Public morality in the 21st century: From Republican bad faith on health care to Brazilian soccer club signing a goalie who killed his wife and watched his dogs eat her


As we sink into the moral abyss of the 21st century, we need to look not only at Donald Trump’s lies, nepotism, dismantlement of the administrative state, and crony capitalism, but also at other events in other places, in order to see how public morality is faring not only in the United States but also in the rest of the world.

In an age of lies, where the American president lies about everything all of the time, where there is no accountability for presidential or governmental actions, where in short nihilism reigns supreme, we should not be too surprised at the following story.

It describes how a Brazilian soccer star kidnapped his wife and child, killed his wife and then watched his dogs eat her, how after he was set free pending a final judgment, having served 7 of the 22 years to which he was sentenced, he was immediately signed by a soccer club, one of nine vying for his services.


Henry Grabar, “Brazilian Goalie Who Fed His Lover to His Dogs Is Now Free, Signed to a Team, and Wants Custody of Their Child,” Slate, March 14, 2017.

Well, you might say, “What’s wrong with that?”

It all depends on whether there is any sense of public morality left in society.

Are such facts still capable of generating moral outrage?

Moral outrage, of course, is highly dependent on the existence of morality. Can we conclude then that a lack of moral outrage reveals a lack of public morality, or at least that a lack of general public outrage reveals a lack of general public morality?

But what if this story is just fake news? What are the sources? We checked.


(1) Harriet Alexander (New York), “Outrage as Brazilian football club signs goalkeeper whose girlfriend’s body was fed to dogs after he ordered her torture and murder,” The Telegraph, March 14, 2017 (8:30 p.m.).

“(Bruno Fernandes de Souza’s) wife, another lover, a cousin and a former police officer, Marcos Santos all took turns to beat her. It is claimed Fernandes himself watched as Santos committed “barbaric tortures” on the victim, playing music to drown out her screams before strangling her with a tie in front of her son.

“Her body was then chopped up and fed to the dogs, with the bones buried in concrete.”

“But Fernandes’s legal team managed to secure his release last month, after only seven years.

In February he told a Brazilian TV interviewer, according to The Sun: “I want to make it clear that even if I stayed here and was given life imprisonment, for example, in Brazil, it would not bring the victim back.

“I paid dearly, it was not easy.

“This will help me as an experience. It has been a learning experience, not a punishment.

“And on Tuesday he was expected to be unveiled as the new star signing of Boa Esporte, in Minas Gerais state.

“In Brazil we do not condemn people to death or to prison forever,” said Rone Moraes da Costa, owner of the club, in a statement on their Facebook page.

“Therefore, when a prisoner is released, they can find means of forming part of society; working and gaining dignity through work.”

But many disagree.”

Three sponsors of the Boa Esporte team have withdrawn their support, and demonstrations against the hiring decision are planned.

(2) Breiller Pires (São Paulo), “Bruno Fernandes de Souza: Caso Bruno, um retrato incômodo do sistema penal brasileiro; Soltura do goleiro joga luz sobre lentidão dos processos e o excesso de presos provisórios,” El País, 14 MAR 2017 (12:53 EDT).

This account explains that Fernandes de Souza was released on a habeas corpus petition because he had been held in preventive detention for four years following the conclusion of the first-level trial of the case, while the second-level court was considering its decision to uphold or reverse the first-level decision. In Brazil, the conviction is not final until the second-level decision, unlike the situation in the United States.

The real scandal here is in the antiquated criminal justice process that led to the four-year delay, and even more in the fact that soccer teams rushed to sign him when he was freed pending the second-level court’s final decision.

The story is still out on how Brazilian society will react to the above. The questions are: How big is the outrage? Is it big enough to make a difference?

The news stories on Fernandes de Souza have come from media outside of Brazil, with few exceptions. The moral outrage within Brazil, to the extent it exists, has not been reported by Brazilian media.

Now, closer to home, we might consider the public morality of the Republican House members’ health care plan. It would lead to 24 million more people having no insurance coverage in 10 years than would otherwise be the case, and 14 million more next year. It would allow insurance companies to charge older subscribers up to five times more in premiums than younger subscribers, effectively doing away with the underlying concept of health insurance in which everyone and all risks are pooled together.

Under this plan, if you’re 55-64, and sick, you pay more. A great deal more. So much more that you won’t be able to afford it, and your “choice” will be to not buy health insurance. The plan would save money, by providing health coverage to fewer people, and cutting back on the benefits such coverage encompasses. This is done by transferring money from supporting the health care system to tax cuts for the rich.

On the same theory, we could save money  on defense by shutting down the Air Force.


Margot Sanger-Katz, “No Magic in How G.O.P. Plan Lowers Premiums: It Pushes Out Older People,” New York Times, March 14, 2017.

The cruelty in this proposal is self-evident. The larger fact is that it is being presented in bad faith, with none of its supporters believing that the actual end product will look anything like what is being proposed.

But at the end of the day, the basic immorality of giving rich taxpayers over $500 billion in tax savings, while pushing the poor and elderly out of the health care system, cannot be disguised.

This public immorality now lies at the heart of the Republican Party of Donald Trump.

Lies. Lack of accountability. Bad-faith public policy proposals. Reversing decades of efforts to protect the health and welfare of ordinary citizens by, for example, relaxing air pollution standards for cars, eliminating programs aimed at protecting the environment, and ripping out regulations designed to protect the little guy from the predations of large corporate entities.

That is the Republican Party of 2017. A party built on the denial of our national community, our responsibilities toward each other, and the idea that we should help protect the poorest and the weakest in our society.

Social Darwinism, in 2017.

Profoundly un-Christian.

What is the difference, in essence, between hiring a football goalie who has murdered his wife and fed her to his dogs, and throwing millions of older people out of the health care system, with the inevitable consequence of their not getting timely treatment and dying as a result?

Is there still an echo of public morality left in Brazil, or in the United States?

Is the moral outrage which depends on a sense of public morality large enough, the public morality strong enough, to bring such moral outrages to an end?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.