Editorials, Opinion

History doesn’t repeat — it rhymes

As the idiom goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat. But history never really repeats — it rhymes.

The players change, as do the locations. Situations may be similar — enough to feel like déjà vu — but never exactly alike. Not a replay, but an echo; not a repeat, but a rhyme.

Last Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when rioters fueled by former President Donald Trump’s election conspiracies stormed the seat of government, threatening Congress and the certification of the 2020 election. On Sunday, an eerie echo of that day played out in Brazil, where violent protesters besieged the country’s seat of power, storming the Congress, the Supreme Court and presidential offices, fueled by the former Brazilian president’s false claims that the 2022 election was stolen from him.

A far-right strongman with an authoritarian bent, Jair Bolsonaro spent the years leading up the last election sowing doubt in Brazil’s election systems and insisting that the next election would be rigged against him. He touted false claims of rampant voter fraud and airing conspiracies about electronic voting machines — following Trump’s playbook nearly to the letter. When Bolsonaro lost to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his supporters took this as confirmation of everything their leader had said was true.

And so one week after Lula took office, protesters fell upon Brazil’s capital and things quickly turned violent.

But history does not repeat; it rhymes. Because although Sunday’s attack on the Brazilian government is uncannily similar to the one on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, there are some key differences.

Lula had already taken office, so this was not an attempt to thwart democracy, but the brutal outcry of sore losers. Brazilian rioters attacked on a Sunday, so the government buildings were largely empty. There were plenty of windows to smash and offices to destroy — and police officers to beat — but there were no members of Congress to threaten, no vice president to hang.

Despite months spent claiming the election was rigged, Bolsonaro backed off the conspiracies and cautioned his supporters to remain peaceful in the days leading up to his opponent’s inauguration. “We live in a democracy or we don’t,” he said in a recorded statement, as reported by The New York Times. “No one wants an adventure.” He responded quickly to the riot, tweeting out, “Peaceful demonstrations, in the form of the law, are part of democracy. However, depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today … escape the rule,” though he couldn’t resist taking a dig at his political opponents in the same tweet.

Not a repeat of Trump’s “it’s going to be wild” or “go home, we love you,” but a sort of slant rhyme; not the same note, but arguably in the same key.

The United States fancies itself the most powerful and influential nation in the world — the one all other countries hope to emulate. And perhaps it is — but not in the way we might wish.

The recent Uyghur “re-education” camps in China, where the Muslim minority are abused as they are stripped of their religion and language, echo Native American “assimilation” schools and the 1800s and 1900s. Scholars and historians have long explored how Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish Nuremburg Laws drew from America’s segregation and anti-miscegenation laws. And now a political uprising in Brazil closely mirrors an attempted coup.

The world does watch America, so we must set a better example here at home — change the rhyme scheme so that in the future, it is our best nature that is echoed, not our worst.