Ep. 16: Brazil, Bernie, and the Fight Against Fascism (w/ Michael Brooks & Leandro Demori)

Ep. 16: Brazil, Bernie, and the Fight Against Fascism (w/ Michael Brooks & Leandro Demori)

Briahna looks at the imprisonment of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose conviction on corruption charges cleared the way for the victory last year of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. In June, Bernie called for Lula's release after the Intercept reported that the head judge in Lula's case - now Minister of Justice in Bolsonaro's government - had collaborated with prosecutors.

Michael Brooks of The Michael Brooks Show explains why Lula was such a transformational and popular leader. Leandro Demori, one of the Intercept reporters who broke the story in June, gives us an inside view of events that are still convulsing Brazilian politics. Finally, we zoom out to see why Bernie's approach to foreign policy is uniquely equipped to combat a wave of right-wing authoritarianism around the world.

Michael Brooks on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_michaelbrooks

The Michael Brooks Show on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh2UY1hxlMr4_7Az_iQ82HQ

Leandro Demori on Twitter: https://twitter.com/demori

And at the Intercept: https://theintercept.com/staff/leandrodemori


Briahna Joy Gray:  Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world in land area. And unlike our somewhat sparsely-populated neighbor to the north, which ranks second in size but 38th in population, it’s also the fifth most populous country. It’s the world’s ninth largest economy and is home to one of the most important ecosystems on the planet, the Amazon rain forest. It’s also one of the most racially-diverse countries in the world with the largest black population outside of Africa. America is number two.

But demographic truisms are not why American newspapers broke from their relative indifference to international affairs to focus on Brazil last year, nor are they why we’re talking about Brazil today. The reason American eyes were turned on Brazil last year was a national election with eerie parallels to the one we went through in 2016. It resulted in the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a man sometimes referred to as the Donald Trump of Brazil.

Speaker:  Bolsonaro has been dubbed the Trump of the Tropics because of the rhetoric and policies the two leaders share.

In 2014, he argued with a lawmaker. And after pushing her, yelled, “I would not rape you because you’re not worthy of it.” In a 2011 interview with Playboy, he said he’d rather his son die in a car accident than be gay. 

Jair Bolsonaro:  These red outcasts will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleansing never seen in Brazilian history.

Briahna Joy Gray:  The comparison works in some ways but not in others, as my guests on this episode, Michael Brooks, of the Michael Brooks Show, and Leandro Demori, a journalist for The Intercept Brazil, will discuss in a bit. But what is absolutely true is that ultranationalism and the antidemocratic influence of oligarchy are far from just American phenomena.

Bernie Sanders:  Across the globe, the movement toward oligarchy runs parallel to the growth of authoritarian regimes, like Putin in Russia, Xi in China, Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, among others. These leaders meld corporatist economics with xenophobia and authoritarianism. They redirect popular anger about inequality and declining economic conditions into violent rage against minorities. Whether they are immigrants, racial minorities, religious minorities, or the LGBT community. And to suppress dissent, they are cracking down on democracy and human rights. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  Global fascism has been on the rise. And the next president of the United States needs to have a political strategy for how to withstand it and an ideology which supports a global movement to fight back. This is an episode about Brazil, but it’s also a story about a rising tide of right-wing populism across the world. From Russia to Brazil, India to Poland, the Philippines to right here in the United States of America. And it’s a story about how Bernie Sanders is unique among 2020 candidates in having a plan to defeat it.

This is Hear the Bern. A podcast about the people, ideas and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name Briahna Joy Gray, coming to you from campaign headquarters in Washington, DC. 

Like so many stories about the rise of right-wing extremists, the story of Bolsonaro is the story of political corruption. And it’s the story of how he took advantage of a corrupt state and the media to marginalize his likely opponent, Lula da Silva. 

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a two-term president of Brazil, who represented the country’s more progressive labor party. Lula enjoyed sky-high approval ratings among the people of Brazil. Why? Well, he backed ambitious progressive programs that pulled millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Michael Brooks explains.

Michael Brooks:  You had a party running Brazil basically from 2003 to 2016 called the Worker Party. And the primary leader of the Workers’ Party is a guy named Lula da Silva, who I talk quite a bit about on my show. And I talk about him a lot for a couple of reasons. One, because he lifted between 20 and 40 million people out of poverty, which is an incredible accomplishment in the time that he governed Brazil. 

He also is somebody that as a communicator, and I think part of it has to do with just an incredible charisma, but also really coming from this really incredibly inspiring background. He grew up illiterate, in deep poverty. He lost a finger as a young metal worker. He was a shoeshine boy. And he didn’t learn to read and write until later on. And worked his way up first as a labor union leader, which was the main force behind getting rid of the Brazilian military dictatorship in the ’80s. And then, on his fourth try, I believe, becoming president in 2003, and then being this incredible global success.

Briahna Joy Gray:  You mention that Lula had pulled 20 to 40 million people out of poverty. Could you talk just a little bit about how that was accomplished?

Michael Brooks:  So, he had a program called Bolsa Família, which was a really, at that time a very significant global accomplishment. It was basically a form of… The only condition was children getting immunizations and going to school, and then families just got cash transfers. That was one significant program. Then he radically increased food access for families and schools and things like that. Those were key ways. And then he also, more broadly, he was an ally of labor unions, he pushed through wage increases, he expanded college access in a really radical way. He went on a big building of college construction spree. And there was also a lot of corresponding efforts to equalize who was going to college in terms of people’s economic and racial backgrounds in Brazil.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Meanwhile, while Lula was enjoying extreme popularity, Bolsonaro had been nursing a rather unremarkable career. Unremarkable except for the extent to which he had a history of racist and bigoted statements about women and members of the LGBT community.

Leandro Demori:  He’s a professional politician. For 30 years being a congressman in Brazil. And he praises military dictatorship in Brazil that we have had in the ’60s, and the ’70s, and the ’80s. So, he’s old politics. He’s not new. He’s not brand fresh new. He’s not post-political. He’s just the old politicians that we have in Brazil that for so many times in a new country with democratic ways, that we hoped that this kind of politician will disappear. And unfortunately, now we sad they are not disappeared, and unfortunately, now we see they won the elections. Basically, Bolsonaro says what he wants. He’s just like Trump in that way.

Briahna Joy Gray:  That was Leandro Demori, a reporter for the Intercept Brasil, an outlet that’s been an important independent news source reporting on Brazilian politics.

Leandro Demori:  In 2015, 2016, Bolsonaro started to travel around the country to talk to people. He’s just like a sponge that absorbed all the properties that people want to know and want to say, and can’t because it’s racist, or it’s misogynist. He has no problems to say all that stuff. And he’s just like he has the big microphone of Brazilian spirit is saying things that you can never imagine that someone in 2018 can say, and says. He says that all the phrases, racists and misogynist is against poor people, against indigenous people. 

This is the parallel between Bolsonaro and Trump. They are just like people, they say, “We are authentic people. We are real people. We can say what we want.” And this is what the people in Brazil want to hear. This is what the people in the United States want to hear. This is the parallel. This is the playbook you can see the United States and you can see the same things rolling today in Brazil. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  So, is it just the bigotry standing in as a proxy for authenticity, or is there something else? Does Bolsonaro also play with that right-wing populism that we’ve seen in the United States and some other countries where there are these kinds of promises about us having a movement that uplifts forgotten people, marginalized people, things like that?

Leandro Demori:  Yeah, yeah. The same thing. Bolsonaro is trying to recover the old and good Brazilians. It’s the same stuff that Trump did in the United States, I don’t know, with the coal miners. You know, the old and good United States. You remember that time that we were good and the people were in love with us? Okay. Let’s try to recover that. This is the same discourse that we can hear in Brazil today with Bolsonaro. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  Now in some ways the Trump comparison isn’t quite accurate. Bolsonaro was a career politician, not a so-called outsider like Trump. He was a congressman for over a decade and an establishment figure for even longer. 

Leandro Demori:  He was a congressman for 30 years, and he’s selling an image. He’s selling an image of just like, he’s just like an anti-establishment movement. And he’s not anti-establishment. He is the establishment for 20 or 30 years.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Like Trump, Bolsonaro sells bigotry, misogyny, and intonations of violence as authenticity. Like Trump, he targets the most vulnerable in Brazilian society while romanticizing the good old days that never existed. And like Trump, he marries reactionary politics with an agenda that overwhelmingly favors the 1%. But he went a step farther than simply stoking bigoted sentiment. He benefited when his likely opponent was imprisoned. With Lula’s approval rating hovering between the 70s and 80s, it was unlikely that Bolsonaro could have won with bigotry alone. Enter Operation Carwash. Now Operation Carwash is a five-year corruption investigation into Brazil’s economic and political elite.

Leandro Demori:  So, the Operation Carwash was an operation let by the public ministry and the federal police. They did something radical in Brazil. They put big fishes in jail. This is radical. We have never saw that. Not just politicians, but managers, directors of big, big companies in Brazil. And this led people to believe that Carwash Operation was just like the salvation of the country. The end of corruption.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Brazil is plagued by high levels of corruption. And to the public frustrated with getting exploited by elites, the investigations were embraced as a productive, justice-driven force. And at least judged by the number of high-profile officials that were put in jail, it was working. 

Leandro Demori:  The group of prosecutors is 14 prosecutors. They are in Curitiba. It’s a city in the south of Brazil. And they acted in partnership with federal police. So, they run in five years. You can imagine, Operation Carwash has five years. They run just like, I can’t remember, 50 or 60 operations. You can imagine for five years operations, new arrests, new stories. It just like a soap opera that we’re watching in Brazil for five years. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  But Operation Carwash was not the white knight it pretended to be. In the lead up to Brazil’s 2018 election, Lula had made it clear that he planned to run for president again, and polls showed that he was favored to win. That’s when he became a target for Operation Carwash. 

Leandro Demori:  He was at time the most popular position in Brazil still. And he was at time, if you go to the polls, the person that can won the elections, even in the first round, fighting against Bolsonaro, or against anyone. So, when the persecutors choose a small case that they said Lula has received an apartment because he was the man that did some bribes to people inside the Lava Jato, the Carwash Operation. They just accelerated the process. They put Lula in jail in the middle of this election process and that turned Bolsonaro the favorite to win the elections.

Briahna Joy Gray:  The Carwash prosecutors accused Lula of what Michael described as trumped-up charges.

Michael Brooks:  In the spring of 2016, he was basically rushed into prison. And this incredibly quick process where basically they said that he took a bribe of an apartment after he was president. There’s a lot of details here, and I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible. But the bottom line was, even then, was that the conviction rested on plea bargain testimony of one person who had been given a reduced sentence. There was no paperwork indicating that he had been there. There was nothing to indicate that him and his wife had visited this place, other than one time to actually look at it. 

So, he was put in prison in this incredibly sped-up process. Brazil is a place where particularly people in the elite who have been charged with way more serious things, and with a lot more evidence, are still waiting for their trials on appeal. He was put in jail, taken out of the presidential race, and essentially put in solitary confinement and silenced for the duration of the campaign.

Briahna Joy Gray:  He’s remained in solitary confinement ever since. And until recently was even prevented from speaking to the media. Meanwhile, the judge who put him there, Sérgio Moro, has become Minister of Justice in the administration of Brazil’s new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Leandro Demori:  You saw the Operation Carwash going against all the political parties, but particularly against the PT the (foreign language) the Labor’s Party, and the leaders of Labor’s Party. And they did something like they projected all the corruption in Lula’s figure. So today in Brazil you can think about so many Brazilians think that in the meantime, if you would get Lula in prison, we are fighting the corruption. And if Lula eventually can be released, we will see the corruption come back. 

So, this is the philosophy behind the Carwash operation, behind the new movements of far right in Brazil and behind Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a product of economic crisis, huge escalation of corruption in political parties in Brazil, and is a product of Operation Carwash. So, you can understand how many people in Brazil, poor people searching for a hope in any part of the story, just swing to vote to Bolsonaro. You can understand that keeping searching for a myth, for a hero, for salvation.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Now many have been skeptical of the authenticity of the charges and the motives behind them for months. But recently, Leandro and a team of Intercept reporters in Brazil reported evidence which confirmed those suspicions.

Michael Brooks:  The Intercept broke this major story basically with all of these leaks. Telegrams, text messages, on the prosecution team, which basically just validated everything that Lula’s attorneys, and people like me, and people like Brasil Wire, and other independent sources have said, which is of course they were politically aiming at PT, The Workers’ Party. And they themselves had questions about the validity of the case they brought against Lula, even after they had put him in jail on this incredible, I mean, a charge that just would never pass any muster in a non-politicized court system. Like that would just be impossible.

Briahna Joy Gray:  With their most popular politician in jail, Lula’s party, the Workers’ Party, chose former São Paulo mayor, Fernando Haddad to run for president. But even behind bars, Lula still spooked the Carwash investigators. 

Michael Brooks:  They were upset that the Supreme Brazilian Supreme Court was giving him a right to do an interview from prison. There’s text messages of them having freak-outs. And also, frankly clearly being afraid of his political appeal. Like the whole election could be turned around if he gives one interview from prison.

Leandro Demori:  We have had access to some telegram chats and secret conversations, and we are working under the archive and inside the archive. We have all the conversations between persecutors of Carwash Operation vowing to each other and trying to build a plan to avoid Lula to concealing that interview to Folha de São Paulo. So, it was a very political movement. It was not a technical movement. It’s not about justice, just about politics. 

In the middle of the elections, Lula was already arrested in a prison in Curitiba, in the federal police prison, and the Supreme Court authorized Lula to consider an interview to Folha de São Paulo, the main newspaper, the most important newspaper in this country. So, at time, the persecutors, the Lava Jato persecutors that we are publishing in the Intercept Brasil these days, they were just like terrified about Lula considering an interview. 

Because as they said in the secret chats, that can help to elect Fernando Haddad that was Lula’s candidate, the Labor Party’s candidate against Bolsonaro. So, they operated secretly. They talked to another public ministry’s people. They already talked to Supreme Court judges, and at the end, the interview was not authorized in the middle of campaign. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  And the media, unsurprisingly perhaps, also played a role.

Leandro Demori:  For so many years, media was some kind of official press of the Carwash Operation. I mean for so many years, journalists, they got tons of journalistic scoops from Carwash Operation. Without investigating, without talking to source. Just being fed by the prosecutors. So, you can imagine that right now that helped of course to elect Bolsonaro. Because Bolsonaro is a product of Carwash Operation too. And right now, with the new regulations of Intercept Brasil, you can imagine that part of the mainstream media in Brazil they are with us, they are partners, they are looking to the archives. Searching for news stories and publishing news stories. 

But some important part of mainstream Brazil media, including Globo, that is the main and strong and important media company in Brazil, they are even now trying to protect the Carwash Operation. To protect the prosecutors, to protect the ex-judge and Minister of Justice of Bolsonaro, Sérgio Moro.

Briahna Joy Gray:  With Lula neutralized and incommunicado, the path was clear for Bolsonaro to win Brazil’s presidency, enjoying support from outlets like the Wall Street Journal along the way. Bolsonaro’s win is that much more frustrating when viewed through the lens of Lula’s life record and what he means to Brazilians. Raised in deep poverty, working class, illiterate until the age of 10, Lula understood in his bones what it meant to be on the losing side of one of the world’s most unequal economies. 

Lula spent his early years immersed in Brazil’s Labor Movement, which was instrumental in ending the country’s decades of military rule in 1985. Michael attributes part of Lula’s success to his power as a communicator. He’s someone who, like Bernie, talks about the economy and inequality in terms that resonate with the 99%.

Michael Brooks:  This is somebody who speaks really viscerally in a really real way to people, which has definitely been lacking in the kind of broad center left, as it’s become like a party of professors and technocrats in a lot of ways. And that’s great. We want everybody, and obviously there are those of us who have no problem talking about ideas, and so on. But there’s also a huge amount to be emphasized for simple, clear messages. Even in 2018, Brazil, like Lula, before being put in prison, they were working on a slogan, Make Brazil Happy Again, which was actually this really elegant phrase. Like why not?

And he’ll say in interviews, he’s like, “I would juice the economy. When we get it going, then more normal people can go for coffee, they can buy a beer, they can watch soccer, then that helps so-and-so.” He’s basically giving you this bottom-up Keynesian argument in terms that any normal person can understand. And I think Bernie’s a great communicator in that way as well, in terms of just this really clear explanation that obviously tracks with people’s experience and puts things in actually just very clear terms. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  So why does this matter to us? Well back in June, Bernie announced support for Lula tweeting, “During his presidency, Lula da Silva oversaw huge reductions in poverty, and remains Brazil’s most popular politician. I stand with political and social leaders across the globe who are calling Brazil’s judiciary to release Lula and annul his conviction.” 

In speaking out on behalf of Lula, Bernie stands out in the Democratic field. And it’s indicative of what makes his approach to foreign policy both unique and sophisticated compared to other major candidates, something even mainstream media outlets have cottoned onto after years of dismissing Bernie as a foreign policy neophyte. Michael told me that Bernie’s unusual foreign policy background might account for the freshness with which he approaches the subject.

Michael Brooks:  It’s both because of, I think, a sophistication and a sensitivity about understanding the broader world systems at stake, than the other candidates have, which in fact do go back, I think, to being a mayor who still thought about the world. And that is the doorway into foreign policy. There are these very limited clichés of what makes somebody a foreign policy expert and they usually overlap with being wrong consistently about all of the main foreign policy issues we face. 

But one is you can be in the military, and one is you can have some sort of academic think tank, State Department background. And that’s great. I’m saying we should add to those things. And one absolutely valid way of adding to those things is somebody who came to politics primarily as an activist, who was applying the same metrics that he had about civil rights or poverty to the idea that the United States should not be supporting death squads in Latin America in the 1980s, for a variety of reasons. And also, somebody who’s innovative enough, and creative enough to see that he could take a very unique platform to actually forward citizen diplomacy in a time that even in the ’80s with regard to the Soviet Union was incredibly important. 

People kind of joke about even those trips to the Soviet Union, but what they don’t remember, or maybe they don’t read up on is that a big thing that was going on in the ’80s was actually sort of the NGO-led citizen-to-citizen travel between those countries which really was helping de-escalate what had obviously been such a destructive conflict in so many ways. So, I think he comes to it in a very different way.

The other answer that’s just more narrow and more linear, but it’s just like, look, Bernie Sanders went from a rap against him that he wasn’t serious on foreign policy, which I never agreed with and obviously thought was totally overstated. He was right about the invasion of Iraq. He had definitely spoken clearly on some foreign policy issues. But it would have been fair to say it wasn’t a primary emphasis at times in his career in Congress. That would be fair. 

Post 2016, he doesn’t just … We’re not talking about putting out memos, or going and giving a speech. He is the leader in trying to stop what’s happening in Yemen, which is one of the great atrocities and horrors of the world today, something that the Trump administration is actively supporting. Something that Sanders has led on in a completely unparalleled way, including in terms of pulling together what on the surface looks to be a very unlikely coalition. 

He’s been totally clear about Iran, to the point where Bernie Sanders was the only member of the United States Senate to vote against an Iran sanctions package. That’s one of the most important votes you can cast. And he’s voted against some of these military budgets. And frankly, that is something along with all of these other areas, that I only see Sanders being increasingly able and willing to question. Whether it’s the reason we have a housing crisis, or the reason why we have such an equality, part of that is going to have to be, we can’t have budgets like this in terms of the military. We can’t have a foreign policy that’s led by that anymore.

So I think if you look at the pathway that he has to foreign policy, up through the work that he’s done today, and of course I would add the courage to be clear that a leader like Lula should not be in prison, and that in fact we should be aligning with and supporting people like that. It stands alone, and it is also something that we’re going to have to back him a lot on. Because it goes against so many of the thoughtless clichés that people are used to when we hear about “tough” or “serious” on foreign policy.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Leandro explained that along with other leaders around the world, Bernie’s support for Lula and democratic rights really does matter in Brazil.

Leandro Demori:  It’s very important, actually because in Brazil so many politicians, they are with the government, allied with the government. And for other sides, so many politicians on the position, they are trying to not involve themselves in this story in some kind of way. So, it is important to know that Bernie and other politicians all around the world are following what we’re doing. 

And for the liberty of even for the liberty of the press in Brazil, it’s important for us being people like Bernie watching us and saying, “Look, you must confirm your constitution, your Brazilian constitution that we are protected right now. We are protective about our source, about anonymity of source. We have the rights rolled into our constitution to publish that story. The institutions in general in countries like Brazil they are not strong enough to support a constitution. So, it’s very important to be people like Bernie, looking, watching us, and saying, you are doing your job. You are journalists, and you need to be respected.

Briahna Joy Gray:  And Michael agreed that Bernie’s support here is significant for what it shows about Bernie, the candidate, and the leader.

Michael Brooks:  I think what Bernie is doing when he does that is, he’s showing you that, yes, in general you need to have a candidate who is courageous enough to criticize the obscene amounts of money that we spend on the military. To criticize, as he’s had since the ’80s, much to the chagrin of the New York Times, apparently – be someone who’s willing to criticize US interference abroad, both because it is immoral and also generates all these other side problems, as you pointed out in the beginning. 

And so, what he’s doing when he speaks out for Lula is something that is also really important. Look, if you’re just focused on the issues that you need delivered for and you’re working two different jobs, like okay, don’t worry about Brazil. But it’s very distinct that he’s talking about a form of that same solidarity and ethics that should drive policy in the United States, should be a global impetus. 

And that is, if I was to just speak in general terms about the other candidates, you have a bunch of other candidates who are basically, they’re pretty much in the same thought process of the sort of traditional foreign policy consensus, which has led to so many problems. And then maybe others who have been willing to take brave stances on certain issues but have not extended that to the idea of a genuine partnership or solidarity with people from other countries, which I think is just essential and unparalleled in terms of what he brings to the table.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Along with his position on Lula, Michael pointed to Bernie’s leadership with regard to both Iran and Yemen as examples of just how different, even unprecedented, a Sanders administration on foreign policy would be.

Michael Brooks:  I would look at that Iran sanctions vote. I think that that’s an incredibly important vote. And I’ll just spell it out because I know the kind of obviously answer to it, which was that it was a bundle. It was both a sanctions vote against Russia and Iran. And I know that there’s a lot of feelings about Russia. I have no problem with an example that Senator Sanders talks about Putin’s leadership in the context of right-wing authoritarianism. That’s correct and appropriate. I think being able to critique and understand a global trend, and recognize that you actually still want to, as an example, collaborate on arms control, which I would hope that everybody running would want to do, it’s a pretty important area. 

But I think that to sit there and take that vote, and be the only person I the Democratic caucus at a time of so much heightened feeling and so much drama and intensity and recognize that. And also, what are frankly relatively symbolic and ineffectual sanctions. Relative to de-escalating with Iran, when you have an administration committed to tearing up that deal, that to me is a clear signpost that he of his Senate colleagues was the only person that passed. And I cannot emphasize how catastrophic military engagement with Iran would be. And Bernie seems to be both able to oppose it, but also question some of the kind of mindless clichés about Iran that could get us into the conflict to begin with. 

And then I would also put the work in on Yemen. I mean, it’s one thing to vote the right way on that. It’s quite another to lead on that in a way that takes on the Gulf States in a really tangible way. And then I would say the Lula thing matters because much more broadly, a policy for Latin America that synthesized stopping all this horrific atrocities and inhumanity at the border with a US foreign policy that instigates so much displacement and so much violence is essential.

So, I think he has the understanding. I think he has the track record. And I think that also, frankly, where his instincts are, are also different. I mean, he’s been willing much more quickly than other candidates to say, “No, the occupation is not okay.” And so, to me, this is an area where not only is he not weakened, he’s kind of like the slam-dunk candidate in this regard.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Zooming out, what informs so many of Bernie’s foreign policy positions is an understanding first that just as the forces fighting progressive change in this country are not hindered by borders, so too must our movement have an international scope. And second that there’s a link between the growth in transnational oligarchy and the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments.

Michael Brooks:  It gives you a clear ability to disaggregate. In other words, if the right-wing populists were not, in fact almost never are the actual populists, look at Trump and Bolsonaro. These are pure 1% agendas. But they get to play to people’s bigotry and xenophobia. They get to pretend that they care about people’s real needs, whether or not it’s safe neighborhoods, or economics, or whatever. And then if the only response is either a technocratic one that doesn’t speak to people in a visceral way, and that’s why some of this stuff is really just again, clarity of communication. 

But maybe, and again I don’t even necessarily know either. I actually think that there’s some people in center left and in the Democratic Party who they sort of have the brand that they fight against right-wing populism when it comes to things like xenophobia, but when it comes to their actual record, I don’t know how true that is. But what you do when you have a left argument is one, particularly in the United States and elsewhere, you definitely can activate and mobilize the cross-boundary working-class coalition. That’s real, it’s there. And it’s also people that, regardless of how you win a campaign, literally need to be delivered for. 

And then you also call the bluff on the other side. You say, “Look, you’re not actually doing this. I actually do have a plan. I will actually confront Amazon. You can have a little twitter argument with Jeff Bezos and do this whatever nonsense, but we’re going to actually take that company on. And we’re going to change people’s lives as a result of it.” And then I think in terms of voters, they have a really clear choice. And I think you will get, I don’t know how large a group, I think it’s a geographically significantly placed group of people who fell into the Trump thing who will come back. 

And then, frankly, it also clarifies the boundaries on everything else. Because it’s like, look, let’s be really clear what the choice is. And if you’re picking a Trump over a Sanders, then there’s no hiding room for what that vote is really about. And if that’s what the vote is really about, then that’s obviously we’re just going to have to win that battle.

There’s the same dynamic in Brazil. There’s clearly a chunk of people that would’ve voted for Lula, but then voted to Bolsonaro. And I think part of what this comes down to is the credibility that people believe you’re actually going to do something and then also just the simplicity and clarity of your message. And I think that in today’s world, that’s ironically something that actually makes Bernie a charismatic candidate in an odd way. Because it’s so clear. There’s so little bullshit. 

And so, to me, because yes, there’s race, and class, and xenophobia, and gender. Like those are the things that everybody knows about and are really important, all of those things for understanding the electorate, but I also think there are people who are burned out. People who are freaked out about the future. People where it’s just too complicated, too toxic. They don’t want to get into it. We were joking on my show recently, as an example, some people in the electorate, somebody tweeted a response to an Ilhan Omar tweet, and they said something to the effect like, “Thank you congresswoman. You and Trey Gowdy are the only people with integrity in Congress.” We’re like, “Okay,” like, “How do you even work with that?” It’s like well maybe the only thing that’s getting through is Ilhan Omar is super authentic. She’s honest. 

So, I don’t want to reduce politics to that, but I do think that we can’t forget that as well. And I think that Bernie is actually carrying that flame really well. I think that he’s talking about who he is, why he’s doing this, what motivates him. And then in his case, it’s a seamless transition. It’s not like “Oh, I have this beautiful life story, and then I’ll get back to you later on what I actually want to do.” It’s, “I have this mission and this purpose, and it correlates.”

Bernie Sanders:  I think if there was a war with Iran, it would be an absolute disaster for our country, for Iran, for the region and for the world. What we are saying today is that in the midst of the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet, where 85,000 children have already starved to death, where we are fearing an imminent famine and perhaps the death of millions of people, what we are saying now is we got to end that war. We’ve got to help the people of Yemen with food, with humanitarian supplies. Not with more bombs.

One of the differences that Joe and I have in our record is Joe voted for that war, I helped lead the opposition for that war, which is a total disaster. In the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace to that region, which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  To put it simply, this movement doesn’t stop at our borders. And neither should solidarity.

Michael Brooks:  Unfortunately, all of these people like Thomas Friedman have sort of turned these things into clichés. But we actually do live in a very interdependent world. And even some of the projects and goals that we have for ourselves in the United States, towards redesigning how society, how the economy works as an example, for people in a way that would benefit the many, not the few, which is what the Sanders campaign is all about, will in certain ways run up against questions about global trade agreements, foreign policy, what other countries are doing, and whether or not these things can be synchronized or not.

And when you talked about this rise of right-wing populism, I think it is also important to note that right now, unfortunately, we’re seeing this global rise of right-wing populism. And in the past, in the ’90s and early aughts, there was a global synchronizing of third-way governments. Basically, you’re talking about governments like Bill Clinton’s government in the United States, Tony Blair’s government in the UK. There were also governments at that time in Brazil and Sweden and Germany that identified in that way. And you’re basically talking about traditionally center-left parties or labor-oriented parties that moved to the right on economics would be a way of super simplifying it. And that they had a shared global project. They were meeting in different capitals together. They were trying to coordinate and think through problems together in their shared framework. 

So, I totally see a world where hopefully in addition to electing Sanders, there’s a lot of really good democratically-oriented left populists who are taking power and trying to deliver more broadly for their people, and they’re thinking together across boundaries. 

Briahna Joy Gray:  Solidarity should be a verb. And with respect to foreign policy, as elsewhere, Bernie Sanders is a model for action. That’s it for this week. Let us know what you think at [email protected], or send us a tweet with hashtag, #HearTheBern. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to rate, review, or like us on Apple Podcast, SoundCloud, or wherever you’re listening. As always, transcripts will be up soon. Till next time.