Presidential candidate Jair Messias Bolsonaro presents himself much like Mr. Trump did in the States: an alternative to today’s corrupt politicians. However, his story and his platform are outright scary.
The electoral upset Brazil lived this past Sunday is shining light on a phenomenon perhaps better exemplified by the raise to power of one Donald Trump on the other side of the hemisphere; but Jair Messias (yes, that is his middle name) Bolsonaro presents himself much like Mr. Trump did in the States: an alternative to today’s corrupt politicians. The one who will "drain the swamp" of corruption. However, it's been his remarks against black people, women, and the LGBTQ+ community what has grabbed the attention of many and what may appear, unfortunately, that has earned him votes.
After the rise and fall of the promised land of social justice hailed by the Party of The People led by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (currently in jail for corruption), the swing right is no surprise; and yet, parts of the story and agenda of this ex-military man are so cringeworthy that his victory has come as a shock to many.
Contrary to popular perception, Bolsonaro is no newcomer to politics. He used to serve in the Brazilian Army’s field artillery and parachutist groups until he stepped into politics in 1988, when he won the elections for the Rio de Janeiro City Council. After that, he was elected for the lower chamber of Congress and ended up being re-elected 6 times. Through his 27 years as a Federal Deputy, he presented around 170 “projetos de lei” (bills), but his lack of preparation –or action around the issues he presented – meant mediocre proposals, so he only got two of those approved as law.
Probably what catapulted Bolsonaro to the spotlight was his penchant for inflammatory rhetorics, and his vicious opposition to things like abortion, equal pay for men and women, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action. And, not content with spearheading an extremely conservative agenda, his public persona has been dotted with anecdotes like that one time a black Brazilian singer asked him what would he do if one of his sons fell in love with a black girl, and he answered “I will not discuss such things as promiscuity, there is no danger that can happen, my sons are well educated”, or that time when he showed his homophobic stance saying that being gay was the result of lack of punishment from the parents and then added: “I would rather my son be killed in a car crash than see him with a man”.
Nobody should be surprised to learn he also supports the use of torture and has sang praises for the now defunct dictatorship that strangled the country for over 20 years: “The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture, but not kill” its enemies. Yet, here we are, after a first round of voting in one of the most pivotal moments for the future not only of Brazil, but for the rest of the world, and this man is the front runner: the favorite candidate to lead the sixth largest country on the planet, home to 208 million people.
I could write a whole thesis on why this setback is happening, but let me just write a few thoughts on this, a couple of glimpses into the Brazilian experience and aspects of it that may be contributing to this mess.
The Worker's Party, Da Silva's party, the "big elephant in the room", promised social justice, a better redistribution of wealth and a revamping of an already corrupt political system, only to be plagued by the same sins as their predecessors. For a people already disgruntled and disappointed in politics, this betrayal of trust has been too much to handle. Still, to be fair, this ailment is not exclusive of the Worker’s Party, but more of a pervasive culture of corruption that permeates all sides of the political spectrum. However, media –always happy to kick a fallen horse, especially if said horse promised to take away their cozy deal with power– has demonized the PT while minimizing the failures and crimes of the rest of the politicians as “business as usual”.
Couple that with a completely nonsensical platform with no regards for logic or consistency on issues like education, health and public safety, a platform that pays lip service to whoever may be listening at that moment, and Bolsonaro has managed to present himself as the savior of the nation, a soldier fighting corruption (although he himself has been accused of money laundering), and people fell for it.
Many of his constituents have minimized his extreme views on social issues with the always reliable excuse “he has been misunderstood”, and many more just shrug away his violent rhetoric as a necessary evil to clean the dirty mess that is Brazilian politics. Add the not so small part of society that actually agrees with him –in a country still struggling with a historical past full of slavery and religious extremism– and you'll get the 49 million people who voted for him.
As a gay student of International Relations in Brazil, what he represents and what he stands for are the worst possible scenarios. The worst part isn’t Bolsonaro himself, after all, there have always been far-right candidates. What causes a real shock is that the support he receives comes from a huge part of my own countrymen and women. My biggest fear isn’t what he’ll personally do, but how his conservative constituency will be validated after the election.
Ever since he became the frontrunner in this election, episodes of violence towards the LGBTQ+ community –and others who do not support him– have increased: in the state of Salvador de Bahia a capoeira master was stabbed to death after criticizing the candidate. After all, Bolsonaro himself has stated that he “will govern for everyone, even the atheists”. Who knows, maybe I’m just being "overdramatic". Either way, it is a scary reality we’re living in, one that has shown that we Brazilians still have a lot to learn from our own history.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons