A government made of heroes and myths

. Jun 12, 2019
moro superhero bolsonaro car wash operation

Brazilian politics has been recently marked by three inseparable phenomena: (a) the fight against corruption, (b) the rise of a new right-wing—whose fragmentation is only matched by its authoritarian leanings—and (c) anti-establishment mobilization. Though Jair Bolsonaro emerged as president in this new zeitgeist, it’s former Federal Judge Sergio Moro (the current Justice Minister) who most perfectly embodies these three elements.

His role as leader of the earth-shattering anti-corruption Operation Car Wash—the biggest of its kind—has placed Mr. Moro in the pantheon of Brazil’s contemporary heroes. And I mean that literally.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2015, far-right-wing activist and current Congresswoman Carla Zambelli made inflatable &#8216;Super Moros&#8217; for sale. Then, in 2016—months before the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">crushing electoral defeat</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> the Workers&#8217; Party would suffer in the municipal elections ballots, a giant effigy of Mr. Moro as Superman was ordered by a lawyer from Lucas do Rio Verde, a municipality in Mato Grosso —the heart of Brazil&#8217;s soybean country. During the 2017 Carnival, Super Moro costumes were being sold in Rio. The most recent appearance of the giant &#8220;Super Moro&#8221; was on May 26, when pro-Bolsonaro protesters took it to the streets, with the caption: &#8220;Moro, a Brazilian hero.&#8221;</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This mystifying—and somewhat puerile—crowning of Mr. Moro has also occurred, to a certain extent, with Jair Bolsonaro, who is called &#8220;the legend&#8221; by his supporters. The new right-wing militants seem eager to compare their leaders to heroes and myths, as if they had superpowers allowing them to solve problems no one seems capable of. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This allegory was used by Paulo Batista, an obscure candidate for Congress in 2014. He appeared flying as Superman in his campaign ads, firing lasers from his eyes which were capable of privatizing Brazil&#8217;s state-owned companies and destroying communists. If you don&#8217;t believe me, you can see for yourself, in the video below.</span></p> <p><span class="embed-youtube" style="text-align:center; display: block;"><iframe class='youtube-player' width='1200' height='675' src=';rel=1&#038;fs=1&#038;autohide=2&#038;showsearch=0&#038;showinfo=1&#038;iv_load_policy=1&#038;wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'></iframe></span></p> <h2>A folk hero</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Having a superhero in politics seems comical. But now Brazil has placed one (at least to the eyes of their supporters) in the presidential palace, and another in the Justice Ministry.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Superheroes, as movies and comics fans know, are not only characterized by their amazing powers—but also by their unorthodox ways of handling their problems. When they are fighting evil, they are not bound to the same rules us mere mortals. Their superhero condition allows them to resort to means that wouldn&#8217;t be legitimate for others. Perhaps, they are &#8220;super&#8221; precisely because of—and not despite—their exceptional means. </span></p> <div id="attachment_16558" style="width: 760px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16558" class="size-full wp-image-16558" src="" alt="A rock and a hard place: Bolsonaro to choose between Moro and Congress in Coaf row" width="750" height="423" srcset=" 750w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 750px) 100vw, 750px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16558" class="wp-caption-text">President Bolsonaro and Justice Minister Sergio Moro (R)</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That&#8217;s why citizens fed up with crimes tolerate their transgressions and go after those who dare speak ill of their heroes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Moro&#8217;s superhero conversion is not accidental. It was Operation Car Wash&#8217;s unmerciful crackdown on corrupt politicians that pushed him to the pedestal. His journey comes during a perfect storm: economic hardships, mounting corruption scandals, and rising levels of dissatisfaction from citizens with the left-leaning government of the time. That cauldron created the automatic association between the left (and the Workers&#8217; Party) to corruption—and between the corruption fighter with anti-leftism. That association got stronger as Mr. Moro kickstarted the process that put former President Lula in jail.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But why was Jair Bolsonaro turned into a myth? He was never an anti-corruption crusader (like Mr. Moro), he never created any notable public policy (like Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the Brazilian Real), and wasn&#8217;t a charismatic and popular leader (like Lula). Mr. Bolsonaro rather incarnates denial—he is the ultra-right man who </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">denies</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> the Workers&#8217; Party; the bigot who </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">denies</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> identity politics and political correctness; the authoritarian who </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">denies</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> democracy; the defender of torture who </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">denies</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> human rights.</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>Will the Moro-Bolsonaro marriage resist?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If Mr. Moro&#8217;s judicial career paved the way for Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s election, the former&#8217;s decision to join the presidential cabinet bonded them in a union that highlights their similarities and differences. Mr. Bolsonaro is ignorant, crass, and full of bravado. Mr. Moro is circumspect, well-educated, and serene. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Both, however, represent a denial of democratic politics. They see political negotiations, bargains, and accommodations as pernicious vices. They would rather act through individual decisions with popular support. They both believed that, as folk heroes, they would be able to impose their own agenda on Congress. But the dynamic of traditional politics proved enduring.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Moro and Mr. Bolsonaro fed their auras thanks to the scandals striking their opponents. Now, they are the ones in the eye of the hurricane. The president battles the links of his eldest son with organized crime. Meanwhile, the Justice Minister (who has always turned a blind eye to his boss&#8217; scandals) colluded with prosecutors to the detriment of his defendants.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But Mr. Moro&#8217;s violations are apparently not enough for him to lose support—especially among hard-core bolsonarists. But, then again, it would be too much for me to ask for a belief in judicial impartiality from people who defend the use of torture.</span></p> <p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> says we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. More revelations are to come. So far, however, one thing seems sure—Mr. Moro&#8217;s path to the Supreme Court bench has gotten much harder. The president has promised him a seat next year, but it is hard to see the Senate (where many members loath Operation Car Wash) confirming his name after the scandal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Which doesn&#8217;t mean Mr. Moro can&#8217;t vie for the presidency in 2022. Voters&#8217; interests are not necessarily aligned with Congress&#8217;. In a country were many defend the theory that &#8220;a good criminal is a dead criminal,&#8221; Mr. Moro could be able to keep his hero status. Especially if Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s administration fails to deliver good results. By what we&#8217;ve seen so far, it doesn&#8217;t seem like a far-fetched notion.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The biggest question is whether or not Mr. Moro and Mr. Bolsonaro will remain in the same boat until there. If they do, the union that has been good for both could become toxic and damaging. Perhaps, they will come to the conclusion that a separation could be a more strategic option.

Claudio Couto

Political scientist, head of Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Master’s program in Public Policy and Administration.

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