democracy on bail

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By ANTHONY DAVID*

Underneath the electoral polarization, relations of hegemony are being built; not knowing them is a misplaced answer

The events of recent weeks have given direction to the country's political-institutional situation, even if its meaning is not obvious. This sense has been seen as the social and political polarization that takes place in the context of the approaching elections. There is nothing new here: during his term as President of the Republic, Bolsonaro never left the campaign, which is why the polarization has remained lit since he took office.

But an alternative horizon to this one, not so visible, but no less real, has been opened in the last three years. Two recent events gave shape to it: the acclaimed launch of the “Letter to Brazilians and Brazilians in defense of the Democratic State of Law” and the disputed inauguration of Alexandre de Moraes as president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

The first event has been seen as a demonstration of the strength of progressive sectors of Brazilian society, which include the main press vehicles, with the social left playing a leading role – of which the intervention, on the occasion, by the president of the Academic Center XI is emblematic. of August; the second, in turn, has been analyzed in terms of a resounding affirmation of the strength of the institutions of the Republic, with clear emphasis on the Judiciary. From this perspective, both events would have performed the ability of society and institutions to offer resistance and stop the abuses of the current head of the Executive Branch, according to the script of checks and balances.

Without taking away the reason for these readings, these two events must be inserted in the broader context of the Brazilian and global conjuncture, marked by the emergence (or extraordinary reinforcement) of what the American theorist Bernard Harcourt calls a “state of emergency”, that is, a state of emergency. a new way of governing whereby governments “do everything possible to legalize their counterinsurgency measures and place them solidly within the rule of law – through endless consultations with government lawyers, hypertechnical legal arguments, and lengthy legal memos.”

Although the author can be questioned about what is new in this way of governing when the perspective that is adopted is that of “peripheral” countries, the contribution does not lose relevance, given the global trend of resurgence of State power and their capacity for subjection and innovations in terms of strategies and techniques for domination by counterpart States over their citizens.

In Brazil, the “state of emergency” has been perfected by the three powers at the municipal, state and federal levels for longer than Harcourt supposes, with the police being just a cog in the machine. But, since the end of the civil-military dictatorship, there has been no one to lead the assembly of the gears, despite Bolsonaro's dictatorial ambition. The arrival of Alexandre de Moraes to the Federal Supreme Court (STF) in a context of great evidence and politicization of the Judiciary, the latter driven by the legitimacy acquired from the middle class, and a Bolsonaro's performance marked by what the jurist Oscar Vilhena Vieira calls “the method of authoritarian infralegalism”, gave Moraes the opportunity to present himself as the man capable of incarnating the state of emergency. It's what he's been doing. The profile and curriculum for that, he already boasted.

His performance as a magistrate, particularly since the opening of the investigation of the fake news in 2019, far exceeds the role reserved for a supreme court judge. Since then, the inquiry has been the flagship of the STF's presence in the media. There is no doubt that, through a calculated legal-police-political performance, and with the invaluable help of the media (and Bolsonaro), Moraes became a major and important actor in the Brazilian political scene.

It is not new that STF ministers occupy this position. A little over a decade ago, Gilmar Mendes tried to be the spokesperson for the Brazilian right by criminalizing the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). But the spectacle of taking office as president of the TSE, as a new experience in a world where the spectacle is at the center of politics, indicates that Moraes became something more than one actor among several actors in the framework of the “Republic”. His strategy has paved the way for his name to be seen, more and more, as an alternative to power. In a country where politics and elections in particular are highly personal, this is no small feat.

Despite Bolsonaro and Moraes being enemies, it is not certain that Moraes cannot occupy the space and, in either scenario, organize the social right (and part of Bolsonarism). This is not a prophecy, but a possibility, which is becoming more and more concrete and real. Whether in the scenario of Bolsonaro's electoral defeat, or in the scenario of the current president winning the elections, the possibility exists. What changes is the tactics required.

The inauguration of Moraes as president of the TSE sheds light on the launch of the “Letter to Brazilians and Brazilians in defense of the Democratic State of Law”. As on other occasions in Brazilian history, an event that could accumulate for the left – and in a way, it did – was, at least in part, hijacked by the right. It is not only ironic that many of those who joined in supporting the Charter and the “democratic rule of law” supported or silenced the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 – which, by raising Michel Temer to the presidency of the Republic, raised Alexandre de Moraes to the Ministry of Justice and then to the Federal Supreme Court. It is mostly symptomatic. The most relevant is the fact that this episode has shown that a significant part of the anti-Bolsonaro social right is united and organized.

Like the events of 2013, the context of the Charter's launch was ambiguous. But the presence of certain actors and the circulation of certain speeches in the context of the launch set the tone of a dispute within the right wing itself. As the Letter was being read in Largo São Francisco, the Folha de São Paulo it reported: “Action for democracy unites society with tough speeches and against Bolsonaro’s coup d’état”, and in its editorial: “Pluralist acts show that democracy has become the civic skin of Brazilians”. In 2020 – therefore, four years after the 2016 coup, for which he gave assertive support –, the newspaper changed its motto, from “A newspaper at the service of Brazil” to “A newspaper at the service of democracy”.

The nationalist semantics of the “united society” employed in 2022 sounds like a botched act. In the end, the message that some of the demonstrators, presenting themselves as guarantors of democracy, wanted to give and gave to the military was: “stay where you are, don't fall into an adventure; if a coup is needed, 2016 provided the model”. In this sense, the analogies that were openly and repeatedly made between this episode and another, from 1977, are more than pertinent.

The environment that was created around the launch of the Charter and Moraes taking office at the TSE are, in short, signs of a right-wing reorganization movement. What is new is that, grappling with the combination of an abstract affirmation of democracy and the democratic rule of law, on the one hand, and the need to intensify state practices of subjection and criminalization, on the other, the right today has a man in a privileged position to lead this process, unifying around itself what Florestan Fernandes called the autocratic State.

For all these reasons, it is necessary to examine with a magnifying glass the theoretical production and performance of Alexandre de Moraes, before the STF and as a minister. It is the case of examining, for example, his vote against the prohibition of police operations in favelas in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic, when, allegedly “in defense of society”, he maintained that the prohibition represented a risk for “the entire society of the Rio de Janeiro". On the occasion, Moraes defended “harmony”, “cohesion” and “loyalty” between the powers of the State, against what he has been calling “institutional guerrillas”. The suggestive nomenclature designates what other theorists consider to be just the exercise of “checks and balances”.

Police operations not only continued after prohibition, in 2020[I], as they intensified, resulting in dozens of deaths, in a clear and evident affront by the Rio de Janeiro police to the supreme court, which is probably seen as disloyal by those who command the police. Underneath the electoral polarization, relations of hegemony are being built. And as has already been said, not knowing them is a misplaced response.

*Antonio David is a historian and professor at the School of Communication and Arts at USP.

 

Note


[I]Of the 11 ministers of the STF, 9 voted for the granting of the injunction that asked for the prohibition, and 2 voted against: Luiz Fux and Alexandre de Moraes.

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