For most of the 2018 Brazilian election cycle I have limited my comments on the politics of this country to some random social media posts, and more complete coverage over at the Best of Brazil Blog. In fact, for those who are just tuning in, I would recommend going here and starting at the earliest posts for some background.
For those without time or patience to do that, here is a quick summary: Brazilian elections begin with a full crowd of candidates, and a general election is at the beginning of October with all the candidates on the ballot. If one candidate does not emerge with over 50% of the votes, the two most voted candidates face off in a runoff at the end of October.
I am writing this on Thursday, October 25, and the runoff election is only three days away. The two candidates are right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, and left-wing Fernando Haddad.
The following episode, from earlier this morning, should give you an idea as to where things stand:
If you didn’t catch that, let me spell it out: if nothing changes between now and Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro will be the next president of Brazil.
And this has the international press absolutely freaking out. There’s this John Oliver video (warning, it’s John Oliver, so lots of profanity) which basically compares him to Hitler, this ominous piece in Reuters predicting that Brazil will become an international pariah should be be elected , and this screed by a group of Frenchmen, Brazilians, and Noam Chomsky which urges other nations to…well…make Brazil and international pariah should he be elected.
So who is this Bolsonaro monster? Is he, as some have termed him, a “Tropical Trump”?
Indeed, there are some uncanny similarities with the current occupant of the White House – for example, three marriages, a tendency to run off at the mouth, and the ability to play the press like a fiddle.
There are some key differences however. For example, Jair Bolsonaro knows how to handle unwanted endorsements from the KKK.
I refuse any kind of support coming from supremacist groups. I suggest that, for consistency, they support my adversary the candidate of the left party, who loves to segregate the society! This is an offense with Brazilian, the most beautiful and mixed race people in the world.
— Jair Bolsonaro 1️⃣7️⃣ (@jairbolsonaro) October 16, 2018
Mangled English aside, that’s beautiful.
If you read articles or watch the video (remember, profanity…you’ve been warned) I linked above, you will see dire warnings based on things Bolsonaro has said (remember, he has a proven tendency to run off at the mouth) that have many predicting a “Handmaid’s Tale” style military dictatorship where the Amazon rain forest is systematically cut down to provide wood for the scaffolding from which gay people will be hung.
At the time of this writing Jair Bolsonaro’s support sits at about 57% according to polls, and I believe the number is actually higher. The international press (and much of the Brazilian press, it should be noted) wants you to believe that this is because there is a lot of latent misogynistic, homophobic, militaristic totalitarianism in Brazil.
To propagate this idea is to slander an entire nation.
So what is the real reason Brazilians are flocking to Bolsonaro? Surprisingly enough, the John Oliver video (So. Much. Profanity.) does the best job at showing both sides of the issue. But even he stops short of properly describing what is at stake.
So what is at stake? Here is my analysis, having lived in Brazil (and among normal, everyday Brazilians) since 2005.
It’s the Murders, Stupid!
If one candidate, one candidate! had made a serious effort to address the security issue with something other than the same platitudes that have been spouted by disconnected politicians for the last three decades, Jair Bolsonaro might be a non-issue today. But they have not. Consider this tweet from Manuela Dávila, Haddad’s running mate:
— Manuela (@ManuelaDavila) October 1, 2018
Translation: Brazil does not need more guns. We need to guarantee policies that will combat violence.
So here’s the thing, as the average Brazilian is being held at gunpoint (a frighteningly common experience here), I can pretty much guarantee he is not thinking “I wish I had a government policy that would combat this violence.” No…he’s thinking “I wish I had a gun that would even the playing field between me and this bandido.” Another thing he’s not thinking: “I wonder what the French think of all this.”
Enter Jair Bolsonaro, who has included in his platform – among other things – a repeal of the failed disarmament policy.
So when you see the international press losing their minds over Bolsonaro’s finger pistols and accusing Brazilians of “fomenting violence” remember this, the violence has been fomenting for years and years, with innocent Brazilians regularly being gunned down in the street…and the French have had nothing to say about it. Successive leftist Brazilian governments have had a lot to say about it, but have done next to nothing, preferring to invest in dubious educational efforts and involve themselves in massive corruption schemes…which brings us to…
Operation Car Wash
Both the John Oliver video (profanity, profanity, profanity) and the Reuters opinion piece mention the massive scale of the what has been dubbed “The Car Wash Corruption Scandal”. Noam Chomsky et al pass over it like it’s an incidental non-issue.
None of them scratch the surface of the impact it has had. Forget Hillary’s e-mails, forget Benghazi, this scheme to systematically rob Brazilian state oil company Petrobras (an oversimplification of the crime, to be sure) makes even Watergate look like kid stuff. And at the center of it was the ruling PT party – a party that came to power basically accusing everybody else of corruption. Brazilians are mad, and even people who, under normal circumstances, would look askance at someone like Bolsonaro, will vote for him just so the PT will not get back into power.
In the course of the investigation, lists have been published showing the politicians and businessmen involved in the Car Wash thievery, and Jair Bolsonaro’s name is conspicuous by its absence.
God, Family, Country
For many years I have tried to convince people that Brazil is basically a conservative country, despite what is transmitted to the international community via films and other media. The Brazil of 24/7 Carnaval and endless nude beaches is largely a figment of Hollywood’s fevered imagination. Brazil is actually a country with deep Catholic roots, a booming evangelical Protestant subculture, and a deep respect for family. Thus, rank-and-file Brazilians are dismayed at the moral decline of the country, are largely against the campaign to make abortion legal, and are suspicious of efforts to make “anti-homophobia training” a mandatory part of Brazil’s school curriculum. There is even a nascent homeschool movement, for which Bolsonaro has signaled his approval.
Bolsonaro’s motto is “Brazil above all, God above everything.” This overt religious language has resonated with a deeply religious people. Realizing this, the secularist PT candidates have tried to up their religious game – attending mass, trying (and failing) to quote the Bible, visiting religious sites – to the hoots and jeers of rank-and-file Brazilians.
My purpose in writing this is not to defend one political candidate or the other. Rather, it is to defend Brazilians. They are not monsters for supporting Bolsonaro. They live in a context you, my American (or French) friend, cannot understand. Even many “gringo” journalists who report from Brazil live separated from this reality, making occasional forays outside to talk to “the Brazilian on the street”. From their ivory towers they claim that the very Brazilians who are being daily laid low by violent criminals are “fomenting violence”.
Brazilians are about to democratically kick to the curb a corrupt cabal that has wreaked havoc in the country, and put into power someone they hope will do a better job. Will he do a better job? I don’t know. His overtures to Brazil’s past military dictatorship bother me. His tendency to run off at the mouth makes me cringe. I could do without the finger pistols.
But, and I want to be very clear here, foreign countries would do well to focus on their own problems and let Brazilians focus on theirs, thank you very much.