For You and Everyone Else {Guest Post}

By Janet Beatty

The author in Brazil
The author during her first trip to Brazil: Easter, circa 1967

I still remember her hushed tone as she grasped my arm, her voice as firm as her grip. “Remember. You can’t talk about this in public.” “Why not?” I asked naively. “It’s too dangerous,” she replied. “For you and everyone else.” I understood, and she placed her new album, “Show Me the Way”, on her record player.   Her obsession with Peter Frampton was more difficult for me to comprehend.

It was 1976, and Brazil had 9 more years to endure a military dictatorship which spanned 21 years.

July 5, 2024

What’s it like to live under a dictatorship? Here in the U.S., we have no idea. We lack personal experience to know what life could be like under a more emboldened, more powerful, more dangerous Donald Trump. He talks of his wish to be a dictator “for a day”, by which he means for us to understand that he could be a dictator, if re-elected, any day he chose. 

Although each dictatorship is unique, authoritarian regimes have commonalities - media censorship, for example, and repression of free speech. What does that look like in everyday life? I was a child and later a teenager when I lived, twice, under a military dictatorship. While our family has wonderful memories of our life in Brazil, I nevertheless caught glimpses of the regime’s ruthlessness. 

My parents embraced Brazil’s lively musical rhythms, which were undergoing an explosion of luscious bossa nova and energetic samba. They proudly purchased the debut album of a musician/playwright named Chico Buarque. Soon after, he fled Brazil, threatened by the military junta for a play which they deemed subversive. Other musicians fled as well. Some were imprisoned for political activism. When Chico returned, his lyrics expressed his antipathy for the dictators in exquisite subtle poetry in his attempts to evade censorship.

As corrupt as President Nixon was, he didn’t incarcerate Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young for their song “Ohio”, a protest against the VietNam war and the killing of four students at Kent State University in 1970. 

That’s all changed now. Trump swiftly attacks anyone who speaks out against him, so we must accept that censorship would form a significant part of his potential regime for those who challenge his version of the ‘truth’. Under the guise of “official presidential duties” made legal on July 1 by the Supreme Court, Trump could censor or imprison Taylor Swift, Beyonce, indeed any songwriter, singer, journalist, actor, writer, or artist who criticized him.   If his actions were later deemed “unofficial” and potentially illegal, the damage would already have been done.

Voting was mandatory in Brazil during the dictatorship (although in practice many citizens had no access). Yet, in 1976 my high school classmates talked about their voting futures as exercises in futility, stating that the candidates and outcomes were predetermined. One of them talked of turning in a blank ballot in protest. Their cynicism and bitterness linger in my memory. It would be six years before “the first free elections in 20 years were held for the national legislature…amid massive popular demonstrations on the streets”.

There were whispers, too, in small quiet spaces, rumors of dissidents who had disappeared. In public, I never heard this discussed: people understood what my friend warned me about that day in her room. Even youth like us understood the risk of making negative statements about the regime. We went about our lives while self-censoring what we said aloud, the threat of denunciation never forgotten.

This was no accident. 

According to “Crimes da Ditadura Militar” (Crimes of the Military Dictatorship), published by Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry in 2017, agents of the dictatorship created a system designed to suppress opposition to the regime through criminal acts - and subsequent cover-up - including forced disappearances, torture, rape, and murder.* According to Wikipedia, “It is estimated that 434 people were either confirmed killed or went missing and 20,000 people were tortured during the military dictatorship in Brazil.

Would Trump order similar violent suppression of dissent? Folks, he’s already implied he wouldLet’s take action now, and do all we can to elect a president and administration which will respect our right to dissent, our access to voting, and the rule of law.

Speak out now, before the election. Before it’s too dangerous. Before it's too late.

For you and everyone else.

Janet is a retired bilingual speech-language pathologist. She lives in Boulder, CO, and still prefers the music of Chico Buarque to Peter Frampton.

*Crimes da Ditadura Militar, SÉRIE RELATÓRIOS DE ATUAÇÃO, Ministério Público Federal, 2ª CÂMARA DE COORDENAÇÃO E REVISÃO - MATÉRIA CRIMINAL, BRASÍLIA | MPF | 2017, p. 55.

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