The penny needs to fall



If we want to avoid an even more gruesome slaughter than the one we are witnessing, with about a thousand deaths a day and the despair of families who cannot say goodbye to their loved ones, it is necessary to stop Bolsonaro and his inept government

In June 2013, at the height of the street movements that, in many ways, shook Brazilian society, the brilliant Laerte published a cartoon in which she predicted: the big record, at some point... it will fall. Without our suspecting it, the serpent had laid the egg that would be hatched by many. The following year, the result of the presidential elections was questioned (“just to piss off the PT”, according to Aécio Neves)[I] and Operation Lava-Jato intensified its routine of abuses, which culminated in the 2016 parliamentary coup and the rise of a deputy without legitimacy, victim of the same ruse that brought him to power[ii]. The criminalization of politics took its course and, five years later, Laerte's record still hovered in space when we elected a former captain who had been expelled from the Army for planning to explode bombs in barracks to the presidency of the Republic.[iii]. His credentials were widely known, even though he was, for 30 years, a poor parliamentarian. For the sake of our liver, so demanded in these times of quarantine, it is not worth listing the many occasions on which the subject who now occupies the Palácio do Planalto and his family have shown their disapproval of democracy and the institutions of the rule of law , long before the process that unfortunately elected him to the most important political office in the country.

Steven Levistky and Daniel Ziblatt, in “How Democracies Die”, published in Brazil in 2018, list four indicators of authoritarian behavior. They are: (1) rejection of democratic game rules; (2) denial of the legitimacy of political opponents; (3) tolerating or encouraging violence; and (4) propensity to restrict civil liberties of opponents, including the media. According to Harvard University researchers, we should reject, in the electoral process, leaders who present anyone of these elements. Not two, three or four. Just one would be enough. At some point, perhaps, it is a case of revisiting editorials and opinion articles from the period that preceded the electoral disaster, or even those that were published in the first year of government, to understand how the authoritarian character was normalized in the face of public opinion. In addition to the famous editorial in which Estadão claimed it was a “difficult choice” between Haddad and Bolsonaro[iv], the editorial secretary of Folha de São Paulo, Vinícius Mota, prohibited journalists from using the term “extreme right” to refer to the then candidate[v]. It hadn't sunk in yet, one might say.

Contrary to what appears to be part of the press, which is now showing surprise at the anti-democratic speeches and actions of Bolsonaro and his family, his story, as well as his campaign promises, indisputably pointed in that direction. As Celso Rocha de Barros has pointed out[vi], Bolsonaro cannot be accused of electoral fraud. Since taking office in January 2019, everything within reach of his monocratic decisions has been done to fulfill his promises to corrode, from within, democratic institutions and the minimum standards of coexistence between people who deeply disagree on issues sensitive issues such as religion and politics. By means of decrees or other autocratic management instruments, he intended to make the carrying of weapons more flexible, intervene in universities and federal institutes, end inspection of speed limits on roads and dismantle environmental protection agencies. At the ministerial meeting on April 22 of this year, Bolsonaro and his cronies bet on the distraction caused by the deaths of thousands of Brazilians as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic to move forward in their nefarious attempts. There is talk of moving the cattle through the Amazon, arming militias against their political opponents, selling Banco do Brasil, among other things. Decisions that would not require public justification, as they would be the representation of a general will embodied in the figure of the messianic leader.

On May 26, we counted almost 25 deaths from Covid-19 in Brazil. The health system, in several states, has collapsed or is taking big steps in that direction. The ineptitude and cruelty of the Bolsonaro government and its economic team in dealing with the crisis resulting from the pandemic greatly aggravate the situation, to the point that the British magazine Lancet states in an editorial that the president represents the greatest threat to the country in the fight against pandemic. While we stack coffins in shallow graves, the myth makes fun of reality, tells the press to shut up and intervenes over the Federal Police who, according to him, were trying to f… with his family and his militia friends. Paulo Guedes, in turn, intensifies the effort to destroy the State, makes it difficult to grant an insufficient benefit to the poorest part of society and, alongside naked and irresponsible businessmen, pressures governors to end social isolation measures. So far, the only action proposed by Bolsonaro to combat the epidemic has been the recipe for a plaster whose ineffectiveness has been proven repeatedly in laboratory tests, which attest, on the contrary, to the increase in the number of deaths as a result of his administration.[vii]. Two Ministers of Health were dismissed for not complying with the order of the autocrat who now occupies the position of President of the Republic. The poorest part of society, as is common in our country, has been the hardest hit. The pain of so many Joanas de tal is there, for anyone who wants to see it, daily, stamped in the newspaper.

The common diagnosis until the beginning of this year maintained that, despite the presidential chatter, there were actors and institutions that would prevent an authoritarian escalation. Standing out in this list were the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Sérgio Moro, the group of military personnel in the Planalto, Congress, the Public Ministry and the Courts. Moro's history as a judge and even the fact that he accepted the invitation to join the government would be reason enough to doubt his intention to impose limits on the ridiculous tyrant. The former judge and now former minister has, for all intents and purposes, become a card out of the deck. The pajamas generals have only acted to threaten those who oppose the president's arbitrariness and to intensify the feeling that we are experiencing the imminence of a drastic rupture of what we still have of democracy. The institutions, for now, remain open and mimic a climate of normality. A normality that is obviously mere appearance, because, when we permanently question ourselves about what would be the position of the State's coercive apparatus in the face of a commonplace decision by legislators and judges, it is evident that we are under the tutelage of force. It does not seem to me to be a coincidence that, despite the accumulation of crimes of responsibility, there is no serious talk, either in the Supreme Court or in Congress, regarding the removal of this group of criminals. Or is it that the chip hasn't dropped yet?

Professor Fernando Limongi, in 2018, appealed to the common sense of democratic leaders to prevent Bolsonaro's rise to power. It was clear to him that, once invested in office, it would be unlikely to stem his advance on democratic freedoms. The results of the irresponsibility of the many who disregarded the threat posed by the former captain and his allies were predictable. The consequences of his presidency for what remains of democracy in Brazil, as warned by Minister General Heleno[viii], they are no longer. Contrary to what the government suggests, democracy is not just a method for choosing the President of the Republic, who would then enjoy unlimited powers. As David Runciman shows us, democracy involves legislative bodies, independent courts and the free expression of ideas. The new authoritarianisms, contrary to their peers that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America, do not cross our doorsteps with tanks and rifles, overthrowing elected governments and murdering those who offer resistance. Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and Jair Bolsonaro meddle in the rules of the political game and deconstruct the democratic architecture and institutions of control in a more or less subtle way. In this context, it seems that the penny will never fall.

However, if we want to avoid an even more gruesome slaughter than what we are witnessing, with about a thousand deaths daily and the despair of families who cannot say goodbye to their loved ones, it is necessary to stop Bolsonaro and his inept government. If democratic institutions, such as the press and the Legislative and Judiciary powers, as well as their relevant actors, on the left and on the right, do not want to give reason to those who, in the government and in the hordes that accompany it, intend to assert their insignificance, it is urgent to take seriously the impediment of the group that acts by all the means at its disposal to destroy the only political regime in which such institutions have a reason to exist. The chip, the big chip, at some point, has to fall.

*Renato Francisquini He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFBA.











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