First Person Glenn Greenwald Politics

Glenn Greenwald Reflects on Values and Character v. Political Identity

The Brazilian firefighter, union leader, evangelical and ex-Congressman Cabo Daciolo was once embraced by the left, but is now vilified by them as a "hater" of LGBTs. Many vital lessons are here.
Former firefighter, union leader and Brazilian presidential candidate Cabo Daciolo gestures during the presidential debate ahead of the October 7, 2018 general election, on September 26, 2018. This year Daciolo is a candidate for the Brazllian Senate for the Democratic Labor Party (PDT) (Photo by NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP via Getty Images)

By Glenn Greenwald / Substack

I published a short essay this week in Portuguese about an evangelical pastor, firefighter, union leader, and former Congressman in Brazil named Cabo Daciolo. The reaction to it in Brazil made me conclude it would be quite worthwhile to translate it into English and publish it here, as the lessons I believe it conveys — about the growing problems faced by left-wing political movements, how politics is often used as a substitute for more meaningful connections to community and to one another, and how we judge one another as human beings — are universal or, at the very least, just as applicable to the context of American and Western politics as they are to Brazilian politics. First, some context is necessary for non-Brazilian readers to understand the essay:

Cabo Daciolo became a nationally famous figure in Brazil in 2011 when, at the age of 35, he led a strike by the firefighters union of Rio de Janeiro. The striking workers demanded better pay, benefits and other worker protections (at the time, the minimum salary was the equivalent of US$ 190/month; the union was demanding an increase to US$ 400/month). He was one of the leaders of his union and attracted a great deal of media attention because he is telegenic, handsome, quite charismatic, and a naturally skilled orator who cut an impressive figure both on the street and in interviews. The strike ended up soliciting a great deal of public sympathy in support of firefighters. He spent nine days in jail for having led a union occupation of the Rio State Legislature.

Daciolo, 2011, leading a firefighters’ strike (Photo: Guto Maia/Agência Estado)

All of this, for obvious reasons, catapulted Daciolo into overnight political stardom: someone who denounced with great force and charisma the exploitation of workers by the corporate and oligarchical elite, not as an academic theorist like so many leftist leaders, but someone who lived that exploitation. The Brazilian left was delirious with glee over the potential to recruit as a political leader not yet another of their endless horde of highly educated, effete college professors who speak eloquently about “workers” as an abstraction, but an actual worker who naturally exudes a working-class posture and speech because that is what he is. Daciolo is not someone play-acting as a defender of the “working class” but someone whose entire life was and is shaped by a working-class life. And he often expressed his defense of workers’ rights in religious terms, citing with great conviction the Gospels and other religious principles to justify the need to provide workers with a minimally decent standard of living. Imagining a more valuable gift to the left than he was virtually impossible.

Daciolo, for obvious reasons, was recruited by many political parties to run for office. He ended up joining PSOL, a left-wing party that was founded in 2004 by disgruntled members of Lula’s Workers Party (PT) who complained that PT had become both corrupt and neoliberal: doing business with the very establishment forces it claimed to oppose. PSOL was, in essence, a left-wing party designed to oppose the hegemony of PT and Lula from the working-class left (as it happens, today is Election Day in Brazil, and most polls show Lula with a large lead to regain the presidency from Bolsonaro after being term-limited out of office in 2010; during the 2018 campaign, Lula was barred from running due to his 2017 imprisonment on corruption charges as he was preparing to run against Bolsonaro, but those convictions were reversed in 2020 when our reporting showed that Lula’s conviction was the by-product of judicial and prosecutorial corruption, enabling Lula to seek the presidency this year). 

In 2014, Daciolo — still riding high on his national fame from having led the firefighter strike — ran for a seat in the national Congress on the PSOL line and was easily elected. But soon after his election, serious tensions began to arise between him and the leftist party he had joined, largely over social issues. Daciolo, like millions of workers throughout Brazil, is deeply religious. Though Brazil is still the country with the world’s largest Catholic population, Daciolo is entrenched in the rapidly growing evangelical sector. He is so devoted to his religious practice that he became an evangelical pastor. And that led him to embrace a wide range of views that were not only in conflict with the left-wing party he had joined but made him deeply anathema to it.

At the time when social justice issues began to assume much greater importance among the Brazilian left at the expense of working-class politics (following in the footsteps of the American left), Daciolo remained steadfastly opposed to same-sex marriage and the legalization of abortion. The animus toward Daciolo from the left over those heresies was intensified when Daciolo began supporting police officers in controversies where much of the left was denouncing the police as racist and genocidal; one case in particular, which resulted in the torture and death of a resident of one of Rio’s favelas, split Daciolo and the left with great hostility. But the final straw occurred in 2015, just one year after he was elected with PSOL, when the party voted overwhelmingly to expel him due to Daciolo’s support for a Constitutional amendment that would include in the Constitution the phrase that “all power emanates from God.” 

After his expulsion from PSOL, Daciolo migrated to a different party and served out his term in Congress, which ended in 2018. Instead of seeking re-election, he decided to run for President, knowing he had little chance to win given his lack of party support or major funding. But, largely due to powerful and authentic performances in the nationally televised debates, his campaign exceeded all expectations as he ended up winning more than a million votes nationwide, ahead of far more well-financed establishment candidates.

As the 2022 presidential election approached, and it began to appear that the election would be a highly polarized contest between the right-wing incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and his left(ish) challenger, former President Lula da Silva, Daciolo decided he wanted to support neither. He threw his support behind the former Governor and Finance Minister Ciro Gomes, who has long been a center-left figure (having served as Industry Minister in Lula’s government) but who was offering himself as a more modernized, technocratic and corruption-free alternative to both Lula and Bolsonaro. Daciolo joined Ciro’s party, Brazil’s Democratic Labor Party (PDT), and announced his candidacy for Senate on the PDT line.

Roughly around the same time — in January of this year — my husband, the Congressman David Miranda, was growing increasingly disenchanted with his long-time party, PSOL: the same that had expelled Daciolo back in 2015 before my husband joined. He decided to leave PSOL to seek re-election this year. When leaving PSOL, David explained his reasons: dissatisfaction with the growing fixation on cultural and social justice issues at the expense of the working-class-based politics that drove him to enter politics; the growing intolerance among the cultural left for any dissent on newfound dogma regarding social issues; and his discomfort with the fact that PSOL — founded to oppose Lula and PT — was clearly positioning itself to support Lula in the first round of voting for the first time since it was created, rather than running its own candidate.

As David pondered his options for leaving PSOL, he decided he also wanted to support Ciro Gomes’ presidential campaign. In January, David became one of the only prominent elected officials on the Brazilian left to refuse to support Lula. He instead announced his support for Ciro, and then formally joined PDT — the same party where Daciolo had landed. 

Over the next several months, as David and Daciolo were at many PDT events together, they began forming what many viewed as an improbable friendship. By this point, the claim that Daciolo “hated LGBTs” was basically unquestioned canon on the left, while David has become one of the most visible if not the most visible openly gay politician in Brazil. David’s marriage to me and our adoption of three children together has made us a symbol of LGBT equality, even though our focus is usually on other issues. I personally was not surprised that David and Daciolo developed a friendship — David, having been raised in extreme poverty, taking care of himself on the streets — is the kind of person who befriends most people. Even some prominent Bolsonaro supporters in Congress are among the people with whom he developed an affinity. 

But much of the Brazilian left was shocked, and more than a little outraged, when David began speaking positively about Daciolo and, especially, when he posted two different photos of them together on his social media accounts. But that indignant reaction from the left illustrated a major reason why David left his prior party: he knows meaningful politics are impossible if it is prohibited to work with or even form friendships with those who think differently. In particular, there is no way to claim to represent the interests of the working class if you simultaneously declare the social and religious values of working-class people to be so grotesque and hateful that even friendly and respectful interactions, let alone political alliances, are prohibited.

As most subscribers here know, David was struck by a sudden but grave illness on August 6. That is almost two months ago, and he remains hospitalized, in serious condition, and in ICU. On September 21, I felt compelled to petition the election court on his behalf to request the withdrawal of his candidacy for re-election, as it became very clear that there was no chance he would be fully recovered by Election Day. Although I believe strongly he would have won re-election, I thought it was unfair to everyone — including David’s supporters and the public generally, as well as David himself, who has a long and hard recovery road ahead of him — to leave him on the ballot. The following day the court accepted my petition even though the deadline for candidate removal from the ballot had passed (the court is empowered to do so under exceptional circumstances).

Until last Monday, it appeared that David was finally on the road to recovery. He had spent more than ten days rapidly improving; began to be more awake, conscious and communicative, and all signs pointed to a more rapid recovery. Unfortunately, this week ushered in several serious complications and setbacks. This remains a long and excruciating experience that I am able to endure largely because the responsibility of shepherding our kids through this gives me a fulfilling purpose and a need to remain composed and as strong as I can be. 

When David’s health crisis struck, I explained to subscribers here in mid-August why I would be unable to write until David’s illness was resolved. I hope to be able to publish very shortly an article I am writing about the new project I had been repeatedly referencing (which ended up being reported first in The Wall Street Journal on September 8). The article I am working on focuses in particular on the broader battle for free speech and a free internet that I believe this project is so vital in advancing. Assuming things remain stable in our family’s health crisis, I will have that article up very shortly.

I am very excited to share with you my thoughts about the new project that The Wall Street Journal partially disclosed. I am eager to explain the details of it and why I believe it will be make such an impact, but also the broader context and the broader battle it is designed to target. I wrote about it about it here on Twitter last week after Russell Brand became the first host to launch his live show on this new network, and my new show will debut shortly. 

In the meantime, here is the short essay I wrote about Cabo Daciolo, David, and the lessons I believe one can draw from what happened. It was originally posted as a series of tweets on Twitter, but was then re-purposed into an essay by the political site Disparada:

Glenn Greenwald: The Human Decency of Cabo Daciolo with David Miranda — by Glenn Greenwald

I want to share a story about Cabo Daciolo. It has nothing to do with the election. Vote for whoever you want.

David and Daciolo only met a few months ago, when they found themselves in the same party. A friendship quickly formed. David talked a lot about their bond.

Since David was admitted to the ICU two months ago, Cabo Daciolo hasn’t stopped calling to ask about David, send prayers, give comfort. He went to David’s room in the ICU to pray with and for David – including just days before his election day. Few in Brazil’s political world have done as much.

He did all this without seeking any attention. Indeed, he told me he didn’t want any media attention. He didn’t want any publicity.

I’m talking about this on my own accord because it means so much to me, and it provides a lot of lessons in how we judge other people.

It’s easy to put various flags and hashtags on your profile, or claim that you believe in political causes, or seek applause by publicly denouncing others as less enlightened than you.

These may generate material benefits for the person doing it, but they don’t reflect much on a person’s character.

Much more meaningful and valuable is what you do in life, how you treat others, the humanity you show. The things you do when no one is looking reflect much more on your values ​​than the slogans you chant and the flags you wave for others.

When David posted 2 photos with Cabo, he was attacked by people claiming that Daciolo is full of “hate”. Many of them seemed filled with hate.

Caption: “I missed my flight, and lost an hour, conversing with the marvelous Cabo Daciolo. Anyone who has a love for politics and a desire to change people’s lives can get lost in time!”

Having seen first-hand Cabo’s actions at the most difficult moments for our family, I would use many words to describe him. “Hateful” is the last word I would use for him.

Of course politics matters. It matters a lot. It’s David’s job, and mine.

But if politics drives you to hate your neighbors and everyone who sees the world differently from you – instead of being angry with centers of power – then it’s playing a very distorted role in your life.

I’ve had David’s cell phone since he’s been hospitalized. It is full of private messages of affection and prayers from people of all parties, of all ideologies. I mean: all. The same is true of my own phone.

The people who send these messages have nothing to gain from it: only human decency. If you decide to dismiss or, worse, hate everyone who sees the world differently, you are walking a dark and empty path, and depriving yourself of valuable opportunities.

Politics matters. But, by design, it often obscures the common humanity that drives most of us.

I understand that for most people this week, with the election on Sunday, everything is all about politics. It is not for me.

Right now my primary concern and focus is on my husband and family. Nothing I have written is designed to influence who you vote for. I know and have enormous respect for Alessandro Molon [a candidate also running for Senate against Cabo]. He would make a great Senator. This, for me, is not about the election.

It is easy in politics to turn others into cartoons and caricatures. We now interact with the world via computerized networks, which allow us to see others as digitized characters on a screen rather than as human beings.

Our family’s crisis has taught me a lot, and I’m grateful to Cabo for helping with that.

I would like to add just a couple of details to this story that I learned afterward. Because of the complications David endured this week, he has been once again heavily sedated, technically in a medically-induced coma. He does wake up sometimes if you call his name loudly enough, but he usually goes right to back to sleep within seconds. The nurse in David’s room told me that when Cabo went there this week to pray with and for David, David remained awake the whole time, and when Cabo left, he expressed to the nurse how happy and moved he was.

Each time Cabo has called me to ask about David, he also conveys messages of support for me and our kids. It is usually an overtly religious message, but it is the opposite of alienating. It expresses the best and most noble sentiments of the Gospels — which I read for the first time at the age of 21, when I was shocked to find how radically different it was from what I had been taught to believe about the New Testament and Christianity and how it often found expression in 1980s political debates from the likes of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. There was nothing evangelizing or mechanical about the Biblical verses he references to me. They resonate deeply with me. He chose them with our family’s fear, suffering and deprivations in mind. They provided great comfort, spiritual connection, and love.

This was the person who I have long heard from the left, and still hear, is driven by hatred, especially for LGBTs and our families. I have a lot more to say about all of this and maybe someday I will return to it. For now I will just say that a left-wing politics that cannot accommodate or form alliances with or even permit respectful and civil interaction with the Cabo Daciolos of the world is a movement that cannot succeed, and probably is a movement that should not.

Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, former constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. His most recent book, “No Place to Hide,” is about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. His forthcoming book, to be published in April, 2021, is about Brazilian history and current politics, with a focus on his experience in reporting a series of exposés in 2019 and 2020 which exposed high-level corruption by powerful officials in the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which subsequently attempted to prosecute him for that reporting. 

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