Editorial: The newest U.S. export — anti-democratic insurrection

Partidarios del expresidente de Brasil Jair Bolsonaro irrumpen en el edificio del Congreso Nacional en Brasilia, Brasil, el domingo 8 de enero de 2023. (AP Foto/Eraldo Peres)
Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro storm the National Congress building in Brasilia on Jan. 8. (Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

The United States has long been a model for the world, inspiring people in other nations to throw off oppression and follow our path by creating stable, solid, democratic societies based on the rule of law, featuring the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.

So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some Brazilians tried to take a lesson from the U.S. on Sunday. It was the wrong lesson.

Brazil’s far-right election deniers rioted in the capital city of Brasilia on behalf of defeated ex-president Jair Bolsonaro, trashing that nation’s seat of government and copying the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and coup attempt in which President Trump’s lies about his election defeat culminated in the sacking of the Capitol by his supporters.

The violent spectacle marked an ignominious day for the South American nation, but it heaps shame as well on the U.S., which is in peril of relinquishing its role as a beacon of democracy and taking its place among nations for which election results are shaky, and the real decisions are handed over to mobs and the autocrats or shadowy cabals that try to manipulate them.

Two years out from the U.S. insurrection, following the in-depth hearings and report of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the evidence shows that then-President Trump compounded his blatantly false claims that he was denied reelection because of voter fraud with plans to overturn the vote and retain office.

The what-ifs are chilling. Evidence presented to the committee shows that Trump weighed plans to install Justice Department officials who would falsely declare there were voting irregularities. He was asked to consider declaring martial law and collect voting machines. He invited his supporters to Washington and, knowing that many were armed, told them to go to the Capitol. He watched the rioting for more than three hours before telling his supporters to stop. Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were in danger.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro didn't quite deny that he was defeated by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the Oct. 30 election, and he agreed to cede the office to his rival on time, on Jan. 1. But he did follow the Trump template by arguing that the vote was rigged or at least unreliable.

Unlike Trump, he wasn’t on hand for the attack. He was in Trump’s home state of Florida.

But those are cosmetic differences. It’s as if Brazil’s rioters thought, “Well, if North Americans can believe what they want despite the facts, and act on it, why shouldn’t we?”

So far, despite the House committee findings, and the prosecution of nearly 1,000 people, neither Trump nor any of his team has been held to answer for the Jan. 6 attack.

If they are held accountable, perhaps the next set of election deniers and insurrectionists elsewhere in the world will be dissuaded by an American model that, when push comes to shove, holds perpetrators to the rule of law.

And if not, maybe the U.S. will once again be the world’s most imitated nation. But not in a good way.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.