For Mr. Bolsonaro, it was a show of force. In the morning, addressing a crowd of around 400,000 people in Brasília, he said he intended to use the size of the crowd as an “ultimatum for everyone” in the three branches of government. In the afternoon, at a demonstration in São Paulo of 125,000 people, the president called the elections coming in 2022 “a farce” and said that he will no longer abide by rulings from one of the Supreme Court justices. “I’m letting the scoundrels know,” he bellowed, “I’ll never be imprisoned!”
It seems to be part of a plan. By picking a fight in particular with the Supreme Court — which has opened several investigations of him and his allies, including of his role in a potentially corrupt vaccine procurement scheme and his efforts to discredit Brazil’s voting system — Mr. Bolsonaro is attempting to sow the seeds of an institutional crisis, with a view to retaining power. On Sept. 9 he tried to back down a little, saying in a written statement that he “never intended to attack any branch of government.” But his actions are plain: He is effectively threatening a coup.
Perhaps that’s the only way out for Mr. Bolsonaro. (Apart from properly governing the country, something that apparently doesn’t interest him.) The antics of the president, struggling in the polls and menaced by the prospect of impeachment, are a sign of desperation. But that doesn’t mean they can’t succeed.