Imagine a society where state services have been reduced to the bare minimum, or have even stopped to exist. Citizens and small commerce pay directly to armed groups (milicias) that take care of their families or businesses’ safety. The same mafia-style armed groups organize essential goods such as cooking gas and internet services, traffic drugs inside the communities and schools, and so on.
On the weekends, citizens go to the local Pentecostal church, where ministers, after delivering a conservative moral speech, circulate their electronic payment machines to collect the tithe. Health services are privatized, and families are allowed to carry guns to protect themselves.
This is the type of dystopic society that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has in mind. Since he took office at the start of 2019, he is doing everything he can to undermine the Brazilian Republic (in Latin, res publica, the public matter).
His everyday target is the public institutions, and his appointed ministers fight against the matters that their own ministries should be taking care of. The Ministry of Education, for example, hates public universities, teachers, and research, while the Ministry of Environment battles and fires the public servers who are to defend the Amazon.
Bolsonaro is on a mission to destroy everything that he believes was built by the “left.” That’s why he aims to abolish every single Republican institution in the country. He undermines, defunds, or simply closes down any public agency that has been constituted to control the civic life and the norms that rule social life.
Trap of Bolsonaro’s Daily Trolling
Bolsonaro delivers weekly press conferences, in which he targets minorities such as gays, indigenous people, and women. He uses these encounters and his social media to provoke the “left,” and so far, the center-left or left political parties, social movements, and even the mainstream media have been falling into the president’s daily trolling.
More recently, Bolsonaro used a messaging app to share with some “friends” a call for a street demonstration against the country’s Supreme Court and Parliament. The protest’s organizers believe that these institutions prevent Bolsonaro from doing the good things he wants to do for Brazil.
A ser verdade, como parece, que o próprio Pr tuitou convocando uma manifestação contra o Congresso ( a democracia) estamos com uma crise institucional de consequências gravíssimas. Calar seria concordar. Melhor gritar enquanto de tem voz, mesmo no Carnaval, com poucos ouvindo.
— Fernando Henrique Cardoso (@FHC) February 25, 2020
The demonstration and Bolsonaro’s sharing of it, however, are a big troll. The president’s office and Parliament are just negotiating this year’s federal budget, a regular negotiation that takes place every year.
As Bolsonaro shared this video, the “democratic” field (leftist, centrist, but also rightist political parties; mainstream media; a multitude of blogs and YouTube channels; unions; social movements) started to cry and spend all their energy accusing Bolsonaro of orchestrating a military coup against the democracy. Nothing is further from the truth, however.
Consequences of Leaving Bolsonaro Unchecked
Bolsonaro does not challenge democracy, as he lacks the charisma or leadership to lead a military coup and authoritarian government or dictatorship. His actions, if not understood and prevented, will lead to something worse than that: a country with no state institutions, a type of far-west society where every family looks after itself or is protected by the armed gangs that have Bolsonaro’s support.
Understandably, people are afraid of Brazil’s possible return of military dictatorship. The 21 years of the last dictatorship (1964-1985) left profound scars on the nation’s psyche. There are yet to-be-found bodies of “disappeared” people who were tortured and killed by the military. The torturers and criminals of the dictatorship have never been prosecuted.
Nevertheless, if the left keeps using the “dictatorship lenses,” “danger of the military coup,” and other old categories to analyze today’s situation, they will not be able to come up with the right diagnosis. Consequently, they will keep failing to oppose Bolsonaro’s advances on the Brazilian constitution and citizenship.
Where Do Bolsonaro’s Views Come From?
As philosopher and writer Paulo Ghiraldelli Junior points out in his latest book, A Filosofia Explica Bolsonaro (Using philosophy to understand Bolsonaro), Bolsonaro attended Brazil’s most famous military school as an adolescent. There, he learned about the National Security Ideology, and this is all he knows.
This anti-communist ideology preaches that Brazil and South America will be unsafe unless all the left ideas and people are eliminated, physically if possible. Bolsonaro was “frozen” in this period, and he has never learned anything new.
The ideology of national security is all he has been talking about during his nearly three decades as federal representative – always elected with the votes of the retired militaries or their “single” daughters and widows. Nobody used to listen to him, and he was considered a weird anonymous backbencher.
Suddenly, due to some exceptional political circumstances that might never be repeated, he jumped into the presidential chair. Why did people think he would change? He is there, trolling everyone, and taking an incredible amount of satisfaction that now the whole nation has to listen to him and that the “left” falls into every single absurd word that comes from his mouth.
Erosion of the Brazilian State
In the meantime, his Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, is passing all the constitutional “reforms” that will shape the future Brazilian state, or more accurately, the lack of it.
The workers’ rights reform is already being implemented, unemployment rates are soaring, the casualization and uberization of the working force are visible, hunger has come back to Brazilian homes, and homeless people proliferate on the streets. Additionally, the pensions reform has been approved, and women and Brazilian workers will need to work five or even ten extra years to receive an unsatisfactory pension.
At the moment, Brazil’s Parliament is discussing Guedes’ bill to reform public servers’ career. This reform will end public service in Brazil, as it will bring instability, lower wages, and several obstacles for governmental employees to achieve promotions and better positions.
As Guedes keeps selling public properties, the Brazilian state virtually disappears, and Bolsonaro’s dystopian “society” becomes a reality. A society formed by mobs made up by former (or current) police officers controlling entire communities allied with Pentecostal churches exploiting humble people’s good faith is an ideal scenario for the flourishing of Bolsonaro’s voters.
As Bolsonaro started his term in office, a few isolated commentators called the opposition leaders to constitute a shadow government (as they did in the past), putting together alternative projects to every single plan that the government presented. But these voices have been repelled.
So far, the opposition has not been proactive, and it’s not coming up with new proposals that could penetrate the mainstream media and be presented to the citizens. They only react to Bolsonaro’s foolishness. In a moment where the right-wing, neoliberal, and conservative forces are nearly hegemonic, the left, by trying to read the current social context with lenses based on the past, miss the target and allow Bolsonaro’s growth.
Na última vez em que fecharam o congresso foram 21 anos de tortura, estupros, assassinatos, arrocho salarial, endividamento e um regime que quebrou o país. Não vamos repetir essa tragédia, agora é a hora de todos se mobilizarem em defesa da democracia. #ditaduranuncamais
— Marcelo Freixo (@MarceloFreixo) February 26, 2020
This growth is not based in an authoritarian or fascist government style, where every single idea or order emanates from the leader. Most of the current social and political analysts want it to be like this, to call it a “dictatorship” or “coup,” so Bolsonaro fits in their analytical categories.
This view, however, allows for Bolsonaro’s movements to escape from their analysis. His actions are based on a fragmentation of power. Bolsonaro does not need to give anybody an order.
A farmer in the Amazon knows that nothing will happen to him if he and his paramilitary group invade indigenous protected land, kill the people, and burn the forest. They even film their actions and show them in Bolsonarian social media channels. Bolsonaro’s supporters love and share these videos. Policemen know that they will have the back of the presidency if they act with brutality or destroy public property.
Brazil’s Republic at Risk
As awful as the military dictatorship was, it had a central command and a (perverted) vision of Brazilian society. It ended up badly, and finally, with the country’s re-democratization in the late 1980s, the 1988 Constitution opened the door for rebuilding Brazilian institutions, such as health and educational systems, local and federal courts, parliamentary houses, and public agencies.
The 1988 Constitution also established the basis for the implementation of just and positive policies for the country’s minorities, such as women and black people.
In this sense, Bolsonaro’s dystopian view of society is worse than the dictatorship, and its implementation is already underway. There is no fascist-style central mob leader, but rather, thousands of small mobs, inspired by Bolsonaro’s hate speeches, dehumanizing and extorting communities.
Bolsonaro’s lack of any societal vision is already destroying the Brazilian Republic and the republican institutions that sustain civilization and society. Unless the opposition wakes up and starts directing its forces to the right targets, the fall of democracy will swiftly follow.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.