Saturday, December 12, 2015

Aljazeera America has a report on the state of play in Dilma Rousseff's fight against impeachment: Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Brazil’s impeachment dilemma 12/11/2015. Baiocchi explains:

Legal opinions aside, whether impeachment happens will have less to do with technicalities than with political alliances and mobilization in the next weeks. At the moment, the numbers appear favorable for Rousseff, with enough legislators opposing the process in both houses of Congress to defeat it. A number of important figures from other political parties have come out against impeachment, as have major civil society organizations, including the National Association of Lawyers and the National Conference of Bishops. They are united in defense of democracy and its institutions rather than in support of the Workers’ Party or Rousseff.
Baiocchi's story is a helpful sketch of the situation. He may be overgeneralizing in the following, but it does give a broader picture of political situation:

Beyond the congressional numbers game, there are fundamental social conflicts at work. Brazil today is in its most politically polarized state since the return to democracy in the mid-1980s. Like other countries in Latin America, Brazil is facing a wave of discontent and a backlash against the redistributive projects of the so-called pink tide that appeared to dominate the region in the mid-2000s. From Argentina to Venezuela to Paraguay, conservative political forces have gathered momentum in recent years by leveraging middle-class dissatisfaction with the policies of center-left governments. [my emphasis]
This is kind of a generic dilemma for successful left governments. If they boost the purchasing power of the people by improving their real incomes and the economy growths at a healthy pace, some of the "middle class," including some workers, start to identify more with the opinions and concerns of the wealthiest. (I continue to prefer a structural rather than income-level definition of classes.) And if times get rocky, they may be willing to turn to conservative solutions even though it will work to the disadvantage of many of them.

We could think of it as the "I've got mine, Jack," phenomenon.

John Kenneth Galbraith described the American version of this in his 1992 book The Culture of Contentment:

There are ... some lessons in a larger frame that do endure. The most nearly invariant is that individuals and communities that are favored in their economic, social and political condition attribute social virtue and political durability to that which they themselves enjoy. That attribution, in turn, is made to apply even in the face of commanding evidence to the contrary. The beliefs of the fortunate are brought to serve the cause of continuing contentment, and the economic and political ideas of the time are similarly accommodated. There is an eager political market for that which pleases and reassures. Those who would serve this market and reap the resulting reward in money and applause are reliably available.
Baiocchi also uses a term that has gained some currency for misuse of legal processes for "regime change" that the proponents think they can achieve by the normal political process, or maybe not as fast as they would prefer: "white coup." He uses it to describe the problems the opposition is encountering in pressing the impeachment:

...calls on the far right for a return to military dictatorship have alienated more moderate allies. Rousseff is an unpopular but democratically elected leader, and to many Brazilians, it seems contradictory to campaign in favor of democratic institutions while supporting a white coup against the president.

On the other hand, whether the Workers’ Party [Rousseff's party] will be able to maintain a progressive majority, both to survive the impeachment and then to successfully govern, is an open question. Some analysts have argued, not entirely without cause, that the threat of a coup could realign progressive forces in Brazil, ultimately conferring new legitimacy on the president. And it is true that the impeachment process has brought out energized supporters as well as left-wingers who had abandoned the Workers’ Party in recent months. [my emphasis]

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