Sunday, November 22, 2020

Stupid Coups

Temple Trees, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo by Jack Moore/The National.

In October 2018, Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena decided to get rid of his "extremely liberal" prime minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, and replace him with his own predecessor as president, the authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, a man with a reputation as a Sinhalese "ethno-nationalist populist" involved in war crimes against the Tamil insurgents during the Civil war and blatant corruption during his political career (the corruption was a big theme of the presidential campaign in which Sirisena defeated him, which made Sirisena's choosing Rajapaksa as PM seem particularly odd). The move was blatantly unconstitutional, since Wickramasinghe hadn't lost his parliamentary majority, and launched a seven-week constitutional crisis, with Wickramasinghe refusing to move out of the PM's residence, known as Temple Trees, and his partisans including numerous Buddhist monks occupying the grounds, massive street demonstrations from both sides, MPs throwing chairs and chili powder at the Speaker, and at last

Member of Parliament Range Bangara released an audio recording of a call that substantiated rumors that Rajapaksa’s allies were offering bribes of up to $2.8 million in exchange for political support.

When the call went viral on social media, the political tide began turning against Rajapaksa, according to Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a local think tank.

“The scrutiny of the bribes was a severe embarrassment. Nobody could have taken the money after that and survived politically,” he said.

Following which embarrassment, Sirisena gave up and decided instead to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. When the Supreme Court found this move unconstitutional, he had no choice left but to recall Wickramasinghe to finish his term.

It was a "stupid coup", writes Indi Samarajiva at Medium, but its inevitable defeat wasn't exactly a defeat:

Strictly speaking, the 2019 bombings were an attack by Islamist terrorists, possibly meant in response to the Christian terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, but it was also regarded as an intelligence failure for which the government was blamed; Wickramasinghe's party underwent a split and had more or less vanished by the time of the general election finally took place in August 2020, Sirisena lost the presidential election in November 2019, and the unspeakable Rajapaksa became prime minister again, as he still is.

The other thing of importance Samarajiva said was that this is what is happening right now in the US: a stupid coup that is bound to fail on the surface—Biden will still become president on 20 January—but is succeeding structurally, in breaking the possibility of government:

This year America had fascism on the ballot and nonwhite people mercifully said no. The fascists, however, are now saying fuck ballots. And enough of the population is like fuck yeah!

This is a major problem, and it won’t just go away on a technicality. I’m telling you, as someone that’s been there, you’ve already lost. It doesn’t matter if you get Trump out. He and the Republican Party are destroying trust in elections in general. This is catastrophic. You have no idea.

Is this what's happening, in fact? Or something like it? As Donald flounders in ever greater ridiculousness from our point of view 

Fox and Newsmax audiences don't even hear about it and believe Donald has been well and truly cheated out of his rightful victory, or (what amounts to the same thing) that elections don't even exist, properly speaking, and the real contest is conducted in some dark and fearful struggle outside anybody's ken, reinforced by the widespread view in the political press that the connection between voting and election is a pure matter of ritual, as this guy:

We're now seeing a kind of intensified and accelerated movement in that war against truth we've learned about from Putin's Russia through the writing of Peter Pomerantsev and more familiar names like those of the New Yorker's Masha Gessen and (my favorite conservative writer of the moment) Anne Applebaum, in which people have no idea what to believe or what to do, other than attach themselves emotionally to a figure of power. What can Joe Biden do in the White House about 70 million people who think they're the victims of a demonic trick?

Is Samarajiva right? Have we already lost this struggle even as we seem to be winning it because our enemy wasn't Donald Trump after all, but the authoritarianism of some bigger group of people insinuating themselves into our institutions in some quieter and deadlier way? Do stupid coups succeed when they fail, by making everyone stupider?

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