Winning by leaving

The best thing George Washington ever did for the US was to give up. He led a fledgling country quite capably, but by the end of his second term he had deep concerns with what was happening. His final speech was full of warnings against political parties and foreign entanglements. The obvious path forward was to use his enormous popularity and power to further shape how the US would evolve. Instead, he retired to his farm in Virginia. Today most of us hate the poisonous effect of political parties have on our society so its hard not to wonder what good he could have done if he stayed. Instead, he left, and I’m so glad.

14 years ago I was traveling through Bolivia during a tumultuous and thrilling election. For its entire history it had been ruled by a tiny wealthy elite but that year Evo Morales was elected and it was profound. Over the next decade the shift was remarkable: inequality dropped, the economy expanded, human rights and those of nature were made real. But in a story that has repeated itself too many times in this hemisphere he stayed too long. In his first term he got constitutional term limits on his presidency. When the time came to leave, he asked the people to vote on removing the limits. When they said no, Morales had the courts approve it anyway.

Although I still believe he is fighting for the best for Bolivia, his unwillingness to stop fighting for good opened a gap. Into that gap, a targeted attack of wealth and outside parties found an opportunity. He just won (or lost?) a complicated election for a fourth term. A (un-?) popular protest and coup happened he just fled to Mexico. An awful, racist, right wing block is taking power and the country is entering a horrific period of divisive suffering that may be with Bolivia for long time. It breaks my heart.

I have a lot of respect for Morales. He is a good man, who consistently fights to make things better. But the best thing he could have done was to give up earlier.

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