Bolsonarism and the Death of Democracy

Far right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro making “finger guns”, in an allusion to his defense of gun ownership for all citizens in Brazil.

Jair Bolsonaro is the most dangerous politician in the democratic world right now.

His vicious discourse defends and promotes racism, sexism, LGBTQI+phobia, xenophobia, the end of human rights protection, and the absolute prevalence of religious and patriarchal extremism. He has publicly denied the historical commanding role of European nation-states in African slave trade; emphatically supported violence towards queer individuals; openly advocated for torture and military authoritarianism; repeatedly threatened to physically and sexually assault women; advocated for the end of the federal statute that protects the rights of children and adolescents; and categorically affirmed that the deaths of civilians during armed conflicts are a “necessary sacrifice.”

He thrives on a supposedly anti-establishment rhetoric that in fact does nothing but shift the center of corrupt power-seeking strategies to the core of a hypocritical and bloodthirsty elite, whose anachronic ideologies are modeled by a Bible-beef-and-bullet-led kind of cult. He condemns corruption as a practice “natural” to left-wing parties; yet, he practices it on the very right edge of the political spectrum. He has spoken out forcefully about the security problems populations are facing across the country; ironically, bringing yet more guns onto the streets, as well as giving to civilians the right of possession to them, seems to be his utmost obsession.

On the night of October 7th, shortly after the results of the first round of presidential elections were released, a black Brazilian artist was violently murdered in Salvador in the name of extremism. At a bar, the capoeira instructor — Moa do Katendê — declared having voted for Bolsonaro’s second-round rival Fernando Haddad, from the Workers’ Party. A Bolsonaro supporter reacted aggressively, then took a knife to Moa’s back 12 times. Just a few days earlier, in the afternoon of October 3rd, neighbors of a gay man from Curitiba found his tied corpse in his closet. Cacá, as his closest ones called him, had arranged an encounter over social media with an unknown man on the previous night. The same man dropped by the door of Cacá’s building in the evening after the murder, asking about him. On being informed of Cacá’s death, the man left screaming “Hail Bolsonaro!”

Murders, beatings, public utterings of discriminatory slurs, sexual harassment and assault — these crimes have been legitimized in the eyes of privileged populations, young and old, male and female, by one man’s mind. Bolsonaro spits on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on a daily basis, and, for some time now, has presented no scruples as to whether his statements are allowed or not. As a member of Congress, he thrives on his parliamentary immunity to disseminate hatred fueled by deception. He promises a good he cannot deliver and delivers an evil no human being deserves. It is no stretch to put him in the same category as father of fascism Benito Mussolini and nazi regime leader Adolf Hitler. By denying Brazil the diversity elements that make it such a unique nation — its multitude of ethnicities, religions, colors, sociopolitical structures, artistic expressions, and much more — Bolsonaro paves the way for the establishment of a Eurocentric and radically Christianized doctrine akin to those that attempted to justify colonization and slavery not that many centuries ago. “Brazil above everything; God above everyone.” His motto is an omen and a warning of the imminent radicalism that looms over Brazilian society. The recent and more frequent instances of hate crime in the country may be a sign we are entering an era that will come to be mournfully remembered as “bolsonarism.”

Younger generations like mine grew up in a country where development felt almost natural. We witnessed Brazil’s rise from an indebted and technologically late state to a promising society whose democratic potential seemed to bloom along with its significant economic growth and major sociopolitical achievements. The expected “crowning” of our national victory was to last for two whole years, beginning with the 2014 World Cup and ending with the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Indeed, the world had its eyes on Brazil during those days, and we finally got the rare chance to show everyone the most precious aspects of our society. Our cultural, intellectual, and artistic leaders went beyond all stereotypes, empowering younger generations who were prouder than ever of their land and truly hopeful for its future.

But the panorama had already changed by then.

Corruption and bribery scandals uncovered by the massive Mensalão and Carwash operations led to a generalized feeling of disbelief in politics. This feeling was heightened by the multiple corruption accusations faced by Lula, the controversial yet extremely popular former president and leader of the masses, as well as several other members of his party, by virtue of the same operation. The situation became unbearable, and by the end of 2016, democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party; Lula’s political heir) had been impeached through a largely obscure (and, some claim, premeditated) process carried out by the Congress. On a local level, Rio’s public funds were depleted after the 2016 Games, and violence was rampant. The dream had died.

Much like Hitler in post-World War I Germany, Bolsonaro has thrived on the crisis installed in Brazil to create his illusion of a virtually dystopian sense of “order.” More than that, he takes advantage of the current state of fragility Brazilians experience with regards to political identities and national development to reappropriate anti-democratic ideals known to have failed people’s needs. Finally, his strategy to neutralize the obstacle to his plan posed by said failure involves a constant and radical process of truth distortion, history erasure, and the targeting of certain identities and their respective communities within the larger society.

Bolsonarism is not just a threat to Brazil; rather, it is an exacerbation of a process of radicalization that has been growing all over the globe. Le Pen in France, Salvini in Italy, Trump in America, Erdogan in Turkey, and Putin in Russia. These and other politicians have contributed to the incorporation of authoritarian and radical elements into several of Bolsonaro’s extremist tactics. Now he returns these tactics to them, stronger than ever, because they are merged into one high-functioning, self-feeding system of popular co-optation. The final move is yet to come: having successfully distracted the people while he ties the noose around their necks, Bolsonaro will soon be ready to pull the lever that will extinguish freedom in the country. If he manages to succeed, others will follow.

All eyes are once again turned to Brazil, this time with great apprehension. The future of democracy in the world may well be in danger at the moment. It remains a mystery to my generation and younger ones what country will be left to us after October 28th. For now, we can only hope that it will be a democratic one.

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