Donald Trump’s chances of winning in the courts are very slim, but he might be able to disrupt voting in the Electoral College until the very end. This strategy of judicial confusion inspires Bolsonaro supporters with an eye on 2022, strengthening the use of the argument that presidential authority was compromised by the institutions and should therefore be defended by an increasingly armed militancy.
On Monday, Dec. 14, the United States certifies the results of the Electoral College*, which, in actuality, chooses the president of the country. President Jair Bolsonaro, one of the few heads of state or government who has yet to recognize Joe Biden’s victory, normally would have set this date as a cutoff to congratulate the person who, barring a major upheaval, will lead the American people starting Jan. 20, 2021.
However, considering Donald Trump is still pushing for a victory in the courts, I won’t be surprised if his Brazilian “friend” recognizes Biden only after the official counting of votes in the capital, scheduled for Jan. 6. That’s because Bolsonaro needs to sustain narratives that keep his loyal followers aloof from reality and prepared to emulate Trump supporters in the 2022 elections here in Brazil.
Let’s see what’s going on in the U.S. According to a survey by the English magazine The Economist and the research institute YouGov, four out of five Trump voters believe the elections were unfair, while three out of four argue that the transition process shouldn’t have even started.
Trump’s chances of reversing the results that put him out of the White House were significantly reduced after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by 18 Republican-led states over alleged irregularities in the electoral process of four battleground states that Biden won (Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). The action was supported by 126 Republican members of Congress.
However, in the Jan. 6 count, to be held in a joint session of the U.S. Congress under the leadership of the Senate president (a position held by Republican Vice President Mike Pence), members of Congress may object to the result. For that, a senator and a representative would need to present a joint motion. This would require an interruption of the counting for two hours in each chamber of Congress (House and Senate) to debate the objection. Since the House remains under Democratic control, most of its members would certainly reject such an initiative.
That said, the fact is that there may be a potential delay in the official announcement of the final outcome if such objections are raised. Therefore, Trump and his supporters will come out partly victorious because they will have managed to further undermine the already fragile confidence of a significant part of the American electorate in the solid institutions of yore.
What do we have to do with it? In addition to the fact that Bolsonaro’s nonrecognition of Biden further undermines our pariah-mode foreign policy, which leaves us increasingly isolated in the world, the mess that Trump and his supporters make in the Electoral College serves as a recipe for Bolsonarism in 2022.
Imagine a scenario in which, after 2021, the year in which the pandemic is likely to claim even more lives and bring down our economy, we will have a tumultuous election with high abstention. If, as it seems, the supreme federal court confirms the right of states and municipalities to vaccinate the population in light of the federal government’s delay in the matter, Bolsonaro will have a speech in hand claiming that his authority has been compromised by the institutions, and therefore, must be defended by the people: That is, his followers, easily armed with the reduction of import taxes on war products.
The bed for a judicial and extrajudicial defense of the 2022 lawsuit will therefore be made. Imagine Bolsonaro supporters marching through the cities. Although few, they are like noisy birds, which, thanks to the irony of the brilliant Dias Gomes, became synonymous with spies 30 years ago in a soap opera that featured Tarcísio Meira as a former agent of the National Information Service of the military dictatorship.
On second thought, Bolsonaro supporters and Trump supporters are more like birds that, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic of the same name, apparently attack people without reason. Some interpret the film’s subtext as a warning from nature. The traditionalism that fascinates the followers of Bolsonaro, Trump and other right-wing populists around the world is the “human nature” that we have fought since the Enlightenment.
I put human nature in quotation marks due to the obvious lack of consensus (at least for those who are not adept at right-wing populism) about what that term means, although it is associated, in this consensus, with traditionalist values, which include the centrality of man in society and, under the perspective of right-wing populism, the white, Western civilization of Christian inspiration and, for some, of Jewish background as well.
The vultures hover over the half-dead body of democracy in its liberal and social versions and, in traditionalist words, the globalism that has supposedly eroded national values (if it had, we would not be living through this populist-nationalist wave). Before devouring the victim’s decaying flesh, they torture her to the limit; they devour her alive without her realizing it.
We are bleeding, but still alive. If the feasibility of an impeachment depends on who will succeed Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ) in the presidency of the chamber, in 2021 there remains the possibility of impeaching the Bolsonaro-Mourão ticket in the Superior Electoral Court for abuse of economic power. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has not found, for the time being, robust evidence to justify impeachment.
The tragedy of 2022 will be realized unless we follow the fate of the biblical character Lazarus and are rescued by some Messiah from the underworld — in this case, the death of civilization itself, which never bore great fruit in this land. The great irony is that, in politics, the only savior who has ever existed is ourselves, the people themselves who only eliminate the temptation of destructive populism if they are in communion with themselves and their institutions, although they are already rotten.
Vinícius Rodrigues Vieira holds a doctorate in International Relations from Oxford University and is a professor at the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation and a graduate professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation
This is a collective blog that aims to contribute from different perspectives (from communication to psychoanalysis to political science to sociology to law to economics) to explain the phenomenon of new politics. The title “Understanding Bolsonaro” is a reference but does not restrict the analytical scope. Each week researchers will be invited to share their reflections. Our commitment is to academic content translated to the general public, in a laid-back tone that favors the debate of ideas. We invite you to join us and interact with us.
*Editor’s Note: On Dec. 14, the Electoral College confirmed the election of Joe Biden as president-elect, with an electoral vote total of 306-232.