race. Since 2015, he donated more than $250 million to Republican candidates and right-wing super PACs. He was also an influential political power in Israel, where he used his news outlets to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. He will be buried in Israel.

Next, we look at President Trump’s race to execute more prisoners before his term ends, in an unprecedented lame-duck killing spree. Back in 30 seconds.

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