Good luck getting either party to pass the legislation you want, Claire. It’ll gore both sides’ oxen. Actually, I’d like to think that for the most part, it is good news that even in a country as divided and unstable, with as much political rioting, as Brazil, Bannon and Co. couldn’t accomplish much more than they did here. If Lula can focus on the perpetrators, and not try to parlay the Brasilia mess into an indictment of all his opposition like the Democrats have done here, he’ll prove himself a statesman, and not just the grifting labor organizer of his past.

Expand full comment
Jan 15, 2023·edited Jan 15, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

Wow - there's a lot to understand here! Not to pile on, but this piece does feel to me like it might be better as two essays.

Firstly there's a nice piece of reportage drawing together the evidence to show that a) US right wingers are closely connected to anti-democratic and illiberal forces in Brazil, and b) they were actively encouraging a coup against the elected government of Brazil. That was an eye-opener for me, but on reflection I guess it should go in the "shocked but not surprised" basket - some of the same people are active Orban supporters, and there is after all a long tradition of the US interfering in the politics of Central and South American countries. It is a very important connection to highlight, especially given how active these people are both in US domestic politics and in other right wing projects worldwide, and I am grateful for the detailed information and analysis.

The second part is the polemical argument about how much of a problem this is and whether something should be done about it. I find this more problematic, which is why I'd probably prefer to see it separated out from the informational piece. I'm not a free speech absolutist, but I am very dubious about government interference in the speech of citizens, however vile, distorted and dangerous that speech is, and I am always concerned about making or reinterpreting laws in reaction to someone doing something that we don't like.

Popper's point is well made, and there are precedents from "last time around" - the British government lost little time in incarcerating Mosely and his odious wife during WW2, to forestall any potentially undermining of the government or collaboration with the enemy. It is shockingly illiberal behaviour however, and it creates dangerous precedent. The MAGA numpties in the US House of Reps are handily showing where that leads, as they create parody versions of the Jan 6th investigation. I think a government has to enforce the rule of law, and be seen to do so, so things like the Jan 6th committee were probably worthwhile, but there is danger in creating new laws or new precedents to punish behaviour we don't like.

I completely get the frustration that these idiots are doing very dangerous things - things that in this case could get people killed and even destabilise a major country - without any personal consequence, but I think we have to resist the temptation to become needlessly illiberal in response. I think one of triumphs of the current US administration has been the ordered and (relatively) quiet way the investigation, charging and trying of the Jan 6th rioters has proceeded - not making them out to be either more or less than they were, and letting the wheels of justice grind without excessive political comment or interference. The temptation to persecute them must have been strong, but it was resisted.

On the Carlson thing, I think I've commented here before that to me he just looks like someone who is fighting for "his group", like so many of these people. He's a right wing partisan, and the line demarcating "acceptable" partisan behaviour long since moved beyond anything I would find reasonable. Whether he's where he is through philosophical commitment, or through getting caught in something he didn't understand until he couldn't escape, or is just doing it for the money and fame, I don't know - and it's immaterial. Mark him down as foolish but dangerous and don't give his motivation any thought. People have spent far too much effort and debating space arguing about Trump's motivations, and ultimately it doesn't matter - we know how he operates and the kind of things he will do, and the same applies to Carlson. We know enough to oppose them.

Expand full comment
Jan 14, 2023·edited Jan 14, 2023

Journalist Glenn Greenwald has lived in Brazil for a couple of decades. His husband is an elected member of the Brazilian legislature.

A few days ago Glenn published a long article on his substack concerning this event and the history leading up to it. His perspective is less alarming. He points out differences and similarities between events there and the events in the US. Recommended reading.

I agree with WigWag's sentiment that when governments begin punishing people for what they believe or say about an election, it moves us closer to authoritarianism, not farther away from it.

Expand full comment

Claire, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve offered your readers a post or a rant. After reading it once and then perusing it again, I’d have to say it’s a rant. There is so much wrong here that is hard to know where to begin.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that, at least in the United States, you can’t criminalize lying about elections. The critical element of any crime is mens rea; which simply means that the intention or knowledge of wrong-doing is a critical element. It doesn’t matter whether you or the Government thinks a person is lying about an election; what matters is what the perpetrator believes. As deluded as they may be, there’s no question that the enraged citizens on January 6th and January 8th genuinely believed the elections were stolen. You can prosecute them for their actions; you could never prosecute them for lying about a stolen election. Your suggestion that you should reeks of Stalinism.

But this mistake of yours is trivial compared to the failure of your analysis. It doesn’t matter a bit whether the mobs of angry citizens, (most of whom have never broken a law more serious than jaywalking or failing to curb their dog) actually believe that the election was stolen.

What matters is that they don’t care whether the election was stolen. They’ve concluded that the winner, even if the election was legitimate, is so unacceptable that they refuse to live under his leadership without a fight.

What we are witnessing in the United States, Brazil, Peru, Germany (remember the failed coup) and to a lesser degree the United Kingdom with Brexit is a major disillusionment with liberal democracy. It’s not hard to understand why; liberal democracy is under strain almost everywhere.

A critical element here is the fact that these nations have become so bifurcated that the number of votes separating victors from losers is very small. In Brazil, the difference in votes between Lula and the previous President was tiny. Given Lula’s criminal background, his history of corruption and the radical policy he espouses, it should be no surprise that millions of Brazilians find his election unacceptable whether he got more votes or not.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the United States when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a small margin of electoral college votes. Democrats didn’t storm the Capitol but Clinton and her Democratic defenders claimed that Trump’s victory was illegitimate. Rather than mob action (too uncouth for that pampered crowd) they used more surreptitious means to destroy his Presidency. They ginned up a Russian collusion narrative (which has now been almost totally discredited) and used it to impeach him. These Democrats did exactly what the enraged Brazilian mob did; they just did it differently.

When Biden defeated Trump by a very small electoral vote margin, his voters were infuriated and they were surely egged on by Trump’s claims of a stolen election. That claim was wrong but we don’t know if Trump was lying or actually believed what he said.

But just like the Democrats who could never accept that Trump won fair and square but really didn’t care whether he did or not, and just like the Brazilians who misbehaved last week, the folks who stormed the American Capitol really didn’t care about the legitimacy of the election. They simply found Joe Biden as someone they couldn’t stomach as President whether he got more votes than Trump or not.

The problem that you fail to understand is that it’s not about the candidates and what they say. The problem is that comity and tolerance has broken down and tribalism has increased as liberal democracy fails to deliver the goods in a manner that citizens find acceptable.

These issues that have you so animated are merely symptoms of what ails liberal democracy; they’re not the cause. Threatening jail for people you accuse of lying won’t accomplish anything. Put that system in place and it’s only a matter of time until it’s you who are accused of lying.

Why is liberal democracy failing almost everywhere? It’s fashionable to blame social media and there may be some truth in that. My view is that big and important decisions that matter to people that were once made at a local level are increasingly being centralized so far from home that individual citizens no longer feel enfranchised.

Globalism is also to blame. While globalism may have engendered unprecedented economic growth, it has also inspires greater inequality that leaves many citizens feeling left behind. It’s no wonder that these citizens feel alienated from central authorities that they can’t control.

My prediction is that things are about to get worse; probably much worse. There will be winners though. Sadly, China is likely to be the biggest winner of all.

Expand full comment