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From every indication, the madness appears to have mutated. The growing trend of having failed politicians spurring citizens into destructive civil disobedience appears to have taken a deeper twist. A fortnight ago, Brazil received her own baptism of fire after civilians technically attempted a coup, joining list of instances where civilians tried to force themselves into power using undemocratic means.
Perhaps, the jarring images emerging from Brasilia on Sunday after a swarm of crazed conspiracy theorists who support the defeated ex-president, Jair Bolsonaro, breached the three pillars of Brazilian democracy with such infuriating ease was enough to drag the whole world to unplanned crisis.
The destruction and violence unleashed by these marauders – clad in the South American country’s familiar colours of yellow, green, and blue – on the offices of the President, Supreme Court, and Congress were, of course, reminiscent of the mayhem and carnage on an unforgetable day at the US Capitol on the 6th of January 2021,
For most people watching across the world, it was a mixture of sadness, regret, and simmering anger that they were obliged, yet again, to watch, impotent, as thugs masquerading as flag-waving patriots tried to thwart the will of millions of enlightened Brazilians who had elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president on October 30, 2022.
One doesn’t need to be a Brazilian to see how those actions must have offended the sensibilities of many people. The shameless audacity of a bunch of petulant, tantrum-prone rubes who believe that they enjoy the right and license to overturn the results of a free and fair election were the least anyone was going to expect from Brazil at that point.
The festering, visceral belief that their pipped candidate should be President proves, that the potent psychological residue of January 6 continues to plague many people outside the United States despite time and distance.
From every indication, the cockeyed motives of the army of malcontents that launched an attempted putsch since that would mean giving their lunatic beliefs a patina of legitimacy.
It would, however, be unwise to dismiss Sunday’s cacophonous events as a momentary spasm of pent-up grievances. Like January 6, Brazil’s insurrection was a serious, coordinated effort to re-install a defeated, authoritarian demagogue as President.
President da Silva seems to recognise this. His decisive actions to put down the revolt quickly and without, apparently, causing a single casualty among the “fanatical fascists” – as he described them – met the urgent moment with resolve and restraint.
Beyond the hundreds of arrests, President da Silva appears to understand that the powerful players and forces behind the failed coup d’état must be held accountable if Brazil’s nascent democracy is to survive the current, as well as any future, storm.
Towards that difficult but necessary end, it is incumbent upon democracies – young or old – to confront such brazen lawlessness within the bounds of the rule of law. President da Silva understands this imperative too.
Last weekend’s dangerous turbulence in Brazil should, as well, give pause to anyone who sought to minimise the import or gravity of January 6 as an angry ‘protest’ gone awry. The fear that what happened on that day, in that place, would serve as a template for others to repeat on another day, in another place, has proven to be prescient.
Jair Bolsonaro’s insurrectionists took their cue from Donald Trump’s insurrectionists. That is beyond dispute. The wild, disfiguring consequences of their ideological solidarity were on graphic and disturbing display on Sunday.
The other lesson that should, by now, have penetrated the myopic consciousness of leaders of the so-called “liberal” democracies is that you can’t play nice with fascists.
But that’s what they did year after shameful year in their dealings with Trump and Bolsonaro – often in the parochial name of keeping the two preening autocrats happy lest they scuttle lucrative bilateral or multi-lateral trade deals.
Bolsonaro and his family stoked the rhetorical rationale for Sunday’s siege by insisting for years before the 2022 vote that the country’s ‘elites’ would rig the election to deny him a second term. He warned that Brazil would, as a result, ‘have worse problems’ than the US endured on January 6.
Today, the same presidents and prime ministers who chose – out of their self-serving ‘national interest’ – to look the other way while Bolsonaro assaulted democratic norms and institutions, are rushing to defend those same democratic norms and institutions threatened by the former president and his rabid allies. They must end the hypocrisy going forward.