I see that Brazil’s President Bolsonoro has been having a go at what Joe Biden said in the US Presidential debate, about Brazil and its rain forests and what he, Joe Biden, was going to do about them.
I am antique enough to remember when only Bolsheviks would plunge into what were then called “the internal affairs” of foreign countries. I suppose the EU was a big old exception to that rule, but that was only in a rather abstract and windy sort of way. Trouble is, modern communications, and I don’t just mean the internet although that is certainly part of this story, make such self-control ever more impossible. Thanks to the electric telegraph, and now its big bully of an offspring, the internet, it is the work of a moment to become acquainted with an argument in a far away country, and now, no matter who you are, you can join in. So, the idea that nobody should is doomed. Gonna happen. Just pick up a phone and start mouthing off to some foreign journo, and if you’re anyone at all big in the cheese department, they print it, or something related to it. Or, just say something about a foreign country shindig in one of your public performances, and those foreigners will maybe pick up on it anyway. Now, just sit down at your keyboard and bang away.
Communists, as I say, have been doing this ever since they got started in the middle of the century before last, during the first few years after the electric telegraph got started (Samuel Morse – 1844). Said the communists, contemplating this latest technological wonder: Workers (which was almost everyone in those days) of the World Unite! And from them on, whether in office or merely trying to be powerful, in public, in private and in the strictest secrecy, they interfered as much as they could in the internal affairs of other countries and they gloried in it. I mean, that was the whole idea.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the world did not abandon nationalism. Quite the reverse. As it turned out, the most important customers of those international electric telegraphs were newspapers, who were printing strictly national versions of world events to suit their strictly national readerships, and businessmen, who didn’t much care and who just want to get rich.
So, towards the end of the twentieth century, most politicians were still going through the motions of not being too public in their disagreements or (perhaps more interestingly) their agreements with politicians in faraway countries. Who the people of The Republic of Elsewhere choose as their leaders is a matter for them, and we will work amicably with whoever they choose, for the greater good of mankind. Blah blah. In private it got more heated, but in public that was the etiquette to be followed, and it mostly was.
Maybe it’s only my personal proximity speaking now, but I’d say that the Reagan Thatcher moment was when this hands-off-the-foreigners rule started being seriously put to one side. Those two made no secret of the fact that the warmth of their connection was not just based on him being President of the USA and her being PM of the UK, special relationship, blah blah. No, they downright agreed with each other, and by clear implication, wanted each other to win all their various elections, against other locals, with whom they clearly disagreed. It helped that all this happened within the Anglosphere.
More recently, I recall President Obama making it very clear who and what he wanted to win the British EU referendum. He was told my many of those who did not share his opinion not to interfere in our internal affairs, but given that he wanted to interfere, there was nothing and nobody to stop him.
Now even the Nationalists are at it, forming what is quite clearly a sort of global National International. Trump and Trumpists everywhere (think Nigel Farage) are starting to show up on the same platforms and to be more than usually friendly towards each other. Trump fights for his corner, which is the USA. And he expects other political leaders to do the same for their countries and to be equally upfront about that. And he wishes them well in their elections, against other politicians who have different tastes in such matters.
Trump has also been sceptical about climate change, as has Bolsonaro, which is all part of why, thanks to all those electric telegraphs, the American Left now hates Bolsonaro with a passion and can spend its entire day hating him, should it be inclined. So, Biden having a go at Brazil is popular with a lot of the people whom he wants to be voting for him. And Bolsonaro makes a similar calculation and hits back at Biden.
There’s lots more I could say about all this, as I often like to say when I am about to stop, but one thing worth emphasising is that the old arrangement – keeping one’s hands off of the other fellow’s back yard and him doing the same – was an unstable equilibrium. It worked if everyone did that, near enough. But once any big time politician breaks from this cosy arrangement, the pressure on the others to follow suit is irresistible.