A few days after Pig-King Trump announced that the brazen and brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi could not be allowed to get in the way of American arms sales to the House of Saud, Jair Bolsonaro became the Brazilian President-elect.
Described as the Brazilian Trump by news outlets convinced that everything is derived from the West, Bolsonaro has waxed nostalgic about Brazil's former military dictatorship, is proudly homophobic, has sexually harassed female politicians on camera, and has declared the Amazon Rainforest open for business.
The Twitter account BBC Monitoring—which reports from global mass media—cheekily asked whether Bolsonaro was “racist, sexist, homophobic or a refreshing break from political correctness?” (The tweet is deleted now; the BBC said it was just a reflection of what people are saying about the man. Commitments to 'objective' journalism and giving both sides a platform is how we arrive at a man saying he'd rather his own son die than come out as gay being described as “refreshing”.) CBC News, Canada's state-owned broadcasting corporation, ran an article discussing the business opportunities that this man, whose regime is cracking down on free thought in universities, provides Canadian firms. The article suggests that Canadian mining corporations should invest in Brazil and participate in the free-for-all once the Amazon becomes deregulated.
We have arrived at the point in modern history where prestigious news outlets representing the supposed bastions of world liberalism and the human rights community are openly playing devil's advocate for people who should, in theory, be their worst enemies. This should not come as a surprise—after all, the USA, which prides itself so much on its liberal values and concerns over human rights that it has spent this century tearing apart vast swathes of the world that do not conform to its stated ideals, now whistles a different tune. Similarly, is it a coincidence that the US administration flat out stating that money and trade trump state repression and human rights violations, should then be followed by a similar coming out by the Canadian state? The UK government has already been cozying up to Brazil as a potential post-Brexit trade partner. Is it a coincidence that the BBC is trying to portray Bolsonaro as South America's Eric Cartman?
I see my peers at university—almost all Western—deeply troubled by these developments, as they have been by the past few years of political shift since the 'Migrant Crisis' of 2015. Many are from the US or the UK or Canada—countries that supposedly are better than what they have recently shown themselves to be. Something horrible has gone wrong, they exclaim passionately.
They are not incorrect. It would be inconceivable that Obama, or even Bush, would refuse to condemn Khashoggi's murder, pleading a weapons deal. The UK, Canada or USA we thought we knew would never have publicly, for all the world to see, embraced the Global South's new authoritarian leaders. People like MBS, Duterte and Bolsonaro would not be privileged and deferred to in diplomatic quarters—but then, neither would Trump himself. A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that there would be such open support for fascism, nativism and far right ideals in the West.
The trick we miss is that Obama and Bush would have openly condemned the KSA, and then gone right ahead with the weapons deal. British and Canadian firms would destroy the world's last hope against climate change in exchange for pieces of metal, regardless of what the BBC or CBC had to say. The South's new authoritarian leaders would have received full, under-the-table support from the West, reported by few in the international media, as they always have done since the Cold War. Nazis and the KKK were not the demons of history that history books pretended they were, but active members of Western society, and now here they are, out in the open.
Out in the open. That's all. That is all that has changed. And my, what power the truth has to change everything.
Western media talks of a post-truth generation, but this is the first time in modern history that we can all gaze at what really lies behind all the impressive, holier-than-thou rhetoric of the liberal West.
The curtain of liberalism has been ripped, and behind it we see the Black Lives Matter activists being lynched, the schoolchildren being shot, the fences being raised to keep refugees out. The things we now see being openly, proudly talked about, are things that disparate groups the world over have always known. Latin Americans have always known what North American firms have done to their environment, their politics, their communities. Muslims the world have over always known that the House of Saud can do anything because the USA will not stop it—and then visit retribution on them for the things the Saudis have done. African Americans have always known that their country's police are a threat to their very lives. European minorities—French Africans, British Poles, Hungarian Roma, German Turks—have always known the spectre of racial fascism.
Nothing has changed in the character of the liberal West. It has always been a hypocritical monolith—made up of internal divisions and contradictions, in denial of it all, suppressing it all, lashing out at the world for its own ends. To not know this is a mark of having been coddled, of never having had to deal with the consequences of the policies of the West's former 'liberal' regimes.
What interrupts the schadenfreude, the feeling of vindication watching the liberal self-image crumble, is the awareness that the lip service to liberalism and human rights has always had a vital symbolic role. What happens when the most materially power nations of Earth no longer even pretend to care about these values? China and Russia have been powerful pariahs in this world order, but the USA and the UK and the EU are being magnetically pulled towards the far right. We must not forget the power these countries have over all of us—this is the entirety of the permanent United Nations Security Council, after all. Once these powers are divorced from even nominal respect for human rights, it can only be a Pandora's Box opening.
What horrors had the liberal mask kept us from witnessing?
Six thousand US troops are being stationed at the Mexican border, with one-and-half times that number promised in addition. Their objective: to prevent the entry of asylum-seekers. Their leader, the most powerful man in the world, has openly advocated deadly force. He has already been quoted by Nigerian armed forces in defense of their firing at Muslim protestors.
It is pithy to quote Nietzsche, but as we gaze into the true face of the West, we must wonder what will become of us as well.
Zoheb Mashiur is an artist and an MA candidate in International Migration at the University of Kent. Read more of this sort of thing in Disconnect: Collected Short Fiction.