Cup and Culture

ArgentineColorsPiaui

Source:Altivo Neto,  http://www.180graus.com

The World Cup is underway and Brazilians have painted their neighborhoods in the national colors.  However, as the Folha de Sao Paulo reports, residents have used Argentina’s sky blue and white instead of Brazil’s green and yellow.  Although perhaps partially in jest, the paint job reflects Brazil’s perplexing and difficult moment. Indeed, Brazil played a disappointing 1 x1 tie in its opener against Switzerland and President Temer is officially Brazil’s least popular President with a rejection rating above 80%.  So not much room for optimism.   The electoral campaign for the general elections in October will not officially start until after the end of the Cup but the field of candidates, if one can believe the polls, comes down to right wing former military captain Jair Bolsonaro, leftist former governor Ciro Gomes, environmentalist and former candidate in 2014, Marina Silva and Sao Paulo’s former governor and perennial presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB.

Former President Lula has watched from jail in Curitiba over the last 2 months but continues to insist he is candidate although his corruption conviction excludes his running.  If he is included in the polling, he leads all candidates by a good margin.  Lula also has an appeal pending and it is being judged on June 26 in Brazil’s Supreme Court.  A favorable ruling could lead to his release but he would still be forbidden from running according to election rules.

While the Cup and Carnaval usually bring out Brazil’s well known creativity and light hearted improvisation, things seem to be different this time around as the blue and white paint job in Teresina seems to show.  The economy has barely pulled out of the two-year recession which started in earnest in 2015 and the current estimates for growth will perhaps, at best, keep up with Brazil’s demographics at 1.7 percent per year.  The Temer administration adopted a slogan that Brazil had come back 20 years in 2”.  The population, of course, understood this to mean that Brazil had gone back 20 years in the 2 years since Temer replaced impeached President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilians are upset.  They have rejected the entrenched politicians and their support of populists to the right (Bolsonaro) or to the left (Ciro) indicate not so much their love of the candidates but mainly the despair of the old political system and the corruption.  Faith and favor in democracy is at an all-time low as Brazilians perceive that politicians have manipulated the system to their exclusive benefit.  While the vote is mandatory, close to 40% of the electorate are likely to null their ballots showing their revolt and consternation.

The foul mood correlates closely with the economic stagnation.  Those with resources are seeking opportunities in Portugal, other European countries and the US even in the face of Trump’s anti-immigration policy.  Brazilians love traveling abroad but only leave definitively when they feel the doors of opportunity have closed and they need to find hope (a defining characteristic of the Brazilian personality) outside the country.  Veja, one of Brazil’s leading news weeklies, reports that some 62% of Brazil’s young people would abandon the country if they could.

Brazilian essayist and play write Nelson Rodrigues during the World Cup of 1958 identified Brazil’s “stray dog” complex as a result of the monumental Maracanazo loss to Uruguay in the World Cup Final of 1950.  He also noted Brazil’s countervailing extreme in the feeling that with Brazil’s first Cup win in 1958, no other country can match skill and innate creativity of the Selecao as evidenced by its unmatched 5 Cup trophies.  Still, moods swing to extremes.   When the national team performs well, everyone takes part with exuberance and solidarity.  When things go poorly, people lament, complain and cry collectively.

Fernando Lanzer and Jussara P. Souza, in their recent book Para Entender a Cultura Brasileira, use Gerd Hofstede’s cultural dimension methodology to interpret.  Indeed, Brazilians score high on Hofstede’s collectivism measure where individuals define themselves as members of a collective group.  They also score high the “power distance” or acceptance of authority and authoritarian aspects of society which affect the individual.  A third dimension deals with “uncertainty avoidance” and here Brazilians also score relatively high demonstrating a desire for predictable and stable situations.  The combination of these measures might help explain the popularity of Bolsonaro or Ciro Gomes or even Lula’s popularity as a benevolent, yet strong, paternalistic figure.

Of course, culture challenges sociological measures and even using all 5 of Hofstede’s dimension in combination, it is still impossible to accurately predict what factors will lead to mass protests or even lasting celebrations.  Everyone knows that carnival lasts less than a week but Brazil’s skepticism regarding the national team will only be alleviated if Marcelo and his companions can kiss the trophy again and even such a victory is pyrrhic  Certainly more is needed to cure and mature the national psyche.

Brazil’s needs are clear and they go beyond the Cup, futbol and partying.  These are diversions and the real demands are for economic growth with less inequality, better basic education, more individual responsibility and respect for others.  While simple, their achievement requires consistent investments in the basics (education, health, water and sewage).  However as long as there is no consensus and polarization continues, Brazil relegates itself to stray dog status, a country with potential but without success.  On the other hand, as Brazilians leave the country, and get increased exposure to the rest of the world, there is also the possibility of broadening participation, greater access to mobility through individual initiative and a recognition of the good readily available in the Brazilian mind, heart and soul.  Mexico’s great educator, Jose Vasconcellos, called Brazil’s mixture the great universal race and It is still possible that this great mestizo country may yet find a way out its quandary.

 

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Lula in Jail: Hope, Despair and Elections

LulaPresoELPaisPhoto from El Pais: Lula Arriving at Federal Police Prison in Curitiba

Former President Lula, Brazil’s best loved and most hated personality is sitting in jail, hoping for and probably expecting an early release. But it is too soon to tell when this might happen.  While the PT insists that he is their candidate, it is also obvious that he will not be allowed to run for another term as president.  The polls place Jair Bolsonaro in first place in a race without Lula. But Bolsonaro has no party and his support will likely shrink.  Marina Silva has entered the race again and will attract the green vote and some on the left.  She has to compete against the Cearense Ciro Gomes.  So in the center or center right, we have the Governor of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin.  Former Supreme Court President, Joaquim Barbosa, has also joined the race and currently ranks higher than Alckmin with 8 percent in voter intent.  Obviously, it is still early and much has yet to happen before the first round of voting on October 7.  Barbosa’s entry is fascinating as it will test Brazil’s mythical racial equality and pits him neatly against the racist/sexist epitaph spewing Bolsonaro.

Because the PT has won the last four presidential elections, there is an illusion on the left about support for the ideology of the worker’s party.  The problem is that the left did not win; Lula WON, as a populist willing to offer something for all.  While Lula’s popularity is his major strength, it has also turned into a millstone.  He is no longer acceptable to the elite and the media. This has hastened his conviction although the malfeasance of his governments is unquestionable.  His “expedited” removal from the election reflects establishment fear of his return and the rejection of PT’s statist economic policy (New Economic Matrix) as dysfunctional for Brazil.  Of course, the PT’s burden of corruption also played a role even while “morality” is only relative in contemporary politics. Trump, for example, refuses to show his tax returns and comingles business and government.  While Macron, in France, is seeking to reduce the role of the state, his administration has also been questioned for its honesty in negotiating the rail strike and his handling of his cabinet.

While the upcoming presidential election is the marquee event, it also is only a part of the puzzle.  The make up of Congress after the vote will have equal or perhaps greater weight.  Brazil’s political parties have never been about ideologies but instead personalities.  Such is the case even of the supposedly ideal driven PT, which has little support without Lula. The same applies to all other parties.  The many parties represent regional and local alignments of those wielding economic power.  Because these competing forces control Congress, funds from the central government have been essential for assuring governability.  President Temer, for example, comes from the “Centrao” or a coalition of specific economic and local interests.  He has lost his political capital trading benefits for support in escaping trial by Congress on inevitable and obvious cases of corruption.  These same politicians – in order to preserve their office and benefits – have protectively ensconced themselves.  They may voice support for reform but fail to act or promote change in party structure, the electoral process and campaign finance.  As things currently stand, the status quo will prevail in the next Congress and the new president will again be faced with having to “buy off” a venal and fractious set of legislators.

Given the popularity of the anti-corruption movement, the Lava Jato, and the demands for reform, one could speculate that there might be an opening for a new set of less tainted political actors.  However, this is not exactly the case.  Rio de Janeiro is probably the most obvious example of the systemic shortcomings, which inhibit reform.  A little over a month ago, the popular Councilwoman Marielle Franco was brutally executed by professional hit men.  Police, under army supervision, have made little headway in solving the case. In the meantime, another community leader with whom councilwoman had contact was also shot down.  These deaths come about because powerful economic forces tied to organized crime dominate significant areas of Rio. They have their hands in many activities both legal and illegal.  The weakness of public authority has allowed organized criminal gangs and interests to effectively replace it and control large swaths of voters.  In addition, lack of literacy and the inability to see through false promises makes the electorate prey for opportunists of all types including criminals.  Marielle was perceived as a threat to these interests and paid dearly.  Her example makes others fearful to enter the fray.  Overall, the homicide rate continues unabated.

Brazil needs and deserves change. It is important to note that politics as reported in the news fails to show the whole picture.  Brazil’s economy is improving after the long recession.  Civil society is alive and active in spite of the backward obtuseness of the educational system and the quasi-monopoly Globo TV holds on the mass media.  But, Brazil is bigger than its government and officialdom. The productive possibilities in the country contradict and outstrip the fiscal and employment limitations of the state.  Clearly politics and the economy interlink but anyone on the ground also knows there are degrees of freedom and multiple opportunities.  Progress is slow and halting, but it still happens.  The mood is not good but there is still life on the beach and hope for the Selecao.

 

Life and Death in Rio: Marielle Franco

IMG_0887Source: author’s photo of Veja magazine cover

I arrived in Rio on Mar. 14, 2018 the same day that Marielle Franco was assassinated. Unless you reside in Rio, Marielle was not well known. Certainly she was not the national figure that she has become since her execution. Elected to the Rio City Council with 40 thousand plus votes, she was the 5th leading vote getter and seen as a woman of great political potential. She was different from traditional politicians. Ms. Franco was born in the slums, was mixed race, and open and comfortable in her homosexuality. She received her BA from Rio Catholic University had master’s degree and had published on race, gender and human rights. On the left of the political spectrum, she courageously spoke against political and economic inequality, crimes perpetuated against the poor and black and to a significant extent against police brutality in the slums. On the night of her execution, she was returning from a meeting of black women about discrimination, struggles and the means to empowerment. In sum, she was a rising voice seeking to be heard in the cacophony of Rio’s decadent and corrupt political environment.

Political assassinations have gradually become more common in Brazil but most are related to local disputes often among feuding and traditionally powerful dominant families. Marielle’s assassination reminds us more of the killings of Chico Mendes or Dorothy Stang in the more remote regions of Brazil with the almost total lack of institutionalized systems of law and order. While Rio is certainly a crime center and notoriously dangerous, almost all of the weekly double-digit death toll is that of young black men somehow caught up in territorial disputes over drugs, arms and the control of other criminal activities. The situation in Rio reached what many considered its limits in February of this year after an even greater crime surge during “Carnaval”. President Temer, looking to gain some political advantage, declared a military intervention and the Army assumed control of public security in Rio. Given the timing, Marielle’s shooting must be viewed as a serious challenge to the Army and, indeed, the President declared that the attack was aimed at Brazil’s democracy.

Brazil is formally a political democracy with regular elections and an active and fairly open press.  Brazilians regularly reject control although many long for an imagined but totally unreal security of the authoritarian rule by the Generals (1964-1985). On the other hand, all types of inequalities undermine Brazil’s formal political system and almost all institutions are tainted and function as might be expected in a poor underdeveloped country. The elite corporations depend upon extractive industries and a highly protected internal market that barely requires increased productivity or an informed and competent workforce.

As in the United States where mass killings fail to mobilize the electorate or create a critical mass for change, it is unfortunate that this most recent stain on Brazil will have much effect. True, there have been some important public manifestations and protests here and even abroad, but still Brazil is typically more passive than aggressive. Public rage can set a tone and the streets can grab the attention of the political class but thus far the beaches are more crowded than the squares. People are upset but outside of the social media channels, there are few suggestions that this tragic death will change anything. Thus those who planned and hired this hit have sent their message. They have intimidated, they have stated their case for the status quo of uncontrolled crime, violence and malfeasance which strain, stain and sustain Brazil’s political status quo.

Some suggest that Brazil’s violence has metastasized and will eventually lead to the death and collapse of the system. The problem with this view is that fails to account for the resilience of accommodation. People continue to accept criminality, inequality, stupidity and corruption as the norm. Live with it or leave.

Brazil: Muddy Waters, Green Shoots, No Flowers

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Everyone pretty much agrees that Brazil is going through another major crisis.  There is less agreement as to if and when the crisis will achieve some sort of resolution.  Personally in my experience in Brazil since the early 60’s, I cannot remember a time when Brazil was not in crisis.  We have an ongoing process of ebbs and flows dating back to discovery.  There are many explanations ranging from bureaucratic fatalism associated with the Portuguese crown, the geopolitical one derived from Brazil’s less favorable locational aspects, the racial one that blames Brazil’s underdevelopment on its ethnic mix, the political explanation derived from the lack of tradition in participation and voting, the economics due to lack of savings and investment, the educational narrative that notes the lack of functional literacy or the historic one that combines all of the above and more.  Each of these brings something to understanding but still the crises are never resolved and only change a bit in players and personalities.

With all of this, Brazilians remain generally optimistic, happy and compare their country in favorable terms to other places.  For most, Brazil remains the best place to be born and to live.  Even those that participate in the diaspora want to eventually return when things improve.  So how do we reconcile this contradiction?  In spite of violence, mayhem, disorganization, gross inequality, open thievery and poverty, Brazilians still affirm that life is good.  In spite of the recession, now extending to year 3 from 2015 to possibly 2018, Brazil still ranks in the top 10 economies worldwide as measured by GDP having dropped from 6 to 9 in the ranking.  Even so  wealth and wealth creating potential abound.

Amazingly to some, back some 30 plus years, Brazil was in a similar situation.  Jose Sarney (PMDB) was president, supported by Congressman Temer and his colleagues.  Formal unemployment was around 17%, the direct elections movement has lost its chance in 1985 but achieved the open elections of 1989 resulting in Fernando Collor’s election and Lula’s first presidential defeat.  Inflation was higher than that Venezuela’s is now topping 1000% per year.  Like Temer, Collor was called to the carpet on accusations of gross corruption.  Unlike Temer, Collor had no base in Congress and was impeached.  Although Collor had more charisma than Temer, he also failed on the economic front and his different attempts at controlling inflation are remembered with contempt and derision.  Collor’s impeachment in 1992 placed his VP Itamar Franco in the presidency and led to Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) becoming Finance Minister and the implementation of the Plano Real.

In the subsequent elections, FHC trounced Lula two times.  But Cardoso’s second term was made possible by satisfying the venality of Congress (it had to vote a Constitutional amendment allowing a second term).  While the Congressional penchant for the buy off had long existed and had been condoned by the military governments and greatly enhanced by Sarney, FHC also drank from the tainted cup of expediency and now stands accused of having committed the original sin.  In this Cardoso just followed the long tradition of what he has described as “A Arte da Politica” but it is really the dirty business of sausage making, (now “nobly” carried on by JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, thanks to the generosity of Lula, Dilma and the national champion policy which started back with the military governments.)

Things change but remain the same. What goes around comes around.  Can Brazil break the cycle of miracle years followed by crisis.  Can it the country go beyond boom and bust?  My answer is an optimistic yes.  And here is my prediction, no matter how foolhardy.  Today’s Congressional vote allows Temer to survive until the 2018 elections.  The field in 2018 will include the new and the old.  Most likely, the old will win.  It could be Lula if he is not in jail or it could even be the rightist Bolsonaro the messianic ex-military Congressman who sings the praises the military and disdains minorities.  It really does not matter in the long run.  The important fact is to hold the election, gradually renew Congress, put up with whoever is elected and gradually reconstruct civil society based on meeting basic social demands in education, health, and basic sanitation.

This Congress has decided to protect itself by protecting Temer.  The President, in turn, has promised reforms and continues with in their pursuit to maintain a bit of legitimacy bestowed by the market, if no one else.  Given the horse trading that has taken place in order to keep power, it is likely that any further reforms will be more symbolic than real.  The government has already gone beyond its spending cap for this year and now is raising taxes.  Temer will end his mandate as one of Brazil’s most unpopular figures.  Clearly he desires power, is venal and shameless in his own perpetuation.  Still, there no immediate obvious better alternative.  Dilma’s impeachment solved nothing and further surrendered power to corrupt politicians.  Her one virtue was that she allowed and did not block investigations.  Temer has less personal virtue but certainly is a better political wheeler and dealer.  On the positive side though his administration at least opened space for social security, labor and spending reforms.  To all but the most obtuse, there is recognition for this need.  Delfim Neto, now the ranking academic conservative economist is not optimistic but suggests that the “least bad solution” is to let Temer “end his mission and postpone the proceedings” until there is a new administration in place on Jan. 1, 2019.

Brazil continues it herky-jerky halting progress.  In spite of the poor governance, things will gradually improve but the rate will depend heavily on how and if people decide to get involved.  The opportunities are many in civil society and even in the political realm as Temer and cohorts eventually die off.

 

Grading my Brazil Predictions for 2016

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Optimistic Dilma in 2016 – Photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho

 

Some readers have followed, not necessarily religiously, this blog since it went public in January of 2013. Comments have generally been gracious and insightful.

As long-time readers know, I do a New Year’s prediction for how Brazil will fare over the coming 12 months. As part of this, it’s only fair to go back and assess what I got right and wrong. I’m giving my 2016 predictions a gentlemanly B-. Here, for verification, is the link to those year-old predictions: https://allabroadconsulting.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/brazil-predictions-for-2016/

My biggest 2016 prediction mistake was stating outright that President Dilma would not be impeached. I sincerely believed that she could and would marshal the political forces necessary for her survival. Instead, she went down with hardly a whimper and with little or no political or economic support. . A worsening recession, growing unemployment and above all, her indecisiveness in the economic sphere and her disconnect from Congress ultimately doomed her. Her incompetence and distance even from her own party showed her lack of political skill and desire to save her presidency.

While I missed on Dilma, I predicted correctly Cunha’s (former President of House and the main force in Congress behind the impeachment) ouster and Renan Calheiro’s survival (as the President of the Senate). Mr. Calheiros has indeed prevailed but notably weakened and will soon lose the presidency of the Senate. The new President, Michel Temer, has kept his distance from Calheiros preferring other cronies instead. In my predictions, I did not mention Temer (as I did not think he would actually take over) and I should have looked at his ambitions more closely.

On the economy, like most everyone, I correctly anticipated the continued recession but also expected the cycle to reach bottom by the end of the year and naturally perk up from there. It now appears that the upswing may not begin until the second or third quarter of 2017. The recession, the major increase in unemployment and the consequent lack of demand has kept inflation relatively low. I had expected inflation (again with Dilma) to hit or top 10% due to her maneuvering to please supporters. President Temer has pushed a cap on spending through Congress and this along with lack of demand has held inflation to around 6.5% in 2017 with a current tendency to fall. Brazil’s Central Bank is predicting inflation of less than 5% in 2017. While the official numbers appear reasonable, the impact of price increases certainly feels higher and more worrisome on the street.

Speaking of worrisome, Brazil is mastering the art of year-end crises. It used to be mudslides with summer rains creating havoc. These were largely man made catastrophes because of unregulated and uncontrolled development of unsafe areas. Because the deadly slides were associated with the seasonal downpours, they could be blamed on nature. Similarly, Zika was the New Year concern from 2015 to 16 when thousands of cases appeared and hundreds of babies were born with microcephaly. In this case, nature again was blamed but Brazilians also know that mosquitoes breed and propagate due to a lack of basic infrastructure and sanitation. By August and the Olympics, the pandemic was no longer an international threat and Brazil, as I predicted, successfully held the Games. Of course, the major beneficiaries were not the people of Rio but instead NBC and the Olympic Committee. Rio is now bankrupt and many of the so-called Olympics improvements are rapidly falling into disrepair. This 2017 New Year disaster cannot be blamed on nature but must be laid at the heart of the contradictions inherent in Brazil’s barbaric inequality and violent past. Prison riots in the first days of the year have caused well over 100 deaths and the government seems paralyzed in how to address the gangs that control the prisons, their historically abhorrent (mis)management, and the Justice system itself that operates willy-nilly and condemns the poor, black and powerless. The rebellions and deaths show the bankruptcy of the government and paradoxically the strength for those who have nothing to lose and know that life is cheap. The gangs rule in the absence of any other intervening power.

Last year, I also mentioned the continuity of the corruption investigations and, especially the Lava Jato (Car Wash) with its revelations of unprecedented bribery and the chummy network of exchanges between construction companies, politicians and political nominees positioned to take bribes and distribute contracts favoring the “empreiteiras” (construction companies) and their political allies.   Again, thinking that Dilma would hold on to power, I imagined the extension of the investigations to other areas such as the National Development Bank (BNDES) and more specific projects like the transposition of the San Francisco River. Indeed, there has been mention in this direction but no action. Instead, the Temer government sought to quietly dismantle the main investigations and it has only been through strong public pressure within Brazil and from abroad including the US Department of Justice that the prosecutions actually survive.

Interestingly as predicted, Brazil continues to receive massive amounts of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) some 69 billion in 2016. Some of this money is going into the primary sector for land purchases, soybean and pulp plantations. Other sectors are less clear, with industry in decline, the money is likely going to opportunistic acquisitions in manufacturing or processing (i.e. the Petrobras sale of the notorious costly refinery in Pernambuco negotiated recently for 10 cents to the dollar. Other investments are going into education, services, distribution and logistics. Still these have not sufficed to revive the economy. More money is starting to come from China but the Chinese still lack confidence in how to deal with Brazil.

Unfortunately, Dilma’s ouster is still yielding negative returns for Brazil’s institutions. While she was bad, her replacement has not improved the economic situation, slowed the firings, enhanced productive investments or inspired confidence. Dilma, though apparently personally honest, could or would not govern.   President Temer’s rectitude is perhaps less certain. His government is corrupt and weak but more politically adept in dealing with the venal politicians in Congress. Hopefully, the electoral court will not have time to disqualify the Dilma/Temer slate, which would force Temer out and the indirect election of a new interim president who would have filler role to the elections of 2018. If this happens, it will further confuse the public and inhibit the possible emergence of candidates not tied to corrupt schemes or past malfeasance.

Pulling off the Olympics and winning the missing gold medal for the first time in futbol* were the high points, and now Brazil continues to flounder but such is the world in 2017.

*The Olympic gold medal was only major soccer title that Brazil had never won.

A study in shallowness: Donald Trump by Karl E. Scheibe

shallow-1

I am posting an article by my brother, Karl.  He is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Wesleyan University and a practicing clinical psychologist.  Here is the article, with his permission.  I included the above cartoon on my own initiative.

In order to develop an understanding of psychological depth, it is useful to explore the opposite of such depth—individual shallowness.   My choice of a subject for this analysis is arbitrary but not capricious.  Donald Trump provides an obvious and current case study of what is meant by human shallowness.  All of what I say about him, of course, is based upon my reading of what he has said about himself and about what others have said.  I have never met the man and have no claim to special insights about his character.  But he has chosen, in becoming a candidate for President of the United States, to lay himself open to be known and evaluated.  Information about him is plentiful—but obviously partial and incomplete.  With this caveat, I can at least provide some reflections on the version of this man that has been projected to the great public.

The New York Times has published an account of five hours of recorded conversations with that took place two years ago—before his run for president.[i]   The interviews reveal a person who is obsessed with his own celebrity, someone who has a morbid fear not so much of failing as of being either ignored or embarrassed.  He contends that he does not engage in much personal analysis, for “I may not like what I see.”  He has a willful lack of interest in history, does not read books, is impatient and has a limited range of attention.  He is distrustful with other people and does not, in general, respect others—because he does not view other people as warranting his respect.  The interviews recount an episode in which he became angry at his former wife, Ivana, because of her skill at skiing, which made Trump’s ability appear to be inferior to hers.

After the records of Trump’s practice of engaging in unwanted sexual advances to women, he at first denied having actually taken such liberties.  These denials were, of course, met with testimonies of such advances by many women, which in turn were branded by Trump as false.

These and other details of Trump’s life reinforce the conclusion that he is properly described by two closely related disorders:  Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder[ii]

Here are the prime diagnostic criteria for the first:  Histrionic Personality Disorder

  1. Is uncomfortable in situations in which he or she is not the center of attention.
  2. Interaction with others is often characterized by inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behavior
  3. Displays rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotions
  4. Consistently uses physical appearance to draw attention to self
  5. Has a style of speech that is excessively impressionistic and lacking in detail
  6. Shows self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion
  7. Is suggestible, i.e. easily influenced by others or circumstances
  8. Considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are

(p. 714)

And here are the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

(p. 717)

My argument here is descriptive and is not an attempt to be explanatory.  I am not asserting that Mr. Trump has behaved the way he has because he “has” these personality disorders.  But I am asserting that his behavior fits these descriptions with uncanny accuracy.

Over the century of its modern evolution, psychology has developed an extensive amount of experience in noting the behavioral characteristics of human beings that go together.  The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists ten categories of Personality Disorders.[iii]  The two personality disorders that fit Mr. Trump so well are the ones that correspond to the opposite of individual depth.  A person who is deep would also be a person of learning, historical appreciation, human sympathy, understanding, thoughtful, caring, altruistic, forgiving, and modesty of bearing. The figure of Abraham Lincoln comes to mind—the first Republican presidential candidate provides a neat antithesis to the most recent one.

How then could such a shallow person win election as President of the United States?  A proper response to this question demands a consideration of context.  A major part of that context is that the election of 2016 was preceded by eight years of Democratic rule.  Also, Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, had already spent eight years in the White House—and her return would be another Clinton presidency of which we have already had eight years, within living memory for most of the electorate.  Finally, Mr. Trump, in addition to being a shallow person, is without question a large person—filling the stages on which he stood, and manifesting a style that was, in many ways, that of the anti-politician—disregarding convention, propriety, good manners, and standard rules of political conduct.  He was also preceded by the first black president in our history—and let us conjecture that a generalized and pervasive racism in our nation might have potentiated a reaction.  Withal, the drama of everyday life demands change and abhors boredom.  Trump’s very shallowness of character allowed him to act out a defiant and compelling attitude of bold change—and our electorate buried its sullen reserve, and came out to choose him in unprecedented force.  The drama of history is inherently unpredictable—which is why it is worth watching.

A paradoxical advantage of having a man as President who is quite shallow is that he has no deep commitments to any action, cause or purpose that might require him to do or say something that could bring trouble.  Conservatives have been deeply suspicious of Mr. Trump because of his vacillations on matters such as abortion rights, gun control, and immigration policy.  My own conjecture is that Mr. Trump has nothing that would count as deep commitments on these or on any other matter of public policy.  His motivation for action has derived in the past from whatever actions might best serve his own private advancement or gain.  This will continue to be the case.  This means that as the external winds blow, so will Mr. Trump’s commitment to policy change.  I do not particularly fear his having access to the nuclear codes, for as a practical matter, no personal objectives could possibly be served by resorting to the use of nuclear weapons.  He has all of the attention and glory he needs, and is assured of this continuing for the next four years.  He will go with the flow in his presidency so that he might continue to bask in attention, doing nothing to jeopardize the heights he has achieved.

 

 

[i] See Michael Barbaro, nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/politics/conald-trump-interviews.html?_

 

[ii] See DSM-V, the Diagnostic and Statisistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association,

[iii] These are considered to be Axis II disorders, under the multiaxial system of classification. “A personality disorder an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time,  leads to distress or impairment. (DSM-IV-TR, p. 685)

 

 

 

Elections and Democracy in Brazil

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Brazil’s first round of municipal elections was completed on Sunday, October 2nd and there were no major surprises.  Lula’s PT party took a drubbing and the results were somewhat favorable to President Michel Temer’s government although the PMDB did not win, show or place in any of Brazil’s top 3 electoral zones (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte).

Brazil’s mix of the advanced and the archaic certainly comes out in voting.  The vote count was done by computers minutes after the polls closed but those elected succeeded not so much because of their brilliance, competence or party affiliation but instead because of their personal appeal. Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical songster placed first for the run off in Rio. The well-known soccer player Joao Leite came in first in Belo Horizonte and faces the second around against the former president the favorite home futbol team.   Joao Doria, elected outright in Sao Paulo, aside from being a millionaire publicist is also an ex-TV personality who used to host a program analogous to Trump’s Apprentice.  Examples of entertainment and popular culture mixed with politics much like in the USA.  Globalization of politics is all around.

As in North America, wealth, name recognition and being able to convincingly pitch what the people want to hear are important to winning elections.  Still Brazil is different.  In the US there are only two major parties and two “want to be’s” (Libertarian and Green) while in Brazil there are over 35 parties with a complex system of summing party votes to favor a slate and to gain resources.  Republicans and Democrats diverge on social causes, sexual equality, women rights and climate change but in Brazil party separation at the municipal level is not based on programs but on the person.  In Sao Paulo, Lula’s favorite Fernando Haddad tried to walk a thin line between leftist PT politics and efficient spending and use of resources.  In doing so he lost the vote of the poor, which wound up diluted.  Doria was elected in the first round with over 50% of the vote compared to some only some 17% for the PT incumbent.

In Brazil, voting is required by law.  Suffrage has now been extended to 16 year olds as compared to the existence in the 20th century of literacy, age and gender requirements which helped preserve the primacy of the white patriarchy.  Today, Brazilians recognize themselves as a mixed race society and only 48% of the population self describes itself as white, yet over 70% of the elected mayors and council members are Caucasian men.  Traditions are strong and difficult to break.   In the run up to the first round, there were over 20 political assassinations.  Some of these were vindictive small town type feuds but many were related to the drug trade and the preservation of gang influence and territory.  This is a major area of concern in Rio and other big cities.  The situation is not yet like Mexico where the narco-cartels control whole towns and outlying areas but it is something that could occur with the weakening reach of the state.

Elections are important in Brazil and the process and campaigns in the election cycle are important civic activities.  Voting contributes to building civic society and institutions.  These municipal elections were the first where corporate contributions to campaign financing have been prohibited.  In theory, the process is becoming more “democratic” but the prevailing levels of education and the influence of the broadcast media still strongly impact the public perception of the candidates.  Moreover, Brazilian politics reflects the overall level of critical thinking and debate in society.  Certainly, important information on the candidates, their backgrounds and their programs are available and debate is intense and widespread.  People vote their interests based on information and perception.  The effort to be informed and to think is undoubtedly cumbersome and time consuming.   In a situation where people are working long hours to meet ends meet and have little time and cynical view of politicians, the challenges of building institutions and civil society are immense.  But, in the end, it is better to have elections, have voters and the whole process, but at the same time patience with the results.

The short term impact is pretty much business as usual in Brazil.  Populism, personalities and personal contacts and special relationships permeate the system. There are no new or exciting faces readily apparent for the future.   Politics as the means for ordering power still has its draw.  Individuals and organizations strive to promote ideas and interests through the political process and this is particularly important at the local level where streets need to be fixed, sanitation services need to be installed, schools need to function, streets need to be policed and growth needs to be guided.  In the long run, electoral participation should build political institutions.  Former President Dilma Rousseff’s successor, President Temer’s party had the largest number of candidates but the PSDB was more successful in getting people elected. And while the PSDB came out as winners overall, the party is seriously divided between its more social democratic branch and the more conservative elements elected in the city of Sao Paulo.

Brazil needs a political reform to reduce the number of parties and to make them more representative.  Whether Congress can come to this same conclusion remains to be seen and the next big political test will be the general election in 2018.  Given the current situation with a President of questionable legitimacy, it is unlikely thatany major political reforms will take place until after 2018 vote.  At this point, the jockeying is on to see who can emerge as a viable candidate.  President Temer should be ineligible in two years, but if he achieves legitimacy through economic success, the Brazilian politicians can likely find a way to qualify him.  Lula, while under indictment on various corruption charges still is the most charismatic and electorally popular figure.  The PSDB will have the nearly impossible task of finding a unity candidate with the ongoing competition involving Aecio Neves, Jose Serra, and Geraldo Alckmin.  Marina Silva, who came in third with a surprisingly strong showing in 2014 is currently floundering.  Personalities prevail over programs as the Brazilian system gradually evolves with each cycle.