The retiring United States Senator Ben Sasse recently warned that partisan zealotry could further undermine American democracy. The real divide is not really partisan or ideological, he wrote, but between civic pluralists and political zealots.
In his haunting essay, Sasse explains the contrast:
Civic pluralists understand that ideas move the world more than power does… Political zealots reject this, holding that society starts and ends with power.
In a tragic repetition of the violent insurrection that followed U.S. President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, a menacing mob of supporters of Jair Bolsonaro yesterday stormed Brazil’s Congress, Executive buildings, and Supreme Court.
As the Financial Times reports:
No political leader of any import has endorsed the mob’s actions or demands. Even Bolsonaro, who has previously fed his far-right supporters’ delusions with attacks on the integrity of Brazil’s electoral system, said on Twitter that the “depredations and invasions of public buildings . . . had crossed the line”.
It’s a promising sign that Brazil’s elected officials are not endorsing this attempted overthrow of democracy, but that does not absolve extremist politicians who radicalized supporters with lies about the democratic process.
Bolsonaro aggressively and relentlessly pushed election lies, long before the election itself.
He also allowed a campaign of disinformation and radicalization spread in his name, questioning the results of the election he had lost.
This attack was not the first riot by Bolsonaro’s radicalized supporters, and a coup attempt was reportedly thwarted in December.
What the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021, and January 8, 2023, want everyone to ignore is the obvious:
Freedom and zealotry are mutually exclusive; no one using violence to disrupt or overturn democratic processes is a defender of freedom.
Zealots who seize power through menace and violence rarely relinquish it peacefully. Instead, their tendency is to try to extend their perceived total victory as far as possible, using tyrannical violence to extinguish dissent and exterminate critics.
Power-mad zealots and their radicalized followers fundamentally misunderstand the nature of political strength. Their intolerance, greed, and rulebreaking make them vulnerable to manipulation by corrupting forces and hostile powers. They weaken their countries by wanting power more than fairness, freedom, and justice.
The political space needs to be one where ideas can compete openly, so the best solutions can gain genuine support from people of diverse views and experiences across society. It is through constructive engagement and cooperative improvement of institutions that allied groups of citizens, stakeholders, and decision-makers can most effectively improve the conditions for human wellbeing and thriving.
Yesterday’s attack on Brazil’s democratic government is inexcusable. Everyone responsible for the violence must be held accountable to the law. We call on all political leaders, and their followers, to honor the implicit social contract, whereby all political factions and all agents of the state commit never to use violence to pursue political aims.