Jair Bolsonaro isn’t the new Trump – it’s much worse. 2018 Brazilian elections and the normalization of violence.3
October 28, 2018 by Cláudia
Two years after Trump’s presidential victory, the political situation in Brazil cannot help but leave a feeling of deja-vu. Lunatic running for President, popular support against all odds, the general acceptance of claims that are purposefully outrageous… with one main difference: I am no longer under the illusion that common sense prevails, making me come to terms with the likelihood of his victory.
It is undeniable that the political leaders share some striking similarities: both are right-wing candidates, who are unapologetically racist, misogynist and homophobic. Both presented themselves as the saviour of a nation they considered to be in decline. And both made absurd sensationalist claims, which granted them much debate and popularity.
Still, there are some differences worth noting. First of all, Bolsonaro is in the military, with strong convictions about what he thinks Brazil’s politics should look like – namely, a military dictatorship, featuring an ethnic cleansing “never before seen in Brazil”. He has been extremely transparent about what he is going to do when in charge. Trump’s campaign was much less straightforward – an innate showman, with his theatrical gimmicks managed to distract everyone from the contradictions in his own political discourse.
But next to Bolsonaro, Trump starts to seem pretty reasonable, for while he always seemed to be portraying a character, the Brazilian leader seems to be fueled by violence and hatred. Defending a military dictatorship (and torture), he criticizes the previous Brazilian dictatorship for not being violent enough and for not killing enough people (“The mistake they made was torturing but not killing enough”). He wants law enforcement to increase killing of criminals – and if innocent people die in the process? “Too bad!” he answers. Plus, he boasts that if he is elected “every Brazilian will have their own gun”.
On a global level, he worrisomely plans on withdrawing Brazil from the Paris Agreement and weakening environmental regulation in general, which can be particularly problematic as the biggest lung on Earth, the Amazon forest, is already currently being attacked and destroyed. Furthermore, this significantly puts Indigenous lives in an even more vulnerable position. In fact, he is overtly dismissive of Indigenous rights and is very straightforward about ending the demarcated areas (meaning the areas where Indigenous people are legally allowed to live without outside disturbance). In a context of continuous corporate attacks and murders against Indigenous people in order to explore their land, this is both a human rights and an ecological tragedy.
He is openly homophobic, racist and misogynist. A lot of his most outrageous claims are already pretty well-known, such as claiming that he could never love a gay son, that he would rather that he died in a car accident than be gay. He claims that if your child starts to show signs of being gay, you should beat them up until they stop. That he would never allow his children to fall in love with a black person. That African-descendants aren’t even worthy to procreate, which is why he proposes an increase of birth control. Criticizing a programme meant to decrease homophobia in schools, he believes “They [the LGBT+ people] want to reach our children in order to turn the children into gay adults to satisfy their sexuality in the future. These are the fundamentalist homosexual groups that are trying to take over society.”
But enough of atrocities.
What has been keeping me from writing about this issue for so long (on the eve of the elections now!) was an utter disbelief that people were actually supporting this clearly delusional paranoid lunatic. It just seemed so clear to me that someone who makes those kinds of statements is not adequate to be in a position of power that I couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind would back him up. Which brings me to an interesting point – I don’t think they are in their right mind.
The other day, I was talking to a Brazilian woman who was voting for Bolsonaro because she couldn’t take violence anymore. When I commented that he is in favour of violence, even if innocent people get hurt, she exclaimed “If innocent people have to die, then let them die! And if it has to be me, then be it. And if it has to be my children, then be it. We need change”.
Now, I don’t believe for one second that she meant what she said. But I think it opens an important point of how despair and fear lead to rash behaviours and just blatant insanity.
Brazilians have been living in an unlivable situation marked by violence, constant shootings, missing people and drug trafficking (that leads to more violence, shootings etc. etc.). Plus, the operation Lava Jato has shown the corruption to be even deeper than what people believed. Every politician was implicated. And people have had enough of it. The weariness with corruption and crime is leading people to make irrational decisions. The whole banner of Bolsonaro’s campaign has been fighting corruption and crime. And people are defending voting for him as a protest vote: against corruption, against criminality and against the untrustworthiness of the political class.
Naomi Klein has talked about how shock can actually help Governments to control, manipulate and silence the masses in The Shock Doctrine (2007). None of what is happening is entirely new – a messiah promising to take the country out of the misery and despair? A political discourse that paints a political leader as a saviour? The masses fervently defending him against the tiniest critique? Historically speaking, the situation in Brazil was actively begging for someone like him to step up.
But why are people so trusting that this lunatic is going to change anything for the better? I’m inclined to believe it is mostly a matter of lack of options. For better or for worse, voting for Haddad would be preserving the status quo. Member of the workers’ party, shadow of the prisoner ex-President involved in corruption, Haddad does not bring any hope of change. And people are longing for change, whatever that might be.
And change Brazil will have. In fact, it is already getting a little taste of it. University students are being taken into custody for campaigning against Bolsonaro. Huge attacks on democracy are already in course, such as the police destroying educational material at University and attacking people on the streets for no reason (saying “you better start getting used to it!”). People who are not conforming with the possibility of a dictatorship are constantly being threatened. Women who posted with the #EleNão (not him) were raped by Bolsonaro supporters and a transvestite was murdered by someone yelling that Bolsonaro doesn’t want faggots in his country.
Regardless of what he does in his Presidency (and, unlike many Brazilians, I have no reason to believe he won’t actually do what he proposed to do), the normalization of violence has a deeply disturbing effect and we are already seeing a glimpse of its nefarious consequences. Hatred and violence are not only normalized and tolerated, but promoted, and that is honestly the scariest scenario I can imagine. He is not in formal power (yet) but his influence is already being felt, his ideas are spreading and are legitimizing any hatred that was repressed.
I have no idea what the future holds. It’s hard to shine a light in dark places. I don’t know how to communicate with people with so much anger and hatred inside.
All I know is that 50 years from now, people will study this time in their History books with fear and solemnity and a little bit of embarrassment that the same species as them made such bad choices.