The Brazilian president wanted a popular uprising against the supreme court, but the underwhelming response was telling
There is something pathetic about a leader who cannot recognise his limitations. For months, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has insisted that he could bend democracy in Latin America’s largest nation to his will if he so desired. Brazil’s independence day, 7 September, was supposed to be a watershed moment, as the president mobilised his supporters to take to the streets. Instead, it revealed the distance between Bolsonaro’s perception of the popular support that he enjoys and reality. Sinking in the polls and with mounting obstacles in the way of broadening his political alliances, the president bet that he could compel enough of a grassroots backing to intimidate the political establishment, and the supreme court in particular. Unsurprisingly, to quote Gabriel García Márquez’s novel The General in His Labyrinth, the president “could not renounce his infinite capacity for illusion at the very moment he needed it most”.
Bolsonaro backers and dispassionate analysts alike predicted a massive public outpouring of support for the president’s ongoing efforts to undermine democratic processes. It was thought that 7 September might even culminate in a takeover of the supreme court building akin to the raucous invasion of the US Capitol building on 6 January. Days before independence day, Bolsonaro called the planned demonstration an “ultimatum” for supreme court judges, and declared ominously that “if you want peace, prepare for war”. He even hinted at a constitutional “rupture that neither I nor the people want”.