This scenario has happened time and again throughout history. Examples:
1 MCCARTHYISM: While Communists and those close to the Communist Party were being hounded for their political beliefs in the early 1950s, centrists and liberals (in the bad sense of the word) let it happen. Few of them had the will or the courage to say anything. Then McCarthy and his sidekick Roy Cohen (Trump’s mentor) went after the U.S. Army. That’s when Eisenhower, the former general, said enough is enough and McCarthy (and Cohen) was discredited at the Army-McCarthy Hearings and fell into disrepute.
2. NIXON AND WATERGATE: Everybody knew that Nixon was a scoundrel, but it was only after he went after the Democratic Party with the break-in at its Watergate office, that the Democrats struck back and sought his impeachment.
3. IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS AGAINST TRUMP: Trump did the most horrendous things of any president in U.S. history and yet Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership opposed efforts to impeach him. By centering their fire on the Russiagate scandal and putting all their eggs in the Mueller investigation (in spite of Mueller’s dubious credentials to aggressively take on Trump), the Democratic Party leadership showed little interest in forcefully confronting the president. All that changed when evidence emerged that Trump was using his office to illegally gather information to discredit Joe Biden, the man the Democratic leadership hoped would be the party’s presidential candidate.
The recent coup in Bolivia is an example of how the centrists are willing to stand by while the far-right does the dirty work for them, and meanwhile they stay silent, if not applaud. The centrist Carlos Mesa, Evo Morales’ main presidential rival, encouraged his people to demonstrate in order to demand new elections. But he allowed the semi-fascist right, shouting all their racist anti-indigenous slogans and committing horrendous acts of violence, to lead the movement. The army also stood by and refused to maintain order, which was the reason that Morales was forced to flee the country. Had the military performed its duty and had Mesa challenged “Macho” Camacho the leader of the right-wing thugs (as some conjectured would happen at the time), Morales would have called for new elections (as he, in fact, did) and Bolivia would have been spared the nightmare it is currently going through.
By “letting it happen,” those of the liberal establishment in the age of McCarthyism, and Mesa in the face of the violence spearheaded by Camacho, are accomplices of tragic events.
Steve Ellner is an Associate Managing Editor of Latin American Perspectives. His most recent book is his edited Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Challenges.