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Dealing with the Devil

Those of us who have been denouncing Donald Trump for years as a danger to the Republic have now been vindicated by his blatant incitement of the seditious mob that invaded the Capitol. And we feel justified in condemning the majority of Republicans who continued to support him, even if they loathed his rhetoric and conduct. Leaving aside the True Believers, who have shrunk to about 18 percent of Republicans according to the latest PBS/Marist Poll, we just cannot understand how otherwise reasonable people could have failed to see the danger.

But any of us may be subject to this phenomenon under the right circumstances. Think back to the Clinton presidency, when it was the Republicans who were in full cry for impeachment and couldn’t understand how Democrats could fail to see how evil and deceitful he was. And yet most Democrats circled the wagons around him. Why? We thought, no matter his personal failings, that his policies were better than the Republican alternative.

In my long years studying Latin America, I have frequently found myself defending regimes whose conduct in office was far from pure.

In my long years studying Latin America, I have frequently found myself defending regimes whose conduct in office was far from pure. While acknowledging that the Cuban regime is a tyranny, I’ve defended (justifiably, I think) its consistent good work in providing good quality health care to all its people. Why defend it? Because I have ample reason to think that any regime that the United States might support in its stead would be worse for the Cuban people.

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Same thing on Nicaragua, or Bolivia, where incumbent presidents have done a great deal of good for their poor populations, even as they perpetuate themselves in power. I ask, are they better than an alternative regime that would be more responsive to the US? The answer often is yes. I could cite many specific examples of how the US (regardless of the party in power) has taken steps to support or install regimes in Latin America that do not serve their people but do serve the commercial or military interests of the US. The US practice may be aptly summarized in a quote perhaps apocryphally attributed to Franklin Roosevelt, and applied variously to Trujillo, Somoza, or Batista: “He may be a sonofabitch, but he’s OUR sonofabitch!”

But at least one leftist regime went too far for me. Venezuela under Hugo Chávez in the first years of this century was an interesting if unstable example of an anti-liberal, purely majoritarian democracy that put a lot of resources in the hands of the country’s poor majority, ran honest elections and won them. But Chávez clearly intended to keep himself in power beyond the constitutional limits. And after his death, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has proved utterly incompetent, running the oil-rich country completely into a ditch. In this case, I did call for his removal.

My point for American progressives is that, however much Trump deserves to be removed from power and prosecuted for his misdeeds, we ought to check our moral outrage against Republicans who despised Trump but voted for him.

impeachment unavoidable

However misguided they turned out to be, they thought they were talking the best option available, to serve their objectives. We can and often do disagree with their objectives, but that doesn’t make them evil. Just mistaken.

John Peeler