In defeat, authoritarianism is unable to reflect, let alone peacefully hand over power. In Brazil, we have just seen the sadly predictable consequences of years of questioning the legitimacy of elections and their institutional guarantors by the departing right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro.
In an echo of events in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of Bolsonaro's supporters stormed the premises of Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and the offices of his duly-elected successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The similarity with the assault on the U.S. Capitol after the Trump presidency is no coincidence.
Fascist-style regimes copy each other's clumsy, violent and painful methods.
The result is a recurring threat to democracy worldwide.
Power of lies
You could see this one coming. From the first round of voting, won by Lula, supporters of Bolsonaro began filling social media and especially Instagram with claims of fraud. Lula, they claimed, could only have cheated his way to victory.
His team accepted the results — but not Bolsonaro, who kept silent.
Two weeks after the first round, the sitting president said he distrusted the electoral system, repeating without proof that he was about to be robbed of reelection. When he lost the second round, his team accepted the results — but not Bolsonaro, who kept silent. Just days ago, in a farewell speech to Brazilians before leaving for the United States, he said he lacked the support needed "to do something." In other words, he couldn't find a way to overturn the results.
All these lies had their effect. Firstly, Bolsonaro's supporters blocked the country's main highways for weeks. Then they turned to vandalism on Lula's inauguration day. A bomb was found at Brasilia's airport over Christmas.
Then, on Sunday, more than 100 buses arrived at the capital, ostensibly for a peaceful protest - which soon turned into mayhem. Footage showed people trashing public buildings, attacking the few policemen standing on duty and displaying messages demanding a military intervention. Some protesters raised the flag of the Brazilian empire.
Isabella Finholdt/dpa/ZUMA Press
A supporter of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro cries during the eviction of a camp of Bolsonaro supporters on Monday in Brasilia.
Evasion and euphemisms
Erick Bang reported on the local network GloboNews, that this amounted to a "terrorist attack. The three buildings have been invaded by terrorists who want a coup."
The head of the pro-Bolsonaro Liberal Party, Valdemar Costa Neto, was also clear: "This is a sad day for the Brazilian nation. We do not agree with the destruction of Congress. Disorder has never been one of the nation's principles. We vehemently reject this type of attitude and want the application of the law to strengthen our democracy." Bolsonaro reacted to the incident in more evasive and euphemistic terms.
We can see, again, what happens when political leaders smash democracy's basic pacts for selfish ends. The problem now is that violence will continue in a Brazil facing a deep societal crisis.
But make no mistake, it all happened because Bolsonaro made verbal violence an integral part of his campaign.
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