Brazil’s media, legal, judicial and corporate factions have spent the last three years righteously insisting that systemic political corruption is the nation’s gravest problem. They were so terribly upset about corruption that, in 2016, they united, with almost no dissent permitted, in support of the most drastic step a democracy can take: removal of the elected President, Dilma Rousseff, before her term expired.
That indignation over corruption and criminality was their pretext for impeachment, not the actual motive, was painfully obvious from the start. By removing Dilma, they knowingly empowered actual criminals and gangsters, people whose thieving and mobster behavior make Dilma’s budgetary tricks look like jaywalking. In the pantheon of organized criminality that rules post-impeachment Brasília, “pedaladas” – the pedestrian budgetary maneuver used to justify Dilma’s removal – sounds so quaint that it’s hard to believe Globo stars and pro-impeachment centrist functionaries kept a straight face when pretending that it infuriated them.
The career sleaze they installed as President, Michel Temer, then got caught on tape ordering the payment of bribes to silence the literal gangster, Eduardo Cunha (pictured, together, below), Temer’s party comrade who, as House Speaker, lead the impeachment proceeding against Dilma and is now in prison. The same Congress that removed the elected President with flamboyant speeches about their disgust for corruption, has spent the last two years receiving legalized bribes from Temer to protect him from prosecution for his bribery and other crimes, and – bribery tapes and all – keep him ensconced in the presidential palace.
The fraud of all this is too enormous to express with words, but no words are needed because of how self-evident it is.
But now, with their behavior in the 2018 election, whatever credible remnants remained of the ethical masks worn by these media stars and the oligarchical families that own them has completely eroded. What the Brazilian media is now doing is so extremely corrupt and so transparently deceitful that – no matter how low your standards are for judging them – no words suffice to express the revulsion that it merits.
In the 2018 presidential race, Brazil’s oligarchic press is openly united behind São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin (pictured, below), the ultimate establishment figure from the conservative PSDB party. He can be accurately described to an American audience as a somewhat more conservative, cautious version of Hillary Clinton: he’s been around politics for decades, funded by and serving corporate interests, inoffensively occupying every conceivable office, comfortably resting in and feeding off of the sleaze and neoliberal corruption that greases the wheels of Brazil’s political class.
He’s the ultimate guardian of the status quo and the prevailing order. A candidate so uniquely uncharasmatic on all levels that he’s most often compared to a cucumber – to the point where Cucumber is his effective nickname – his last bid for the presidency in 2006 resulted in a 21-point crushing defeat at the hands of Lula. He’s basically Jeb Bush, but less bold, less exciting and with less popular support.
For good reason, Alckmin’s primary political tactic is hiding. He doesn’t hold rallies, because nobody, other than those suffering from insomnia, would want to attend. His quest for power is dependent exclusively on sketchy backroom deals between power-brokers carried out in the dark, accompanied by massive amounts of money from the oligarchical interests he serves – exactly the legalized corruption that has destroyed Brazilian politics (and, for that matter, American politics), and that the country’s media pretends to find so objectionable.
For all of 2018, despite the unconcealed love which Brazil’s dominant media outlets harbor for him, polls have showed Alckmin lingering pitifully at 6-7%. Just as is true in the U.S., the UK and throughout Western Europe, huge numbers of voters are so contemptuous of the establishment class that they will refuse to vote for anyone supported by or associated with them.
With the actual presidential poll leader, former President Lula da Silva, imprisoned and almost certain to be barred from running, the three candidates consistently at the top of the 2018 polls are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as outsiders: the genuinely fascist Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who craves a return of military rule and all year long has maintained a large lead in all Lula-excluding polls; Marina Silva, a soft-spoken, black, evangelical, socially conservative environmentalist from the Amazon region; and Ciro Gomes, an extremely shrewd left-wing career politician who is nonetheless without allies or coalitions (thanks to a hopelessly fractured left) and has always been and still is perceived as a rebellious disrupter.
Brazil’s establishment – led, as always, by the huge media outlets controlled by a tiny group of billionaire families – has spent all of 2018 panicking because, no matter how hard they try to resuscitate it, the decayed corpse of Geraldo Alckmin has remained lifeless.
Establishment panic last week manifested in one last-ditch effort to save Alckmin. The Cucumber unveiled a broad new coalition with numerous other parties, composing what the media is calling the “centrist” bloc: by which they mean nothing other than “not Lula and not Bolsonaro.” On Saturday, he announced his Vice Presidential running mate: Ana Amélia of the far-right “Progressive Party” (pictured, together, above).
To put it mildly, there is nothing “centrist” about any of this. Amélia’s party, which would be swept into power by an Alckmin win, was Bolsonaro’s political home until 2015. Its origins go back to support for the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled the country for 21 years, until 1985, as a result of a U.S.-supported coup in 1964 that forcibly removed the country’s elected left-wing government.
Back then, Amélia was a journalist who wrote in support of the dictatorship, and was married to a Senator who served under, and was chosen by, the military rulers. Her current political views would fall comfortably on the far right end of the political spectrum even in the new politics of the U.S. and Europe.
Just several weeks ago, after the Workers Party (PT) President gave an interview to Al Jazeera denouncing Lula’s imprisonment, Amélia went to the Senate floor and – in an almost perfectly balanced mix of hateful xenophobia and ignorance – confused and conflated “Al Jazeera” with “Al Qaeda,” and thus accused the PT President of speaking to terrorists and inciting the “Islamic Army” against Brazil.
As bad as all that is, ideological extremism is the least revealing part of this charade. This massive coalition of parties now aligned behind Alckmin is designed to ensure that he controls the bulk of money and television time that Brazil’s short election cycle permits: basically to shove Alckmin down the throats of voters with so much force, so much money, propaganda, and establishment power, that Brazilians end up ingesting him by involuntary reflex, the way one tricks a dog into swallowing a bitter-tasting pill by manipulating its throat muscles.
But here’s the most stunning fact, the one that forever reveals the Brazilian media for what it really is. The party with which Alckmin has chosen to most closely align, Ana Amélia’s PP, is the one most implicated by the four-year-old corruption probe sweeping the country. Of the 56 elected federal lawmakers affiliated with this party, 31 of them – more than half! – have criminal corruption charges currently pending against them.
And Amélia herself is no beacon of ethical leadership: after devoting her journalism to defending the dictatorship, she got her political start when she was hired for a full-time, no-show job by her pro-dictatorship Senator-husband, at the same time that she worked full-time as a “journalist” churning out pro-dictatorship agitprop. And Alckmin himself, just by the way, stands accused of having received millions of dollars in illegal, unreported funds from oligarchs to fund his prior campaigns.
So this is the organized crime ring that is poised to return to political power, carried on the backs of the media groups and self-styled serious Globo News TV political experts who have spent the last several years prancing around like ethics-demanding peacocks, delivering righteous speeches about the evils of corruption and the supreme urgency of stopping it.
So we are now about to witness the revolting spectacle of the very same Globo stars and centrist political columnists who demanded the removal of an elected President due to trivial budgetary tricks, march in unison to empower two of the most corrupt political parties in Latin America, one of which literally holds the record for Most Officials Indicted by the Lava Jato Corruption Probe.
The vital point that U.S., British and western European elites – still traumatized by and incapable of explaining Trump, Brexit and the rise of über-nationalistic parties – have spent two years desperately evading is now also more vivid than ever in Brazil. Authoritarianism does not sprout up randomly. Demagogues cannot thrive when political institutions are healthy, just and equitable.
Threats to liberal democracy and the erosion of political liberties are possible only when the population loses faith, trust and confidence in institutions of authority. That is when societies become vulnerable to appeals by those who threaten – or who promise – to burn it all down. That is when media outlets and experts lose their ability to warn the public of lies and dangers: because the public, for good reason, sees those institutions and those experts not as guardians against dangers, deceit and suffering but as prime perpetrators of them.
When the population sees those authorities as the author of their suffering, then denunciations of Trump, Brexit, Marine LePen and Bolsonaro are not just ineffective but counter-productive. The more someone is hated by the once-elevated-but-now-despised precincts of elite authority, the more attractive their targets of scorn become.
The elite factions in the U.S, the U.K. and democracies throughout Europe have been learning this lesson the hard way. And now, so, too, are Brazilian elites. Behavior like what we are now witnessing – coalescing behind a monumentally corrupt coalition, whose only purpose is to maintain and extend the old, corrupt order, after having spent years pretending that they wanted the opposite – is precisely why they have lost all credibility and authority to stop true threats to democracy.
If Brazilian media, financial and political elites want to understand why Brazilian democracy is rapidly unraveling, their time is not best spent staring at, dissecting and denouncing Bolsonaro. Far more useful in seeing the true causes of Brazil’s plight would be a very large mirror.
After they’re done using it, they can pass it to their North American and European elite counterparts, who, reflected in it, will also see the real sources of the anti-democratic, authoritarian trends they spend all their time impotently denouncing.