The Right Is Dead, Long Live the Right

Last weekend, we witnessed a gathering of the defeated: the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The former president of Brazil, defeated in an election with the highest turnout in the country’s history, and now in semi-exile in the U.S., was invited to this gathering of the most fervent and prestigious populists in the current era.

American Republicans, increasingly entrenched in their support for Donald Trump, have taken the side of Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil. In turn, speaking in Portuguese, he proudly announced that he never forced anyone to be vaccinated during the pandemic. At this announcement, the “redneck” audience erupted in shouts of glee.

Although not all the participants in attendance had been defeated in their various election races, it is no less true that the former presidents, Bolsonaro and Trump, were the most well-known political personalities at the convention.

The two have a number of things in common. Both were key figures in elections with the highest voter turnouts in their respective countries, in which both were defeated. This high voter turnout has given them a sense of victory to go with their defeat, takeaways that are not unusual in a democracy.

Another resemblance is that they did not accept the results of these elections. Their speeches contained claims which have, not surprisingly, been debunked after simple fact checks.

Putting analyses of individual personalities aside, what one notices is an enormous vacuum in the American Republican Party. The party is increasingly more extreme in its views, a development that has serious internal and external repercussions.

This blind transformation has led to the emergence of a number of internal opponents. Examples of this internal opposition come from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Nikki Haley, from South Carolina; and Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president.

Each day, the populist statements become more ridiculous and incredible. Think about the claim Trump made at CPAC that he alone would be able to prevent a third world war. He also went on to attack NATO, unsurprisingly, as well as his own Republican Party, regarding its national security views.

He was also misleading in his discussion of job creation during his term, forgetting that unemployment numbers during his administration skyrocketed, and went on to deny climate change in spite of the snow that has blanketed California, affecting more than 10 million residents.

The greatest worry about this wayward and extremist shift in the Republican Party is that the previous presidency and the party’s leading candidate for the next represent a reversal for the U.S. and its allies. The collateral effects of Trump’s governance are still in place, whether in the worsening of the galloping inequalities in contemporary societies or in a world that is based on post-truth norms.

These drifts don’t yet have an established presence or significant support in Portugal, but they are examples of a red line that must be well-marked and unbreachable.

And this unbreachable line must be made clear in two ways: On the one hand, voters must not allow themselves to be fooled by the populism and demagoguery of easy solutions and anti-system speeches; on the other, it should serve as a powerful warning to politicians that they too must not allow themselves to be tempted by such forces and forge alliances just for the sake of ascending to power. This erosion of ideals could well doom the continuation of a sense of the collective that we currently hold dear.

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