‘This is far, far worse than anything in the States’

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‘This is far, far worse than anything in the States’

Brazil resident Ewan McKenna is unnerved by the election success of far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro


Stoking anger: President-elect Jair Bolsonaro
Stoking anger: President-elect Jair Bolsonaro

Last Sunday, I walked my wife to a polling station in the city of Belo Horizonte. It wasn’t out of chivalry though, instead this was a simple matter of safety. She’s a left-leaning woman in Brazil in 2018 and it’s a bad combination in what the state has become.

That will mean nothing to most despite the size and importance of what has been allowed to happen in the fifth most populous country and eighth biggest economy on the planet. Far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro won the election run-off at the weekend, cruising home with 55pc of the vote, in the process turning the country not just towards fascism, but throwing it right into the beating and black heart of such an ideology in so many ways. Known as the Trump of the Tropics, it’s a moniker that has helped him for it’s a white-washing comparison. This is far, far worse than anything today in the States, even if some of the deception and methodology to get him there is from the same playbook, which isn’t surprising given former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s involvement.

During the first round of the election, some voting against him were attacked for standing against his values. The sister of an actress reacting to homophobic calls in public got a slap to the face; one woman with journalistic credentials was spotted and warned that, “When my commander wins the election, you lot in the press will die”; a man was killed in a bar for daring to mutter against the tide of national socialism; a video of a student turning up to vote with a gun emerged as he threatened black people, communists, and warned as to what will soon happen.

Bolsonaro, having stoked such anger with his intentional and brutal rhetoric, refused to take any responsibility and shirked all accountability. Yet on the streets, self-appointed sheriffs were akin to the empowered Sturmabteilung under Adolf Hitler. There’s a fear about such a comparison due to it being used in so many cases when inappropriate, however, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored for when the jackboot fits…

Take a brief dive into the rap sheet of Bolsonaro, as across a 27-year-career as a senator he has twice told a woman in parliament she wasn’t deserving of his rape due to being too ugly; he has long praised and admired Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet, and yearned for a return to Brazil’s dictatorship, one he said whose big mistake was killing 30,000 too few; said immigrants are scum; said indigenous people are leeches; said gay children should be whipped straight, and if his own son was gay he’d be better off dead; said black people are fat and lazy, and that black activists should be in zoos; and repeatedly remarked in one of his last addresses before victory about “cleansing” unwanted groups.

Studying history in school, it seemed baffling how such similar sentiment was voted into power in the 1933 German elections. Yet here we are, supposedly in an age of information, and this has happened so quickly and so easily. It’s quite an astonishing situation as the lies and hypocrisy have whipped up such a frenzy of hate. For instance Bolsonaro, as with so many far-right despots before him, has over and over attacked the “red outcasts” and “communists”, in an election where his only opponent was from a centre-left social democratic party. He warned people of a future similar to Venezuela were the populous not to give him the nod, yet he is the one who has hinted at a refusal to accept defeat and screamed for an authoritarian state, even threatening the electoral court. That is closer to the path tread by Venezuela president Nicolás Maduro more than anything else that was on offer. And yet people have swallowed it all, repeating his words with bile and ignorance, backed up by endless mistruths pushed on WhatsApp which became a massive factor in how this played out.

What comes next though is more terrifying than any rhetoric we’ve had so far, as after the insults will likely come the injuries. The one hope is that Brazil’s fragile institutions and separation of power, which is nowhere near strong enough to stand up to this, is so malfunctioning that some of the policies fall through the many cracks.

That’s not much to be clinging on to though.

Indeed, while Bolsonaro won’t officially take power until the new year, he is already pushing his crime-stopping policy in a place of over 63,000 murders per year, which involves relaxing gun laws and arming the masses. Meanwhile, his party have also called for cameras in classrooms to stop the teaching of non-satisfactory ideology, a crackdown that started in advance of his win with books taken from universities and threats made against teachers and students in his way.

Given all that, there was little surprise to see who was in the queue to congratulate him, from Donald Trump to Italy’s Matteo Salvini to France’s Marine La Pen, basking in what they consider to be one of their own. However, where was the reaction against this? Why is Ireland and so many others silent, as in such a space lies shards of culpability?

Still, this is what was beloved by many, backed by many, supported by many, and enabled by many. Much international media fall into the latter bracket. Many scholars, particularly in United States’ publications, have used this as a chance to overintellectualise, desperate to come up with another term other than fascism around some need to demonstrate South American historical history. Others have normalised this, asking about the why and forgetting to look at the what, with a logic that would see the aftermath of a Jewish graveyard desecration be met with the need to interview those in agreement in order to show a neutral rather than a truthful take.

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In fact, the Wall Street Journal editorially even endorsed the former army paratrooper and all he stands for, belching out that it was time to now drain Brazil’s swamp. Their logic was that it’s the economy after all.

It’s also plain old fascism, stupid.

Indo Review

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