Fiction Plus Coercion Makes Reality: The Illegitimacy of the US-led Coup in Venezuela

After considering the economic foundation of current US intervention, designed to erase Venezuela’s economic sovereignty, the purpose here is to focus more on the political side of the equation, not that we can neatly divide the politics from the economics of either the intervention or the defence of sovereignty. What we find is a situation where the anti-government opposition inside Venezuela is limited on three fronts:

(a) it has a narrow base of support among the public, and is thus incapable of producing a “popular uprising,” nor does it command the state machinery;

(b) it relies heavily on foreign support, in other words, the opposite of legitimacy in a democracy—having gone the route of seeking foreign intervention, their real foundation is coercion, not authority; and,

(c) in the absence of any real authority, the leadership is suspended in a web of fiction, which means that it spins fictions of its own power and authority.

Also undermining the legitimacy of the opposition is the US, imposing itself as a supreme tribunal that has arrogated to itself the right to decide on the course of Venezuela’s political future. Right now what we are witnessing is not so much an attempted coup (not yet at least), as much as an intended coup.

Since there is little movement on the ground that would seem to promise anything like an impending removal of the Maduro administration by local forces and by peaceful means, this heightens the possibility of both escalating local violence combined with foreign military intervention. This is especially true since, following the Americans, the opposition rejects dialogue with the government. When claims are exposed as fictions that lack substance, the only way to force them into the domain of reality is through violence.

“Maduro Must Go”: The US as the Ultimate Elector in Venezuela

On February 1 in Miami, in a brazen act of bellicosity that violated international law, US Vice President Mike Pence publicly declared that, “Nicolas Maduro must go,” smearing Maduro as “a dictator with no claim to power” (language oddly reminiscent of the domestic opponents of his own boss). More than that, Pence proceeded to directly threaten Venezuela’s government if it should continue to defy US wishes, in language redolent of classic imperialism:

“Let’s be clear: this is no time for dialogue. This is time for action. And the time has come to end the Maduro dictatorship once and for all…. The United States will continue to assert all diplomatic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy…. But those looking on should know this: All options are on the table…. And Nicolas Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States”.

“The resolve of the United States”; a US Vice President deciding on whether a foreign leader has the right to stay in power, regardless of those who voted him into power—these examples clearly establish that the real line of conflict here is between the US and Venezuela, and not between Guaidó and Maduro.

Speaking as an official of a rogue state, John Bolton uttered a ridiculously crass threat against President Maduro, in a display of naked imperialism gone wild:

“I wish him [Maduro] a long, quiet retirement on a pretty beach far from Venezuela. And the sooner he takes advantage of that, the sooner he’s likely to have a nice, quiet retirement on a pretty beach rather than being in some other beach area like Guantanamo”.

Interestingly, this is precisely the language of dictatorship: commanding, threatening, abducting, disappearing opponents. The US has a history of not just deposing foreign leaders, but even kidnapping them, when not executing them outright. It is also the speech of a rogue state—no state that respects international law allows its officials to routinely and casually threaten others in this manner. After expressing desires to loot Venezuela’s wealth, they now publicly entertain fantasies of abducting Venezuela’s elected president.

These were not the only times that the Trump administration directly threatened the government of Venezuela with regime change. In July of 2017, then CIA director Mike Pompeo spoke at the Aspen Security Forum about working with Colombia, the Venezuelan opposition, and the CIA in developing “options” for regime change, just a month after Colombia joined NATO as a “Global Partner”. Then on August 5, 2018, an attempted assassination against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro took place. Soon after that, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN at the time, went on a tour to Colombia’s border with Venezuela, covered exclusively by Fox News, in which she advocated for the illegal overthrow of Venezuela’s government. Outside of the UN building in New York, US ambassador Nikki Haley chose to violate the UN Charter itself by openly advocating for the overthrow of a foreign government and hinting loudly that it would happen thanks to strong US intervention. On Thursday, September 27, 2018, Haley shouted into a megaphone in front of demonstrators: “We are going to fight for Venezuela and we are going to continue doing it until Maduro is gone!… We need your voices to be loud, and I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud”.

“I will tell you, the US voice is going to be loud,” said Haley in reprising George W. Bush’s threat prior to invading Afghanistan (America’s 18-year tale of “success” in Central Asia). The fact of the matter is that the US never imagined that the removal of Maduro’s party from power could ever happen organically and thanks purely to local dynamics. It was always to be something artificial, a fiction brought to life through American violence. The threat of military intervention, which itself flouts international law, was made in the first months of the Trump administration.

From as early as August of 2017 Trump was already suggesting the possibility of a US military coup to overthrow Venezuela’s government. This was before the elections it would discount were even announced. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated the suggestion in February 2018, and said Maduro should leave the country altogether and retire in Cuba, much like Bolton above would later do. (The suggestion that Tillerson was among those “pushing back” against Trump’s move to military conflict with Venezuela, is thus pure fantasy. It’s part of the liberal “resistance” veneration of transnationalist oligarchs like Tillerson as representing one of the “adults in the room”.) Again, even before elections had been called in Venezuela, Trump threatened Venezuela with US military intervention.

Venezuela’s government made it clear that one thing that would never be “discussed” with the US (which wants to discuss nothing) would be Venezuela’s sovereignty, and Maduro announced that the military was ready to fight back against US intervention. As for Trump’s repeated threat that military options are “on the table,” Maduro simply replied: “There will be no war or military intervention”. In the meantime, however, Venezuela is preparing to make any US military escalation as costly as possible to the US—something which several forces in the world have successfully done, starting with Vietnam, and then especially since 2001. In addition, Maduro in a letter to Trump asked if politicians in Washington were ready to send their country’s “sons and daughters to die in an absurd war” (unfortunately, we already know the answer to that question).

However, underlining the illegitimacy of the intended coup, the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans are very far from supporting either Guaidó or the US when it comes to US military intervention and economic sanctions. Even before Trump threw his support behind Guaidó, local polling data from Venezuela showed that 86% of Venezuelans were against any foreign military intervention, and 81% opposed the US’ sanctions. With respect to seeking US intervention, Guaidó represents the 14%. In addition, recently launched was a largely symbolic, political campaign to get 10 million signatures of Venezuelans denouncing US intervention; a large rally came out in support to start the process. Should foreign military intervention happen, done in the name of “helping Venezuelans,” it should be remembered that such intervention has virtually no support in Venezuela itself.

The “Early Elections” Ruse

Call new presidential elections—this has been one of the key commands coming from the Venezuelan opposition’s foreign backers. Before 2019 the command was call early elections. Yet when the US and their Venezuelan force multipliers previously pressed the Venezuelan government to hold early elections—just as their EU counterparts would do again in January 2019—they then turned around and condemned the announcement of early elections. Now once again the demand is for new, early elections: states like Spain instructed the Venezuelan government to declare, within eight days, that new elections would be held, or else Spain and others would recognize Guaidó—an ultimatum on how Venezuela should conduct its domestic politics. Venezuela’s government of course rejected this demand outright.

This then raises a key question: if these outside interests did not accept the last elections, why would they accept the results of the next ones? All previous elections had been widely recognized as free and fair, and it was the same system which produced the opposition’s victory in the now defunct National Assembly. Indeed, as recently as August of 2017, the opposition itself accepted the new Constituent Assembly’s call for gubernatorial elections. It was the same system in which Maduro won his re-election, and would be the same for any new elections. Yet the same governments that oppose Maduro, falsely claim that he “stole” the election—and if he had stolen it, it wasn’t from Guaidó, who did not run as a candidate. Clearly the ultimatum, unacceptable as it was shockingly arrogant, was meant as bait to trigger even further intervention: EU-supervised and EU-designed elections perhaps (and let’s not forget the Haitian elections that were rigged under UN auspices). Those EU states which then officially recognized Guaidó were rightly denounced by Russia for engaging in brazen intervention in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.

In order to denounce past elections while calling for new ones, the US had to fabricate the myth of illegitimate elections in Venezuela. Thus the Trump administration directly threatened with targeted sanctions a leading opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, who was considering launching a presidential campaign, warning him not to do so. The US’ top diplomat in Venezuela even met with Falcón, to persuade him not to run. Widely reported polls showed that he had a good chance of winning the election too. The Venezuelan opposition was instructed by the US to boycott the election, in order to produce what could then be called a “sham”. Mike Pence thus decided in advance that the elections would be a sham, without a shred of evidence provided. The same argument was made by some of the opposition, that Maduro’s election was illegitimate—an election held using the very same system that won the opposition their own seats. There is no evidence to deny that Maduro’s election followed all of the proper legal procedures, and though the turnout was low, Maduro’s share of eligible voters was higher than that of Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2012.

Now here is where myth-making has taken a new turn. Those states which now recognize Guaidó as the president of Venezuela, cannot very well press the demand for new elections on Maduro. To do so would be to continue legitimizing Maduro as the President. So it is now up to Guaidó to call for early elections. Has he done so? After all, if he really believed he was the interim president, with all of the rights and duties of an interim president, then it was his job to call new elections in 30 days. Guaidó has not done so, and this violates the very Constitution which he claims to be defending. The defunct National Assembly has instead invented some new parts of the Constitution—because they simply do not exist in that document—about “technical conditions” that give Guaidó the right to be interim president not just for 30 days, but for a whole year now. Talk about dictatorship. The idea is to deny Maduro and his whole government any legitimacy, an argument that also fails, and it backfired on the opposition with all of its petty, selective, and inventive legalisms about “the Constitution” (which they themselves violate).

The legitimacy of Maduro’s government was rarely respected by his domestic opposition, and almost never by the more powerful extraterritorial opposition represented by US power. And as Maduro clearly pointed out, Venezuela has had no deficit of elections (six occurred in the past 18 months alone, at different levels of government)—so elections themselves are neither the root of the problem, nor can they be a solution.

The Venezuelan government repeated that it was open to holding talks with the opposition, which the opposition continues to publicly refuse. President Maduro also held out the offer of early elections for the legally constituted Constituent Assembly. That offer has also been rejected.

“No Dialogue” Means Violence, No Democracy

Imagine you claim to be interested in defending democracy. Then imagine you reject any dialogue whatsoever with fellow citizens who have views that differ from yours. Are you really interested in democracy then? Imagine you believe yourself to represent the majority, but still the opposing side represents a significant minority, and yet you refuse to deal with the other side. Does that advance democracy?

The US claims that it is seeking peaceful and diplomatic means of securing regime change in Venezuela, a goal which is neither peaceful nor diplomatic. Unable to reconcile this harebrained contradiction, the US inevitably rejects any dialogue with the government of Venezuela, dismissing an offer of mediation by Mexico and Uruguay. This underscores the perverse definition of “diplomacy” that the US has adopted. For successive US regimes, “diplomacy” is merely a default position—it means everything that is not outright “shock and awe”. Saying there can be no dialogue whatsoever, narrows the avenue of peaceful solutions. Moreover, whatever the US seeks, by seeking it in Venezuela its actions can only go against democracy—Venezuelans did not elect the US government, and did not elect to have it involved in their affairs, let alone usurp the authority of Venezuelans.

Guaidó has dutifully echoed the US line in consistently dismissing dialogue, while Maduro has been just as consistent in offering it. Meanwhile, other top opposition leaders in the country—for example, the two former presidential candidates of the two main traditional parties, Claudio Fermín and Eduardo Fernández—have instead favoured “electoral participation and recognition of the legitimacy of the Maduro government”. Not all of the opposition has chosen the avenue of treason that beckons violence.

One thing is certain, this time Venezuela has reached a turning point and there is no going back. The most tragic and extreme steps have been taken, precisely the kinds which should never have been taken. A number of actors are going to have to pay a very high price for their decisions. On the opposition’s side, those who actively involved a foreign imperial power in the domestic affairs of Venezuela, who behave as if it were natural and normal for the US to have a say in Venezuelan politics, and who proceed like they have the full support of US military power authorizing their actions—the price they will need to pay will have to be the maximum one. On the government’s side, those whose decisions and whose many errors of omission and commission have helped to fan the flames of crisis, may find their own future is not assured.

Temir Porras Ponceleón, who served as chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013, and is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po in Paris, has shared a series of important observations and questions about the election issue and the civil war issue, in a hypothetical post-Maduro Venezuela. In a recent interview, he raised these questions:

“We can imagine the crisis getting deeper. Probably the government collapsing, but what about the day after? What about the military of Venezuela? What about the divisions within the military? What I am concerned is, to have a stable and democratic country the day after. And that requires not provoking each other, political dialogue and understanding”.

About the opposition, if it came to power, he asks:

“Do they have a plan to guarantee that this country remains stable and democratic? The day after, do they guarantee that they will not allow, for instance, the US government or the US troops to enter Venezuela? Do they have a plan to deal with the Venezuelan military?”

Then there is the real possibility of a civil war erupting if Maduro leaves or is forced from power:

“And what guarantees that the departure of Maduro doesn’t create a civil war, for instance? The reality of Venezuela is that it is a very polarized country. It is totally unrealistic or irresponsible to think or to assume that there are all the guarantees for Venezuela to be in a peaceful situation. In order to be an election, you have to agree on the terms of that election. When will the election be held? Who can be allowed to run for those elections? And that’s exactly the problem—saying there will be elections is assuming that the problem is solved before even addressing it”.

Ponceleón thinks that it is “highly likely” that the situation will escalate into a civil war in Venezuela. On one point at least, we can already address his question: the opposition cannot guarantee a democratic Venezuela, because it has chosen the most undemocratic means available to it: foreign military intervention. It would be useful to remember that one of the principal ways of conceiving democracy, that came out of many formerly colonized nations, was that democracy meant freedom from alien domination. Any time a foreign power exercises its might in determining the affairs of another people, no matter what those people produce cannot be democratic because the context in which they operate itself stands against democracy.

US intervention, by definition, cancels out self-determination and that means democracy is impossible under such circumstances.

Fictions: Delusions of Authority

There is a serious problem with the person who was appointed and announced himself as the “interim president” of Venezuela, Juán Guaidó. The problem might be diagnosed as megalomania—having serious delusions of authority. In just the last three weeks, Guaidó has gone on record with the following positions:

With the possible exception of the third point, there is a definite pattern here. It involves a realty-denial problem, that is prone to spin fictions. It is what one can expect from someone, unknown to the vast majority of Venezuelans and whose party controlled only 14 seats of the 167 in the defunct National Assembly. It is the posture of a person who was not elected to be president, claiming that the elected president is a sham. The only thing authorizing Guaidó’s fabrications is the power of the US standing behind him. From not having dialogue with Venezuelans, to not having a dialogue with reality, the program represented by Guaidó is that of a fiction waiting—wanting—to become reality. The only chance it has of becoming reality is that it has to be forced through, with massive violence. Why? Because it is artificial; because it is not a program that arises from its grounding in facts. It is pure ideology, at its worst; it is the kind of ideological stance that leads one to foolishly engage in comical stunts on the one hand, while begging for war on the other hand.

Fictions: Movement on the Ground

“What’s going on within Venezuela itself?” asks Paul Dobson—“The answer, however, is not much”. With all the media noise about governments backing the opposition’s claim to presidential authority (in a transparent violation of international law), there is little to show for the opposition making any headway inside Venezuela itself. In fact, most of the hum-drum of everyday life continues, with a few isolated protests, and no public disorder—“conspicuously absent are any of the tell-tale signs of a genuine power shift that might indicate that the government is about to fall”. As Dobson observes, “the man whose name 81 percent of Venezuelans didn’t even know one month ago has not managed to spur the country into the sort of popular action at all levels of society which he probably needs to make this attempted coup a reality”. Guaidó’s primary base of power is his foreign backing, primarily that of the US; his only claim to authority is acting as a gatekeeper of foreign aid allegedly smuggled into the country. As a real president, little would be different, having vowed to sell off Venezuela’s oil facilities to foreign private interests. Guaidó’s greatest achievement would be to become Venezuela’s version of Ashraf Ghani—a figurehead, propped up by foreign aid, overseeing a badly divided country. The only way for a fiction of authority to become a reality is through massive force (violence), and then it only becomes a farcical reality whose life will be short.

On Saturday, February 2, Guaidó’s loudly touted opposition protests occurred, passing without changing anything in the country and even receiving minimal international media coverage. Loudly denounced as a “brutal dictatorship,” the government did absolutely nothing to “repress” the demonstrations, and nobody was reported as hurt or killed. At the same time, a pro-government march countered the opposition protest, and according to some reports, was much larger. In fact, footage of the pro-government demonstration was dishonestly used by Fox News’ Neil Cavuto as he spoke of the opposition rally—when the screen behind him showed a huge mass of people wearing red, the governing party’s colour, along with members of militias. The BBC was at least able to tell the two apart. The opposition protesters were said to number in the “tens of thousands,” which falls far short of the millions who attended pro-government rallies in the past, or a number rivalling the opposition that turned out for Maduro on the same day. Guaidó clearly lacked faith in the possibility of a popular uprising materializing, and he thus continued to call for high-level military defections and for US intervention (though some of the so-called “defectors” were revealed to be fakers)—and the US was reportedly making direct contacts to persuade Venezuelan officers to “defect”. The Saturday protests followed from those held earlier, on Wednesday, January 30, which were reported to be very small and largely confined to the traditional opposition stronghold. Guaidó called for new opposition protests to be held on February 12, clearly not confident that any change would happen anytime soon. The protests came and went, without incident, and without any change. So now the opposition invented a new milestone: February 23, when they said they would push to unblock “aid” sent by the US, which would indeed be using such aid to provoke a violent confrontation, which is likely one of the US’ original objectives in sending the “aid” against the wishes of the legitimate government. (Meanwhile even Colombia’s International Red Cross views the “aid” as a US ploy and said it would have no part in distributing it.)

Indicative of Guaidó’s own lack of confidence, which stems from his lack of legitimacy and the opposition’s over-reliance on foreign support, he made the absurd declaration that he was not ruling out “authorizing” US military intervention. Apparently he was usurping power in the US too now. Responding appropriately, US Representative Ro Khanna stated: “Mr. Guaido, you can proclaim yourself leader of Venezuela but you don’t get to authorize US military interventions”. Khanna added that US legislators would authorize no such action. In a further attempt to pretend he has authority, Guaidó then “ordered” Venezuela’s military to let in “aid” sent by the US—with no sign whatsoever that the military intends to “obey” him.

The Question of International Recognition

In North America, most of the media instruct us on the names and/or numbers of countries that have called on Maduro to step down, and which have recognized Guaidó’s interim presidency. They say little or nothing about all of the countries which have not done so; instead, they occasionally select a certain few that have been the loudest in denouncing the intended coup. The fact of the matter, however, is that the overwhelming majority of the United Nations’ member states continue to acknowledge President Maduro as the legal and legitimate head of government and state in Venezuela—they have made no move whatsoever to withdraw that recognition.

Note that the US took its attempt to shore up support for its force multipliers—the opposition “led” by Guaidó—to the UN Security Council, and not the UN General Assembly which would have meant allowing all member states a vote. The proportion of those supporting the US is greater in the UNSC than in the UNGA. Americans, great tellers of tall tales and ardent fans of impression management, believe that “optics matter”—any performer of magic tricks would immediately agree.

The US failed in its effort to get the United Nations Security Council to support its coup initiative of delegitimizing Maduro and recognizing Guaidó. China, Russia, Equatorial Guinea, and South Africa were some of the countries that expressed support for the Maduro government at the UNSC on January 26, and blocked the US from passing its resolution. China was in fact one of the countries that sent an official delegation to Maduro’s inauguration earlier in the month. Venezuela’s foreign minister, also speaking at the UNSC, declared: “The United States is not behind the coup d’état, it is in the vanguard”. He also blasted a European ultimatum demanding new elections: “Nobody is going to give us deadlines or tell us if there are elections or not”. Russia’s position at the UNSC was not just correct, it was absolutely correct: Venezuela’s internal affairs should never have been brought to the Security Council for discussion in the first place. As Russia’s foreign minister explained, Venezuela “does not represent a threat to the international community, but Washington’s actions do”. This has apparently not stopped the US from returning to the UNSC with a proposed resolution asking it to intervene in Venezuela’s domestic politics, by demanding a new presidential election. Meanwhile, Guaidó’s imagination knows no limits when it comes time to assuming authority: he reportedly told RT that the UNSC has endorsed his side and its attempted coup, not the only “fake news” which he tried to manufacture in that interview.

The UN has since said it would support, not the “Lima Group,” but the Montevideo dialogue, of which Caribbean states have been a key source of momentum (also in opposition to the OAS’ head). The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, also explicitly condemned any move toward foreign military intervention in Venezuela: “The time for an era of foreign intervention passed long ago”. As for the Lima Group, the main outcome of its Ottawa meeting to discuss ways to screw Venezuela, was essentially to call on the military to engage in a coup—so much for “liberal democracy”. Maduro has rejected all EU intervention and also affirmed his support for the Montevideo dialogue instead. That dialogue, however, had thus far only produced a European-backed resolution which Bolivia opposed. The first meeting thus ended with a non-unanimous statement—the obstacle being the Europeans pressing for new presidential elections.

While about 48 governments have recognized Guaidó (usually not in consultation with their electorates), 141 countries, that is, the vast majority of UN members did not heed the US’ call to recognize him. No wonder the US never took its case to the UN General Assembly, where its defeat would have been even more humiliating, and instructive, than it was at the Security Council. Yet, some of the propagandistic North American media, such as Bloomberg, essentially whited out most of the world in order to claim that “global leaders” have backed Guaidó. The rest simply do not exist on their map. They count as those opposing recognition of Guaidó only those that have openly said they would not do so—dismissing those who also have not offered recognition, but who have stayed quiet on Maduro (which is what actual non-intervention looks like). In addition, Bloomberg’s graphic is suitably small enough that we cannot see more than a dozen Caribbean states that have explicitly rejected foreign intervention and recognition of Guaidó. Bloomberg also fails to question the opposition’s fanciful imagining of Russia, China, and Turkey as being “neutral”—so even those countries’ opposition is rhetorically whitewashed. This is a reality-denial problem. Much better, though not perfect, are Venezuelanalysis’ accurate and up-to-date infographics which demonstrate one basic reality very starkly: the world is mostly divided between the “Global North,” made up mostly of former colonial and imperial powers, and the “Global South,” but even more than that it shows what an increasingly multipolar world looks like.

Among the countries that continue to recognize Maduro are the overwhelming majority of African states (with a single exception), Caribbean states (with a single exception), all of Asia, and the Middle East (with one exception).

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As for Turkey, rather than the “neutrality” imagined by Venezuelan opposition spokespersons, we have the words of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Apparently addressing the US, he recently asked:

“Is Venezuela yours?… How do you oust a person who came to office through elections? How do you hand over presidential [powers] to someone who did not even get elected? Do you know what democracy is?”

Earlier, Erdogan in a message to President Maduro exclaimed: “Maduro, brother, stand tall”. Turkey has developed close economic and political ties with Venezuela, and the two leaders have visited each other’s countries in recent years. As for any possible outreach to Russia, the Venezuelan opposition will find itself immediately blocked. Russia does not respect Guaidó as anything other than an instrument of a foreign power, and thus there is no point in holding talks directly with him.

The Venezuelan government promised to review its ties to states that recognized Guaidó, and also promised a symmetrical response to US sanctions and seizures of Venezuela’s assets. Nothing about Maduro suggested he was either intimidated or considered surrendering to US wishes. Maduro insisted he was still interested in good relations with the US, but explicitly not with its government, saying that relations in areas except diplomacy and politics were welcome. What else does one say to those who will not even speak to you?

Lastly, let’s consider those illustrious members of the US Congress: when interviewed on the subject of intervention in Venezuela, they displayed a remarkable degree of not just dishonesty and hypocrisy, but what could also be easily classed as gross intellectual incompetence and even cowardice. It is difficult to locate a better collection of buffoonery in which alcohol was ostensibly absent.

While on the right, figures like Senator Rand Paul stood out in their opposition to US foreign intervention, on the subject of Venezuela it is a small group of particularly bright and courageous young Democrats who have taken the right stand: Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, and the unflappable Ilhan Omar, who recently interrogated Elliot Abrams. Abrams is the neoconservative Never Trumper whom Trump has appointed the US “special envoy” for Venezuela. Omar’s comments were not only accurate and on target, they were long overdue. Fox News could only express “shock” (eloquence usually has that effect on them), repeatedly calling the exchange between Omar and Abrams “stunning” (because facts are loathsome things)—but without ever offering a single substantive point to counter Omar’s presentation. They did, however, raise the issue of her identity.

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