The past week has been eventful in Brazil to say the least. Justice Minister and Lava Jato mega-star Sergio Moro resigned. His resignation followed the ousting Health Minister Mandetta as the President has pushed to deny the health consequences of the Corona virus pandemic and senses that he can only lose more popularity if the economy remains shut down with social distancing practices. The number of Covid19 cases continues to rise (over 50000 confirmed cases with more than 4500 deaths by April 27) and already major capitals such as Manaus, Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are running out of hospital beds, equipment and personnel trained to adequately treat victims. The economy has grounded to a halt and Brazil, in spite of extraordinary spending measures, and will shrink at least 5% this year with no quick recovery or remedy in sight. Moreover, Argentina is now threatening to drop out of the South American Free Trade Area known as Mercosur.
The impact of the deadly pandemic is obvious not only in the hospitals and cemeteries but also on how people are managing their individual activities to guarantee survival. It is a time for political and economic leadership and President Bolsonaro occupies Brazil’s center stage. His rating in the polls have dropped by over 35% of the population supports him. In thinking about this, I believe we can look at the points that resonate with his followers.
First, Bolsonaro appeals to Brazil’s religiosity. Brazilians are believers and ultimately they oppose those who do not have core beliefs in an Almighty God. Bolsonaro’s theme is God above everything else and he confirms this almost daily. He likes to repeat the cliché that “God is a Brazilian.”
Second, Bolsonaro appeals to patriotism also present in his slogan: Brazil above everyone. This appeal to the nation is potent as it unites people against anything seen as a common enemy. Thus, Bolsonaro and Ministers such Ernesto Araujo wave the flag against communists and their leftist supporters who have a foreign ideology detrimental to the Brazilian way.
Third, Bolsonaro is an advocate for Brazilian traditions. He goes to Church, he was baptized in the Jordan River and supports Christians, both Catholic and evangelical. He is against abortion and anything non-traditional.
Fourth, Bolsonaro enlisted in the Brazilian Army, trained as a paratrooper and although his highest rank was Captain, he was an ardent supporter of the military regime, as were the majority of Brazilians in the sixties and seventies.
Fifth, as a military man, Bolsonaro believes in authority and claims legitimate authority through his election with over 57 million votes. He has taken the reins of government to reestablish everything that the previous leftist administrations had undermined.
Sixth, aside from having legitimate authority conferred by the ballot box, Bolsonaro is also authentic. He credits God with saving him from death at the hand of a would-be assassin, he wades into crowds and to take pictures and shake hands unconcerned about contamination from some little virus that might cause, in his words, a slight cold.
Seventh, Bolsonaro crusades against the corrupt. He not only rejoices with Lula’s condemnation and prison term and attacks the malfeasance of past administrations going all the way back to 1985 for their stuffing of their pockets, taking advantage of the state apparatus, and draining away Brazil’s resources in the name of a socialist project that was nothing more than a cover for stealing from the Treasury and the people.
Eighth, Bolsonaro is manly. For years, he has advocated for the strong hand of the patriarch. He would cast out any son who might show signs of being effeminate and believes that anything LBGT is not an individual lifestyle choice but rather a communist conspiracy to break down family and religious values. His symbolic use of his hands as pistols shows that Brazilians (especially men) have the power to protect their women, their families, and their property from the onslaught of criminals and the left who have in the past worked in conjunction. Loosening restrictions on handguns and their use is another of his trademarks.
Ninth, Bolsonaro sees his family as a model for Brazil and something to be not only protected but promoted. Thus, shows of favoritism are only natural for him. It makes sense for his youngest son to work as his assistant in Brasilia controlling his social media and creating an aura of natural, yet legitimate, dominance. It is completely normal to want another son to be his ambassador to Washington. As Bolsonaro states, he is the Constitution and thus has the authority to do what is perfect in benefit of his office and his family and by extension the nation.
Tenth, aside from politics and being raised (by the hand of God) to Presidency, Bolsonaro is a man of the people. He dresses in popular style going up the ramps of the Palacio in his flip-flops and shirt of the National team. He enjoys Coca-Cola with his rice and beans. Every weekend there is a Brazilian churrasco with the sons, their families. The TV is turned on to the game and everyone has a beer or perhaps a caipirinha in hand.
While some now call for the impeachment of Bolsonaro, it seems smart to consider if this is actually a real option in the current context. The President has been rude, bombastic, erratic in behavior and has many defects, but he also reflects the culture where he is rooted and still appreciated by a significant parcel of the population.
Here is a link to a Data Folha survey confirming Bolsonaro’s levels of support: https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/josias-de-souza/2020/04/28/datafolha-revela-que-falta-rua-para-o-impeachment.htm