Moraes vs. Musk – 1st round

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By JOÃO FERES JR.*

To really reach Alexandre de Moraes, Elon Musk would need to finance a campaign against the minister that was capable of breaking the Bolsonarista bubble

As Nicolau Machiavelli has already shown, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures to resolve them.

Brazil has entered a prolonged period of institutional crisis since the 2014 election, when after the defeat of the right-wing candidate, political forces, the mainstream press and part of the justice system joined together in the mission to remove the PT from power.

This campaign began with Aécio Neves' attacks on the electoral system, but was soon followed by the overwhelming intensification of Lava Jato, with super distorted media coverage, followed by campaigns for the removal of Dilma Rousseff, her impeachment, the illegitimate government of Michel Temer , the criminal persecution and arrest of Lula, and the consequent revocation of his political rights, in 2018.

These critical events in sequence were always conducted at the limit of legality, with institutions being stretched to the limit of rupture. Just to give some examples, Michel Temer places a military man in charge of the Ministry of Defense, General Augusto Heleno makes a public statement threatening the Supreme Court during the trial of the habeas corpus of Lula, Deltan Dallagnol and their team of prosecutors go live on the network Globe to threaten Congress when voting on the “10 measures against corruption”. This entire preamble of institutional wear and tear created conditions for Jair Bolsonaro's victory in 2018.

Under Jair Bolsonaro, institutional disintegration only worsened. In addition to the constant friction between the president and the Supreme Court, a huge institutional misrepresentation made by the president was the massive transfer of the Union budget to Congress through the intensification of the Secret Budget. Added to this is the systematic attack launched by him and his supporters against the electoral system. And finally, we had some coup attempts after the electoral defeat.

In short, in a situation like this, of high risk for the survival of Brazilian democracy, people are needed to act resolutely, even if their decisions may also be at the limit of institutionality. This was a problem already known by Jaen-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot: institutions are valid up to a certain point, as they depend on a minimum of good faith from the participants.

The equation is more or less like this: the great advantage of institutions is that they work without assuming the virtue of the participants as a premise. However, they rarely withstand the prolonged assault of saboteurs, particularly if those saboteurs aim to alter the status quo so that they can free themselves from any sanction if they are victorious.

In times of crisis, virtue is necessary. The truly Machiavellian virtue of not being strictly bound by sanctioned patterns of behavior. 

Former Secretary of Public Security of the State of São Paulo during Geraldo Alckmin's government, Alexandre de Moraes was chosen by Michel Temer to occupy a vacancy in the Supreme Court, that is, he comes from the right of the political spectrum. However, he is proving capable of facing the biggest threats to Brazilian democracy and is doing so without major institutional abuses.

Bolsonaro supporters quickly seized the opportunity to use Elon Musk's statements as further content in their daily battle for public opinion. Elon Musk is an icon of the new times, a hero of entrepreneurship for some and an inhuman monster for others. In addition to being a media figure, he has economic power.

However, Alexandre de Moraes is reasonably protected at the start of the fight. To really reach the minister, Elon Musk would need to finance a campaign against the minister that was capable of breaking the Bolsonarist bubble. But that would leave traces and turn the entire STF against him and his companies.

A dollar diplomacy It ended more than a hundred years ago, but the promotion of private commercial interests has always figured prominently in US relations with southern countries, including Brazil. If times were different, perhaps they would try to shove their absolutist conception of the right to expression down our throats. In any case, it doesn't hurt to be careful, as some media outlets are trying to align themselves with Elon Musk, even though their economic interests are not the same as those of the big tech companies that control social networks.

*João Feres Junior is professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. He coordinates the Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (GEMAA) and the Media and Public Space Studies Laboratory (LEMEP).


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