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The cannibal vs. the Satanist: Toxic politics is poisoning



RIO DE JANEIRO — Inside his church in Brazil’s Paraná state, the Rev. Edison Menezes had just delivered a homily denouncing gun ownership when the parishioner interrupted Mass. Taking his words as a slight against pro-gun President Jair Bolsonaro, she accused the priest of backing the left-wing challenger in Sunday’s election.

“Is God … in favor of abortion, father? Is he in favor of queer theory?” she demanded, according to a video that has been verified by the church. “You are asking us to vote for Lula!”

Menezes, speaking from the altar of the Our Lady of Light Church, denied campaigning for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But the outburst this month neatly captured the unholy state of politics in Brazil, where the most toxic election in modern history has deepened polarization in Latin America’s largest nation.

From the Amazon jungle to the megacities of the southeast, Brazil’s political division is upending churches, making targets of pollsters and igniting feuds between strangers, friends, family, even branches of government, all while pitting region against region and opening fresh rifts over sexuality, religion and race.

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In a time of crisis for modern democracy, the outcome here will serve as a gauge of global political winds ahead of the midterm elections in the United States after victories for the extreme right in Italy and Sweden. A Bolsonaro win could entrench an illiberal government in Brazil akin to those of Hungary and Poland. A Lula victory will be seen as an echo of the 2020 race in the United States, where an old lion of the left — Joe Biden — also felled an icon of a transformed right: Donald Trump. Should Lula win, Bolsonaro could follow the example of Trump, his political lodestar, and resist going gently from the presidential palace.

More than anything, however, the Brazilian contest is a sign of a new normal in democratic elections, where debates over budgets and spending have been replaced by bitter culture wars, assaults on electoral systems and skepticism about democracy itself.

Bolsonaro’s hometown is as divided over him as the rest of Brazil

In an election seen by both sides as an existential struggle, the campaigns have abandoned any semblance of civility in favor of disinformation and demonization — literally. Bolsonaro and his camp have accused Lula of being a closet communist, and a Satanist who wants to shutter churches and create unisex bathrooms in public schools. One of Lula’s campaign ads, meanwhile, latched on to an old boast — and apparent joke — of Bolsonaro’s to suggest he practices cannibalism. The left here is portraying Bolsonaro as a fascist dictator in the making, and calling his defeat essential to the future of Brazilian democracy. (Each side denies the other’s claims as absurd.)

“It’s the Americanization of Brazilian politics,” said Guilherme Casarões, a political analyst at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “One of the features of this election is that Bolsonaro has been able … to create a permeant state of cultural war.”

That Brazil is mirroring the United States should come as no surprise. Both are continent-sized New World countries saddled with unresolved issues over race and the legacy of slavery. They share cultural similarities, from rodeos to evangelical voting blocs. Bolsonaro has made no attempt to hide his vocal admiration for — and alliance with — Trump.

The Observatory of Political and Electoral Violence recorded 212 politically motivated attacks, including 21 killings, from July through September, up 110 percent from the previous quarter.

Fears of broader right-wing violence were heightened last week when a Bolsonaro-supporting former congressman fired a rifle and threw grenades at federal police, wounding two, as they sought to take him into custody for violating house arrest.

Bolsonaro denounced the attack on police, but also condemned the case against Roberto Jefferson, who was detained in 2021 as part of a judicial crackdown on misinformation. The consensus among analysts here is that isolated clashes could erupt on or after election day, and larger-scale violence remains possible.

Lula, who served as Brazil’s president from 2003 through 2010, won 48.4 percent of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 43.2 percent among a field of 11 candidates in the first round of the election on Oct. 2. As the top two finishers, they’re heading to the second and final round on Sunday to determine a winner.

Polarization could complicate governing for the next administration, no matter which candidate wins — though it would probably go harder for Lula, given the bloc of radical Bolsonaristas in the Senate. Polls show the widening divide: Lula’s voter rejection rate has grown from 16.2 percent when he first won the presidency in 2002 to 45 percent today, according to the Datafolha polling firm. His conservative opponent in 2002, Jose Serra, had a rejection rate of 14.4 percent; Bolsonaro’s is 50.

Polls that underestimated Bolsonaro’s support in the first round still show Lula ahead in the decisive round on Sunday. But his lead has narrowed significantly.

During a debate last week, Bolsonaro issued what critics decried as a racially charged attack, claiming Lula’s recent visit to a majority-Black favela showed he had close ties to “drug dealers.” Lula performed particularly well in the Brazilian northeast, a part of the country that has proportionally more people of color.

“Lula won in 9 of the 10 states with the highest illiteracy rate,” Bolsonaro doubled down on social media. “Do you know which states? In our Northeast.”

Lula last week lamented the tone of the campaign during a meeting with Catholic representatives.

“This country has always been a happy country, which liked to party, liked soccer, dancing, Carnival,” he said. “I have never seen Brazil taken by such hatred as a part of Brazilian society has today.”

On Oct. 16, a woman interrupted a church service in the southeastern city of Jacareí when the pastor mentioned Marielle Franco, the bisexual Black Rio de Janeiro councilwoman who was assassinated in 2018. “You, sir, will not speak of Marielle Franco inside the house of God. [She was] a leftist … a homosexual who wanted gender ideology inside children’s schools,” the woman said, according to the Brazilian outlet O Globo.

Two days earlier, the Rev. José Fernandes de Oliveira, famous here as a religious singer, announced he would leave social media until after the elections. “They keep saying that I am a bad priest, a communist, and a traitor to Christ because I teach Christian social doctrine,” Fernandes de Oliveira, who goes by Padre Zezinho, wrote on Facebook. “The sad thing is that the offenses are all from radical Catholics who preferred their political party to Catholic catechism.”

Cibele Amaral, a 51-year-old evangelical Christian in Brasília, said she left her church this month after its leader questioned her support for Lula. “She came to me with a speech about Lula bringing communism,” Amaral said. “I told her that was nonsense and … if she continued, I would never speak to her again.”

Not all the antagonism is from the right. In an incident widely reported this week by the Brazilian media, video shared on social media appeared to show a couple jeered out of a São Paulo restaurant by diners chanting that they were “minions of Bolsonaro.” São Paulo police say a Lula supporter stabbed a longtime friend to death this month after the victim called Lula voters “thieves.” In other attacks, Bolsonaro supporters have been accused of killing Lula supporters.

Despite legal warnings and court rulings aimed at curtailing false information around the election, Brazil saw an “explosion” in fake news in the lead-up the first-round vote and after, according to the Rio-based Igarape Institute and its partners. The false or unsupported claims, shared through social media, include allegations that link Lula to organized crime and that say he is “in league with the Devil.”

For the first time in the campaign, the institute noted a considerable output of disinformation from the left, such as doctored images of a Bolsonaro visit to a Masonic Lodge in 2014. The photos showed edited-in posters behind Bolsonaro and Masonic leaders, including one of a pagan figure associated with Satanism.

An analysis of the reach of such posts found the far-right to be the more voracious consumers. YouTube channels on the far right, for instance, posted 99 million views between Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, compared to 28 million views for leftist channels during the same period.

Division and misinformation were factors in Bolsonaro’s rise to power in 2018. But they have worsened, observers say, as politics have grown more tribal. Upping the passion now, Bolsonaro’s path to reelection runs through Lula, who stirs the same kind of antipathy among many on the Brazilian right that Hillary Clinton does among Republicans in the United States.

The air is thick with claims of fraud from an ever more extreme right wing that warns it will see anything other than victory as a stolen election. From the morning of the first round to the next afternoon, the Igarape report cited more than a million items questioning electoral integrity on Brazilian Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

After the first round, Bolsonaro supporters took aim at pollsters who significantly underestimated his eventual tally. Bolsonaro allies in Congress are now pushing legislation that would make it a crime to publish a poll found to be wrong beyond its margin of error.

The right’s latest line of attack: Unproven claims that radio stations across Brazil violated Brazilian law by giving more airtime to Lula than Bolsonaro — grounds, some close to the president suggested, to postpone Sunday’s vote. Bolsonaro was prepared this week to call for a postponement, the news outlet G1 reported Wednesday, but relented after key military and political figures declined to back his plan.

Nevertheless, officials from the left said they feared Bolsonaro would still try to leverage the claim — already reviewed and dismissed by election authorities — to challenge a Lula victory.

“This appears to be another Hail Mary from the Bolsonaro camp to sow confusion and disorder in the final days of the election,” said Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarape Institute.

Brazil’s electoral court this month vested its chief, Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes with authority to remove posts that violate disinformation rules. Bolsonaro’s backers condemned the move as part of an organized campaign by an activist court biased against the president.

Bolsonaro has stocked the prosecutor’s office and police with loyalists, dismissed the coronavirus as a “little cold” and encouraged development in the Amazon.

The right calls Lula a corrupt leftist; he served more than 19 months in jail on corruption and money laundering charges that were later annulled. Supporters see his two terms as a period of social programs that saw the hunger rate sharply decrease.

Should Bolsonaro win, a weakened left could struggle against further steps to erode democratic principles and institutions. In defeat, Bolsonaro could retain significant influence among a core opposition, as Trump has in the United States.

Should Bolsonaro lose, observers say, he could cast doubt on the results, setting up a U.S.-style scenario in which some Brazilians cling to the belief that the new president is illegitimate. Bolsonaro has already falsely claimed that reliable electronic voting machines can be easily tampered with.

“My feeling is that, if he loses, Bolsonaro spreads the great lie, something similar to what Trump has done,” Muggah said. “One can imagine an insurrection-style event.”

Paulina Villegas contributed to this report.

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Politics Podcast: Warnock Has The Edge In A Close Race – FiveThirtyEight




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It is Election Day once again in Georgia. While this year’s Senate runoff will not determine control of the Senate, it will still decide the state’s representation in Washington for the next six years. It will also be another high profile test of a candidate — Herschel Walker — handpicked by former President Trump.

In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen Druke speaks with Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Tia Mitchell and Greg Bluestein about how things have looked on the ground in the final stretch of the campaign.

Later in the show, ABC News reporter Brittany Shepherd describes the internal debate within the Democratic Party over what a new presidential primary calendar might look like in 2024.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Trump's slow 2024 start worries allies – CNN




Back in 2015, Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in Iowa as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination came just 10 hours after he declared his candidacy in New York. The following day, he was across the country in New Hampshire, with plans to visit South Carolina before the end of his first week.

But seven years later – and nearly three weeks into his 2024 presidential campaign – Trump has yet to leave his home state or hold a public campaign event in an early voting state.

Trump’s disengaged posture has baffled former and current allies, many of whom experienced firsthand the frenetic pace of his two previous White House bids, and who now say he’s missed the window to make a splash with his 2024 rollout. The uninspiring launch of his supposed political comeback comes as his campaign appears to be operating on auto pilot, with few signs of momentum or enthusiastic support from donors or party heavyweights.

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“I don’t know why he rushed this. It doesn’t make sense,” one Trump adviser said of his lackluster announcement speech last month, which came one week after Republicans delivered an underwhelming performance in the midterm elections and as the rest of the party turned its attention to the Senate runoff contest in Georgia.

Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution is a fantasy, but it’s still dangerous

Trump’s announcement was roundly panned for lacking zest, so much so that some audience members attempted an early exit, and his recent hosting of Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and embattled rapper Kanye “Ye” West at Mar-a-Lago only further galvanized GOP opposition against him. A person familiar with the matter said Trump spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving asking people around him if they thought the backlash to his private dinner with Ye and Fuentes was truly damaging.

“So far, he has gone down from his bedroom, made an announcement, gone back up to his bedroom and hasn’t been seen since except to have dinner with a White supremacist,” said a 2020 Trump campaign adviser.

“It’s 1000% a ho-hum campaign,” the adviser added.

The only other notable event to occur since Trump announced he was running again was both unintended and dreaded for weeks by the former president’s attorneys. Just three days after Trump launched his campaign, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee two ongoing criminal investigations into the 45th president and his associates.

While some Republicans long speculated that Trump entered the presidential race early to inoculate himself from further legal peril, his candidate status instead appeared to serve as the catalyst for Garland’s announcement.

A Trump campaign spokesman said the former president has held “multiple events since he announced,” noting his remote appearance at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition summit last month, video remarks to a conference for conservative activists in Mexico, a Patriots Freedom Fund event, his remarks at two separate political events held at Mar-a-Lago, and a tele-rally Monday night for Georgia Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker. None of these events were billed as campaign events.

Trump’s current campaign trajectory has left both allies and Republican opponents wondering if he will flip a switch in 2023 or fail to adapt to a different political environment. Even as the GOP’s undisputed 2024 frontrunner, some of his closest allies say he simply cannot afford to take his position for granted at a moment when influential Republicans appear exceedingly interested in dislodging him from his influential perch.

“If Trump was working in a lush jungle environment in 2016, he is in a desert today,” said a Republican close to the former president. “The political landscape has totally changed. He was irresistible because no one understood him but now everybody knows how to deal with him, so the question is, can he recalibrate?”

Some sources said Trump’s first-out-of-the-gate strategy, which was said to be partly aimed at clearing the GOP primary field, already looks poised to fail.

“You know what it’s done to dissuade people from getting in? Nothing. He hasn’t hired anyone. He hasn’t been to the early states,” said the 2020 campaign adviser.

Trump’s lack of impact was on display a week after his announcement, as other 2024 Republican hopefuls took the stage in Las Vegas for the annual RJC summit. Some attacked the former President, while others, once allies of Trump, indicated they were ready to take him on in 2024.

Just days before the event, Trump’s team announced plans for him to address the group remotely. Two people familiar with the matter said his virtual address was organized by aides at the last minute after he grew agitated upon realizing the event was a cattle call for Republican presidential prospects and he was not on its original list of speakers. The Trump campaign spokesman disputed this account, saying Trump’s remote remarks were planned “many weeks prior to the event.”

Other sources who for months harbored concerns that Trump wasn’t as enthusiastic about running as he was letting on in public appearances now say his inactivity has increased their worry. Apart from a planned fundraising appearance for a classical education group in Naples last weekend, the former president has yet to announce any events before the end of the year. A person familiar with the matter said Trump’s team is toying with a pre-Christmas event of some kind, though his campaign has not yet finalized any travel. In a statement last week panning a move by Democratic officials to put South Carolina first on the party’s primary calendar, Trump appeared to tease a visit to Iowa, currently the first state to cast votes in both parties’ presidential nominating contests, “in the very near future.”

“I can’t wait to be back in Iowa,” he said.

Campaign is ‘taking a breather’

Inside Trump’s campaign, sources said his current approach is entirely intentional, dismissing concerns that he has forfeited the spotlight at a critical time but acknowledging that Trump is currently working with a bare-bones staff.

The campaign “is doing exactly what everyone always accuses [them] of not doing – taking a breather, planning and forming a strategy for the next two years,” said one source familiar with Trump’s operation said.

Senior staff are holed up working on a plan,” this person added, noting that Trump’s campaign travel is expected to begin early in the new year, right as possible rivals who have taken the holidays to mull their own political futures may start launching their own campaigns or exploratory committees.

And while some Trump allies have been surprised by his lack of a hiring spree right out of the gate, his campaign has been content to maintain a lean operation while he’s the only candidate in the field. The former president is not expected to tap a formal campaign manager, instead elevating three trusted advisers – Susie Wiles, Brian Jack and Chris LaCivita – to senior roles, but allies said he will likely need to build out his on-the-ground staff in early voting states in the months to come, as well as a robust communications operation if he finds himself in a competitive primary.

While those hires don’t need to happen immediately, people close to Trump said his early entry into the 2024 race does raise questions about how he will sustain campaign-related costs over a longer period than other candidates who declare later, including chief potential rival Ron DeSantis. CNN has previously reported that the Florida governor, should he decide to take on Trump, would announce next May or June, after the conclusion of his state’s legislative session and just months before the Republican party could host its first primary debate, according to a party official involved in debate planning.

“The question a lot of us have is can Trump sustain a campaign for two years. That’s the real difficulty here. The pacing we’re seeing right now is designed to do that,” said a person close to Trump.

In addition to planning rallies and events and building momentum around the former President, the campaign staff is also looking at how to best insulate Trump after many were caught off guard learning of Trump’s dinner with Fuentes and West. The event, and the days of fallout and negative coverage, has expedited some of the campaign’s long-term plans, including ensuring a senior campaign staffer is always with the former president, a source familiar with the campaign said.

Trump’s White House staff worked with resort staff during his presidency in a similar fashion to protect Trump from potentially “unsavory” guests of members, the source said. Those close to Trump blamed “low level staffers” for allowing Fuentes to slip into the resort without any flags being raised.

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Macron shows his politics on Russia are bush league



What’s wrong with French President Emmanuel Macron? First, he needlessly tells Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that there are two conditions under which France might cease supplying weapons to Ukraine: “We will never compromise the ability of our army to defend our own territory and our citizens. We will also never supply such weapons that would make us a party to the conflict as a result of their use for attacks on Russian territory.”

One doesn’t have to be a Metternich to appreciate that it’s unwise to tell your enemies what you will or will not do before you enter into negotiations with them. The smart thing is to keep the adversary in the dark, guessing about your intentions. What Macron did was simply bush league, evidence of either arrogance or ignorance or both. Then, a little later, he outdid himself when he proclaimed: “We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table. … One of the essential points we must address — as President Putin has always said — is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia.”

This statement is inane. For starters, let’s remind the French president that, with Finland’s admission into NATO, the alliance has come right up to Russia’s door and that the strategic nuclear weapons that could threaten Putin’s realm are primarily based, and will continue to be based, in the United States, the United Kingdom and — oh, yes — France. Deploying nukes on the Finnish border may send a signal of NATO’s toughness, but it effectively does nothing to enhance Russia’s insecurity or the West’s security. And everybody knew, and knows, that the West would have to be completely daft to base nuclear weapons in, of all places, Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member.

Moreover, both Putin and Macron know full well that the armies that come under the NATO umbrella are, with the exception of those of the United States, United Kingdom and Poland, in miserable shape, having been severely neglected since the fall of the Berlin wall. America may pose a threat to Russia, but NATO does not. That Russians insist that it does is either self-serving propaganda meant to justify Putin’s militarism, imperialism and fascism or delusional paranoia rooted in Putin’s worldview that pits Russia against the world. Either way, the West needs to counter collective Russia’s mendacity or fantasies, not with mollycoddling but with straightforward explanations of reality.

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But what really takes the cake in Macron’s statement about security guarantees for Russia is its silence about security guarantees for Ukraine — an issue on which France thus far has been notably silent. Surely, one can’t provide guarantees to a self-styled great power with a huge nuclear arsenal without at the same time providing guarantees to the country that it has invaded and subjected to a genocidal war. Now, Macron has also expressed his unwavering commitment to Ukraine, so it’s highly unlikely that he intends to sell Ukraine down the river while providing guarantees to Russia. No, it’s the incoherence of his thinking that is most striking — and alarming. He’s the president of a powerful and influential country. He should know that guaranteeing Russia’s security is infinitely harder than guaranteeing Ukraine’s, and since Europe isn’t all too keen on the latter, how can he reasonably expect it to be keen on the former?

Besides, just how does one guarantee the security of an imperialistic, warmongering, fascist state ruled by a leader who seems delusional? The comparison with Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia is unavoidable. Imagine Adolf Hitler’s insistence in 1939, just before his attack on Poland, on security guarantees. Or Joseph Stalin’s insistence in 1948, after the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe, of similar guarantees. Just what could such guarantees possibly have entailed? And wouldn’t the priority be to guarantee the security of the countries being threatened?

Hélas, Monsieur le Président needs to go back to his books and do a bit of thinking. Otherwise, he risks becoming risible, hardly the quality that would guarantee his security as president or his ability to deal with the Putin threat.

Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”

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