So the Brooks Brothers riot has arrived in Brasilia. That riot, a precursor to January 6, took place in Miami-Dade County in November 2000 and was led by Republican staffers intent on disrupting the recount of votes. On Sunday, with Jair Bolsonaro hunkered down in Florida, his followers thought it would be a neat idea to follow suit, trashing the presidential palace, the National Congress and Supreme Federal Court.
A motley crew of Americans helped stoke the madness. “The whole thing smells,” said one visitor to Steve Bannon’s podcast following the first round of voting in October. It was the very same farrago of lies that circulated after America’s presidential election took hold. There was the nonsense about a “stolen election.” Bannon himself alleged that “Lula stole the Election… Brazilians know this,” and referred to the insurrectionists as “freedom fighters.” Even Elon Musk got into the act. The BBC reports that he declared that Twitter’s Brazilian employees were “strongly politically biased,” whatever that means. (Are they not allowed to have opinions or views about the worth of supporting democracy?)
Yeesh! Things have come to a sorry pass when the likes of Bannon and Musk can help foment a political riot abroad whose purpose is to undermine a legitimately elected government. But America isn’t doing terribly well in that department either. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent highlights some of the insalubrious developments taking place in the House GOP, where Kevin McCarthy has essentially put his office in a blind trust controlled by the radical right. Its aim is to tar any investigations of Trump and his supporters as being conducted by a kind of star chamber. In a nifty inversion of reality, it is the January 6 coup plotters who are the true patriots.
The point of the investigations is not to prove that the FBI or Justice Department are engaged in a malign pursuit of the January 6 malcontents. No, siree. Instead, it is to wield the defiance of federal authorities to intrusive oversight as a political weapon. Sargent notes, “the GOP push to pry open these investigations could get tied up in litigation, and courts may not let it get far. But that might not matter: Provoking the department into strenuously resisting oversight might be the whole point.”
Brazil appears to be cracking down vigorously on the rioters, which is probably why Donald Trump has kept mum about it all. At least 300 have been arrested. The talk is stern. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva isn’t messing around. His justice minister Flavio Dino didn’t mince any words, calling the riots “terrorist attacks.” He added, “They will not succeed in destroying Brazilian democracy. We need to say that fully, with all firmness and conviction. We will not accept the path of criminality to carry out political fights in Brazil. A criminal is treated like a criminal.”
Law and order, in other words. This slogan, which Trump liked to tout, was only observed in the breach during his administration. Trump has left a lasting impress upon the political debate. His political innovation was, in effect, to legalize illegality in the capital of the free world. Once upon a time America exported democracy. Now it exports insurrections.