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Tyrants Like Music Too-- Except Jair Bolsonaro

I was surprised to read yesterday, that the self-proclaimed anti-Nazi Putin named the mercenary force he started and financed, the Wagner Group, in admiration for Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner, a virulent anti-Semite. Wagner’s writings, particularly those outside his musical works, contained explicit and vehement expressions of anti-Semitism. His anti-Semitic beliefs are most notably articulated in his essay (at first a letter to Hungarian anti-Semite Franz Liszt), “Judaism in Music,” published in 1850 under a pseudonym, K. Freigedank, and then under Wagner’s own name 19 years later. In the essay, he criticizes Jewish composers, particularly singling out Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer, and presents derogatory stereotypes about Jews in general. He claims that Jewish musicians and composers lack originality and artistic genius and argues for the elimination of Jewish influence in German culture.

Hitler spoke highly of Wagner's music frequently and said he drew inspiration from Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and especially the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, evoking a sense of heroic grandeur and martial spirit, that turned Hitler on. “Ride of the Valkyries” is usually associated with images of power and conquest, making it a scene that likely resonated with Hitler's militaristic ideals. The Nazi regime sought to appropriate Wagner and his music for propaganda purposes. viewing his dramatic music as embodying the ideals of Aryan supremacy, nationalism, and authoritarianism.

It’s interesting that Putin named his mercenary army for Hitler’s favorite composer instead of for, say Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich, Stalin’s favorite composers. In fact, despite his complex relationship with the Communist regime, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was probably Stalin’s favorite piece of music— meaning as much to him as the Village People’s YMCA does to a certain latter day Stalin.

It’s worth noting that in 1936, Shostakovich faced serious criticism from the Soviet government during the period known as the "Zhdanovshchina" when Stalin's cultural advisor, Andrei Zhdanov, denounced his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District as "formalist" and attacked it for allegedly deviating from the principles of Soviet realism. The opera was subsequently banned, and Shostakovich faced a period of intense scrutiny and feared for his artistic career and personal safety. Inpart to protect himself, he composed his “Fifth Symphony, which was seen as more politically acceptable and aligned with the ideals of Soviet art. The symphony was well-received and interpreted by some as a submission to the Stalin’s demands. Maybe Putin skipped over it because it is widely known that Shostakovich embedded hidden meanings and subversive elements within the work as a form of artistic resistance and criticism. Shostakovich's relationship with Stalin remained fraught, and he faced ongoing pressure and censorship throughout his career. While he received accolades and official recognition, he privately expressed his frustrations and distaste for the regime.

His music often reflected the oppressive atmosphere and political turmoil of the time, providing a voice for his own discontent and the suffering of the Russian people. The triumphant and bombastic “Finale” of the 5th (the video clip above), is often seen as a facade or a forced expression of joy demanded by the Soviet regime. Shostakovich almost certainly used this section to create a sense of irony, as if to say, "Look how happy we are!" while hiding deeper emotions of despair and frustration. In fact, he used this technique of musical irony throughout the symphony. I would interpret moments of dissonance, abrupt changes in mood, and contrasting musical ideas as subtle critiques of the regime which Stalin may have missed. These musical contradictions reflect the inherent tension between conforming to Soviet expectations and expressing true emotions. Analysts have shown that Shostakovich embedded musical quotations and references within the symphony to signify hidden meanings. For example, the use of a recurring four-note motif (D-E♭-C-B in German notation, representing the composer's initials, DSCH) has been interpreted as a secret signature or a representation of the composer himself in defiance of the regime.

So… Hitler and Putin share a love of Wagner, Mussolini was devoted to Verdi, Trump is ga-ga for the Village People and Napoleon was a Beethoven fan-boy who also loved Christoph Willibald Gluck. But, Jair Bolsonaro? The Brazilian fascist never expressed any musical preferences— neither for artists nor genres. And for that reason the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court banished him from electoral politics yesterday. Just kidding— about the music. The Court did bar him from running for office for 8 years, “for making what members of the panel said were claims he knew to be false about the integrity of the country’s voting systems.”

Marina Dias reported that “As president, the ‘Trump of the Tropics’ repeatedly asserted without evidence that the voting systems in Latin America’s largest country were vulnerable to fraud. With the vote of Supreme Court President Cármen Lúcia on Friday afternoon, the seven-member Superior Electoral Court reached a majority to convict the right-wing populist of abuse of power for undermining faith in the country’s young democracy. The ruling, if it survives a planned Supreme Court appeal, means Bolsonaro, 68, won’t be able to run for president until the 2030 election, when he’ll be 75. It is the first time in the court’s 90-year history that it has applied the ban to a former president.”

[Bolsonaro] left office in December after losing to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by the narrowest margin in the country’s presidential election history. He did not concede the race, but fled to Florida before his term ended, skipping Lula’s inauguration and the ceremonial passing of the presidential sash, a key affirmation of the country’s democracy.
The verdict Friday was the first in several investigations against Bolsonaro. He remains accused in multiple criminal and electoral cases.
Bolsonaro’s attorney, Tarcísio Vieira de Carvalho, said before the ruling that he would appeal it to the Supreme Court.
At issue before the court were Bolsonaro’s comments at a meeting with foreign diplomats last summer in the presidential palace. In a 45-minute address that was broadcast on national television, the panel found, he made false claims about the voting system’s vulnerability to fraud. They say the comments created the environment in which thousands of his supporters stormed the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court on Jan. 8 in hopes of overturning his election loss.
The complaint was brought by Brazil’s left-wing Democratic Labor Party. The electoral court is led by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, whom Bolsonaro’s supporters accuse of persecuting him politically.
Bolsonaro’s lawyers argued that the meeting was an “act of government” with “suggestions for the electoral process.” Bolsonaro did not attend the trial, but commented from the sidelines.
“Is it fair to revoke the political rights of someone who gathered ambassadors?” the former president said to reporters Monday. “We cannot passively accept in Brazil that possible criticism or suggestions for improving the electoral system is seen as an attack on democracy.”
But the court, made up of a rotation of three Supreme Court justices, two other federal judges and two lawyers, found that Bolsonaro’s comments to the diplomats were part of a script that led to the Jan. 8 insurrection. In a 382-page opinion, presiding Judge Benedito Gonçalves wrote that the former president “was fully, personally responsible” for attacking the electoral system and “violated his duties as a president” during the meeting.
“It is not possible to turn a blind eye to the anti-democratic effects of violent speeches and lies that jeopardize the credibility of the electoral system,” Gonçalves wrote.
Supreme Court justices agree.
“We have never had a president who has so unequivocally attacked the institutions like Bolsonaro did,” Justice Gilmar Mendes, a two-time president of the electoral court, told the Washington Post.
“And there was a context,” Mendes continued. “When he meets with ambassadors and diplomats in his position and announces defects in the electronic ballots that he knew did not exist, he is seriously abusing his power as president.”
According to the newspaper O Globo, judicial authorities warned Bolsonaro at least 31 times between July 2021 and August 2022 that he could be punished for attacking the electoral system.
Brazil’s top prosecutor for electoral cases, Paulo Gustavo Gonet Branco, said at the outset of the trial that the former president’s rhetoric “went far beyond freedom of expression.”
“Bolsonaro’s allegations were not just reckless; they were known to be unfounded,” he said.
No one in Brazil has shown Bolsonaro’s capacity to energize the right. But his allies are already seeking his replacement. They hope that casting the former president as a victim of a corrupt system will strengthen their cause. One candidate to succeed him, supporters say, is his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

I can imagine that Bolsonaro was never a fan of Chico Buarque’s classic Apesar de Você, an anthem of resistance against a repressive military regime 50 years before Bolsonaro’s. But the artist he must have really hated is Chico César and his iconic 2019 anti-fascist album O Amor é um Ato Revolucinário which was part of the soundtrack of resistance to Bolsonaro’s authoritarianism. I know what you're thinking-- if Bolsonaro could be banned from politics for imitating Trump, why is Trump still be allowed to run and spread his toxic anti-democracy and fascist ideology after his insurrection and attempted coup?



the obvious question was posed at the end: "if Bolsonaro could be banned from politics for imitating Trump, why is Trump still be allowed to run and spread his toxic anti-democracy and fascist ideology after his insurrection and attempted coup?"

clearly because we are a bigger, deeper, smellier shithole than Brazil can even hope to be. because we have no opposition. because our "justice" system no longer exists. because our judges are majority nazis. because nobody who votes gives a flying zeptofuck. and because we are still goose-stepping toward a nazi reich.

otoh, if some court here actually did the right thing and ordered donnie the fat to be executed, we'd be electing meathead in 16 months. And that woul…

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