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There’s more. Even before Bolsonaro was caught plotting a real coup, which led to him losing his passport, the Superior Electoral Court — charged with overseeing election law — convicted the former president last year for falsely alleging that Brazil’s electronic voting system was rigged.

The United States lacks such a court because elections are a collection of efforts managed by the states. The Supreme Court weighs in only when voting rules and electoral laws run afoul of federal statute or the Constitution. That burdens its decisions with the weight of constitutional precedent. And it can get entangled with conundrums such as “maybe he did incite an insurrection and maybe that should bar him from office, but what would happen if we let Colorado do that?”

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Brazil’s most critical difference with the United States is not about its political institutions, though. It was able to move on from its attempted insurrection and reestablish a more sedate political equilibrium largely because it lacked America’s Republican Party.

Picking through the evidence of those volcanic months following Election Day in 2020, Princeton political scientist Frances Lee found much to commend in America’s checks and balances. Despite the chaos that Trump wrought after he lost, the system stood up rather well for a while — and was bolstered by Republicans’ sense of political self-preservation.

No matter what Rudy Giuliani and the lawyer with the Kraken threw at them, state courts rejected the miscellaneous allegations of electoral malfeasance from Trump’s camp. GOP state legislatures and attorneys general resisted invitations to find extra votes; none refused to certify the election. GOP leaders unambiguously affirmed the legitimacy of Biden’s election. When it mattered, Vice President Mike Pence behaved.

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After Trump was impeached by the House, Republicans in the Senate did vote against conviction. But “that was a miscalculation,” Lee told me. “Republicans thought he was no longer a threat.” But when his poll numbers recovered, Republicans clung to their instinct for political survival and caved, offering him the unswerving loyalty of half of America’s two-party system.

All but 9 GOP representatives and all but one GOP senator (Susan Collins of Maine) elected to the 117th Congress in 2020 came from districts carried by Trump. As Lee wrote: “Members needed to maintain the trust and support of constituents who lacked confidence in the outcome of the 2020 elections and who, given the opportunity, might want to elect Trump to the presidency a second time.”

Brazil’s political ecosystem would never have fallen into line like this simply because it doesn’t have this sort of cohesion. Brazil has 28 parties in Congress, some defined by ideology, others by region. Members have been known to jump from one to the other. Cross-party alliances are made all the time. Pretty much everyone is out to make a deal.

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Bolsonaro didn’t have the kind of sway over his voting base needed to scare this bag of cats into line. “Bolsonaro’s hold on his base was much weaker and more diffuse than Trump’s hold on his base,” Monica de Bolle from the Peterson Institute for International Economics told me. “Because the Brazilian political system is more fragmented.”

I’m going to throw out the wild guess that many Republicans would love to get out of MAGA’s grip. The political conversation would likely be more productive if they felt protected from the former president’s wrath, and were free to make a deal. Indeed, Trump might not enjoy the allegiance of roughly half of American voters if they could choose among a bunch of parties representing, say, the West, libertarians, agriculture, the South and whatnot.

Still, it’s probably over the top to think the United States should, or could, try to embrace Brazil’s transactional, free-for-all politics. To preserve American democracy, there is no choice but for the Republican political class to recover its guts. The partisans who run the United States’ decentralized, politicized state and federal institutions must find it in their interest — or perhaps their sense of duty — to hold the line and refuse to give away the day to authoritarianism.

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Brazil had its January 6th on January 8th.

In 2023, just two years after thugs descended on the U.S. Capitol, Brazilian insurrectionists swarmed Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court in Brasília to overturn an election won by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party. Like President Donald Trump in 2021, Brazil’s populist authoritarian, Jair Bolsonaro, claimed he had been robbed.

The parallels between two deeply divided societies ran deep. Both were shaken by the disillusion of millions of voters who felt disenfranchised by a liberal order run by a cosmopolitan, often corrupt urban elite. Brazil looked even more polarized than the United States. Trump earned 46.9 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election. Bolsonaro got 49.1 percent in 2022.

Just a year after the pro-Bolsonaro crowd mobbed the “Praça dos Três Poderes,” however, the aftermath of the parallel assaults on democracy couldn’t look more different.

Trump has established a seemingly unbreakable bond with roughly half of the U.S. electorate. He is the hands-down favorite to be the Republican nominee in a rematch against Joe Biden in November. Bolsonaro, by contrast, can’t even run for office. His passport was seized this month and is lucky not to be in jail.

For those worried about the United States careening again toward political catastrophe, the question worth asking is how did Brazil dodge the bullet? Does Brazil’s experience offer any lessons that might help protect American democracy from a candidate willing to do whatever it takes to restore his grip on power? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not.

For starters, in Brazil, the Supreme Court leans left. Most of the judges were appointed during the administrations of Lula (who was also president from 2003 to 2011), and his successor from the Workers’ Party, Dilma Rousseff.

Brazil also has institutional tools the United States lacks to preserve the electoral process. For starters, the United States lacks Brazil’s law preventing anyone convicted of a major crime from running for office for eight years. Under U.S. law, Trump could run for president from prison.

There’s more. Even before Bolsonaro was caught plotting a real coup, which led to him losing his passport, the Superior Electoral Court — charged with overseeing election law — convicted the former president last year for falsely alleging that Brazil’s electronic voting system was rigged.

The United States lacks such a court because elections are a collection of efforts managed by the states. The Supreme Court weighs in only when voting rules and electoral laws run afoul of federal statute or the Constitution. That burdens its decisions with the weight of constitutional precedent. And it can get entangled with conundrums such as “maybe he did incite an insurrection and maybe that should bar him from office, but what would happen if we let Colorado do that?”

Brazil’s most critical difference with the United States is not about its political institutions, though. It was able to move on from its attempted insurrection and reestablish a more sedate political equilibrium largely because it lacked America’s Republican Party.

Picking through the evidence of those volcanic months following Election Day in 2020, Princeton political scientist Frances Lee found much to commend in America’s checks and balances. Despite the chaos that Trump wrought after he lost, the system stood up rather well for a while — and was bolstered by Republicans’ sense of political self-preservation.

No matter what Rudy Giuliani and the lawyer with the Kraken threw at them, state courts rejected the miscellaneous allegations of electoral malfeasance from Trump’s camp. GOP state legislatures and attorneys general resisted invitations to find extra votes; none refused to certify the election. GOP leaders unambiguously affirmed the legitimacy of Biden’s election. When it mattered, Vice President Mike Pence behaved.

After Trump was impeached by the House, Republicans in the Senate did vote against conviction. But “that was a miscalculation,” Lee told me. “Republicans thought he was no longer a threat.” But when his poll numbers recovered, Republicans clung to their instinct for political survival and caved, offering him the unswerving loyalty of half of America’s two-party system.

All but 9 GOP representatives and all but one GOP senator (Susan Collins of Maine) elected to the 117th Congress in 2020 came from districts carried by Trump. As Lee wrote: “Members needed to maintain the trust and support of constituents who lacked confidence in the outcome of the 2020 elections and who, given the opportunity, might want to elect Trump to the presidency a second time.”

Brazil’s political ecosystem would never have fallen into line like this simply because it doesn’t have this sort of cohesion. Brazil has 28 parties in Congress, some defined by ideology, others by region. Members have been known to jump from one to the other. Cross-party alliances are made all the time. Pretty much everyone is out to make a deal.

Bolsonaro didn’t have the kind of sway over his voting base needed to scare this bag of cats into line. “Bolsonaro’s hold on his base was much weaker and more diffuse than Trump’s hold on his base,” Monica de Bolle from the Peterson Institute for International Economics told me. “Because the Brazilian political system is more fragmented.”

I’m going to throw out the wild guess that many Republicans would love to get out of MAGA’s grip. The political conversation would likely be more productive if they felt protected from the former president’s wrath, and were free to make a deal. Indeed, Trump might not enjoy the allegiance of roughly half of American voters if they could choose among a bunch of parties representing, say, the West, libertarians, agriculture, the South and whatnot.

Still, it’s probably over the top to think the United States should, or could, try to embrace Brazil’s transactional, free-for-all politics. To preserve American democracy, there is no choice but for the Republican political class to recover its guts. The partisans who run the United States’ decentralized, politicized state and federal institutions must find it in their interest — or perhaps their sense of duty — to hold the line and refuse to give away the day to authoritarianism.

QOSHE - Brazil sidelined Bolsonaro. What can America do about Trump? - Eduardo Porter
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Brazil sidelined Bolsonaro. What can America do about Trump?

25 1
19.02.2024

Follow this authorEduardo Porter's opinions

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There’s more. Even before Bolsonaro was caught plotting a real coup, which led to him losing his passport, the Superior Electoral Court — charged with overseeing election law — convicted the former president last year for falsely alleging that Brazil’s electronic voting system was rigged.

The United States lacks such a court because elections are a collection of efforts managed by the states. The Supreme Court weighs in only when voting rules and electoral laws run afoul of federal statute or the Constitution. That burdens its decisions with the weight of constitutional precedent. And it can get entangled with conundrums such as “maybe he did incite an insurrection and maybe that should bar him from office, but what would happen if we let Colorado do that?”

Advertisement

Brazil’s most critical difference with the United States is not about its political institutions, though. It was able to move on from its attempted insurrection and reestablish a more sedate political equilibrium largely because it lacked America’s Republican Party.

Picking through the evidence of those volcanic months following Election Day in 2020, Princeton political scientist Frances Lee found much to commend in America’s checks and balances. Despite the chaos that Trump wrought after he lost, the system stood up rather well for a while — and was bolstered by Republicans’ sense of political self-preservation.

No matter what Rudy Giuliani and the lawyer with the Kraken threw at them, state courts rejected the miscellaneous allegations of electoral malfeasance from Trump’s camp. GOP state legislatures and attorneys general resisted invitations to find extra votes; none refused to certify the election. GOP leaders unambiguously affirmed the legitimacy of Biden’s election. When it mattered, Vice President Mike Pence behaved.

Advertisement

After Trump was impeached by the House, Republicans in the Senate did vote against conviction. But “that was a miscalculation,” Lee told me. “Republicans thought he was no longer a threat.” But when his poll numbers recovered, Republicans clung to their instinct for political survival and caved, offering him the unswerving loyalty of half of America’s two-party system.

All but 9 GOP representatives and all but one GOP senator (Susan Collins of Maine) elected to the 117th Congress in 2020 came from districts carried by Trump. As Lee wrote: “Members needed to maintain the trust and support of constituents who lacked confidence in the outcome of the 2020 elections and who, given the opportunity, might want to elect Trump to the presidency a second time.”

Brazil’s political ecosystem would never have fallen into line like this simply because it doesn’t have........

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