O Brasil é um país reacionário, conservador, extremamente retrógrado. Então, ele sofre muito quando tem um período longo de democracia. Claudio Lembo, ex-Governador de São Paulo, https://blogdogersonnogueira.com/2016/12/17/claudio-lembro-brasil-e-reacionario-conservador-extremamente-retrogrado/
The respected British magazine The Economist is promoting on June 10 an event entitled “Can Brazil Survive Jair Bolsonaro?”. It is an interesting question and there seems to be a fairly strong consensus regarding the Brazilian President being noxious and placed in the same category say as Dutarte of the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey or Orban in Hungary. Bolsonaro is fairly easy to classify as a right-wing populist in politics, a genocide in the field of health, an ignoramus in economics, a craven Trumpist in international diplomacy, a machão in gender relations, uncouth in manners and lazy and disrespectful of anyone who does not please including even his followers. Still with all these attributes, he was elected two years ago by large majority of Brazilians who gave him nearly 58 million votes.
The question then arises: Is the problem in the person of Jair Bolsonaro or is the issue something deeper? Before 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was a little respected back bencher in the Brazilian Congress elected from Rio de Janeiro by retired military, mainly the former enlisted and lower ranking officers. He also had support based on guns against crime, a rhetoric of opposing homosexuality, abortion and other hot issues that many on the right support without too much thought. While these points resonate, they typically are not enough to decide a presidential election.
Bolsonaro’s knack was his brazen attack on the past PT administrations of Dilma Rousseff and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. President Dilma’s total political and economic ineptitude led to her 2016 impeachment and both she and Lula were implicated, and Lula condemned, in the Car Wash investigation which brought down part of Brazil’s dominant economic elite and some major politicians as well.
The confluence of economic stagnation, corruption and perceived lack of moral authority and legitimacy opened the path for Bolsonaro. He conveyed to the economic and financial elites that with he would hand over economic policy to the Chicago trained economist Paulo Guedes and that the state would shrink as entrepreneurs freed themselves from the corrupting influence of traditional politics and the exchange of favors and goods in Congress.
Fear and Loathing
Lula’s years of bounty (2002-2010) promised much. Brazilians thought they had respect as the cover of The Economist showed Christ the Redeemer taking off as a rocket. Brazil held the 2014 World Cup (soccer) and became the first South American country to host the Olympics in 2016. However, the commodity boom that drove Lula’s success faded, the Germans gave the Brazilians an unforgettable 7 x 1 licking in Belo Horizonte, and the Olympics were marred by brackish swimming pools and faulty infra-structure. The expression that pride comes before the fall is perhaps apt. Brazilians found that their pride was misplaced. The labor party administration first world Brazil project turned out be a nightmare as violence, drug trafficking, recession, poverty, increasing inequality, and lack of opportunity in the wake of failed promises took hold.
While Lula had once promoted love, peace and inclusion, Bolsonaro thrived on fear and separation. The young man that almost killed Bolsonaro with a knife shortly before the election reinforced and ultimately contributed not only to his electoral victory but more importantly to the legitimization and support of his fear driven, exclusionary, hateful and divisive discourse.
In periods of downturn, in times of crisis, in turmoil most everyone seeks a solution that can easily be understood and transmitted. Brazilians in their fear, in their ignorance and in light of the obvious misdeeds and blatant thievery and incompetence of Lula and friends opened the door to the easy acceptance of Bolsonaro’s reverse PT populism.
The pandemic has contributed to further darkening the outlook and Brazil will soon hit over 500 thousand deaths. Bolsonaro, in his ineptness and prepotency, is largely responsible for this and the excruciating slow pace of vaccinations. Still, he is able to promote initially with the help of Trump, but more recently with the support of deniers, the unproven and unscientific policies to deal with the pandemic. He himself had Covid but only a moderate case which tended to “prove” his point about quackery disguised as science based medical advice. He has not escaped culpability but he has aptly shifted and escaped responsibility by blaming governors and mayors for promoting economic lockdowns, mismanaging and stealing funds and restricting commerce and individual freedoms.
Like all people, Brazilians have their flaws. Many are functionally illiterate, city dwellers live in fear of violence and thus shut themselves in and come to rely on rumor and facile narratives in order to make sense of their lives. Bolsonaro plays on this using a false Christianity and fabricated morality as the obvious solution to the problems people face day to day.
Brazil will certainly survive Bolsonaro, but the question remains if it can survive itself and stop seeking the easy way out. Unfortunately, the creation of and acceptance of developing Brazil’s potential through education, organization and participation takes time and energy, while the daily task of survival for most leaves no strength and only promotes resignation. Eventually improvements will happen but Brazil has a long way even if there is always a bit of hope as society slowly becomes more self-aware and willing to push toward the more difficult but lasting solutions.
The President would like to believe this narrative that he is blessed from above and can’t be defeated.