In the past two decades, Brazil has come a long way. Its spectacular economic growth rescued almost 30 million Brazilians from poverty. After all, you can’t spell BRICS without Brazil.
However, it all started to go downhill in 2016. Former President Dilma Rousseff was charged with criminal administrative misconduct and disregard for the federal Budget, and then impeached. Even though the indictment was suffused with suspicions of right wing conspirations, Rousseff was displaced and Vice President Michel Temer became the Acting President.
Only a few months into Temer’s administration, a huge corruption scandal exploded in the country. The Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) reached almost the entirety of Brazil’s political class, including Temer himself. To top it off, former President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and poll’s presidential candidate leader by far, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
This is the context in which Brazil is holding presidential elections. And they are less than a month away.
Since Da Silva was banned from running for President on September 1st., the leading candidate is the ultraconservative Jair Bolsonaro. The 63-year-old congressman and former military has publicly confessed his nostalgia for the times of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and advocated for ‘traditional values’, oftentimes demeaning the LGBT community in the process. Bolsonaro has not been as outspoken about his economic agenda, being security his main concern. If elected, he plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16, lift the ban over selling guns to minors and stop funding Human Rights organizations, among other no less controversial measures. The former captain in the army prides himself in having taught his sons to shoot when they were five.
Bolsonaro is currently facing criminal charges because he told Maria do Rosário, a former Human Rights minister, that she was “unworthy of rape”. He has called women “idiots” and undeserving of equal pay, supports torture as an interrogation technique and has claimed that his sons would never fall in love with a black woman because “they have been properly raised”.
“Brazil over everything and God over everybody” is Bolsonaro’s running motto – something that speaks volumes.
Does Bolsonaro really stand a chance of becoming chief of state? Media has taken to call Bolsonaro ‘the Brazilian Trump’, which is alarming enough…so maybe he does. On September 6 the presidential candidate was stabbed in the stomach during a campaign rally, and the attacker told the Police that he was enraged by Bolsonaro’s ‘hate talk’. The candidate is recovering from the attack, and will remain in the race.
However, what we should be really asking ourselves is how this kind of political personalities are created. While we are at it, might as well acknowledge our own responsibility in the phenomenon. Yes, non supporters too play a part in what I call Clown Candidates.
Why call them clowns? Because clowns are both ridiculous (I would never say funny) and terrifying.
I am smart enough to understand that Donald Trump is no Adolph Hitler, nor is Jair Bolsonaro. However, these three extreme right leaders do have a few things in common. At first, they sound so extreme and anachronic that it’s hard to take them seriously. They look too funny, they are too angry and they talk too loudly for no. Yes, their ideas are extremely dangerous, but hey – look at the guy’s haircut, who’s gonna listen to him?
And this is how it always starts.
Media plays a huge part in the making of a presidential candidate. Although most people may be pointing fingers at FOX News, Breitbart or the Rede O Globo, even the most progressive networks are to blame for their popularity.
I have come to think that underestimating ‘the loonies’ is dangerous business – plus, it does not make us any smarter. Alec Baldwin did a hilarious impression of Donald Trump in Saturday Night Live during 2016, but did that really raise awareness? The Simpsons played with the crazy idea of a President Trump quite a few times, and we all laughed. But where did that leave us?
Adolph Hitler, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro have yet another thing in common: they are not politicians, and they do not sell politics. They are either former military or business men, and they come to take over because the country is rotten to the core. The political elite is either corrupt or inept or both, and only an outsider can put things back on track. This cliché is what Noam Chomsky calls the anti-politics speech.
The anti-politics speech lacks of an object of its own, because it is inherently a talk of opposition. It exists to destroy, not to create. It is operative in times of crisis, when a culprit (or culprits) must be found. That is why these messages are so frequently filled with bigotry, hate and fear.
In many (and very democratic) countries, freedom of expression is not considered an absolute right. That is to say, it has its limits…limits set to protect a greater good, such as the well-being of children or national security. In Germany, public denial of the holocaust may cost the claimer a season in jail. Still, in many countries it is still possible to call the indigenous ‘fat and lazy’ on national television. While running for president.
Do not get me wrong, freedom of speech is a precious thing – but so is peace and diversity. So many communities and minorities have worked so hard and suffered so much to be where they are now! Maybe progress has more to do with the banishing of hate speech, and less with making it public ‘for the sake of the debate’.
Society in general, and media in particular, have gotten used to make fun of monsters. It can certainly be tempting to laugh at these personages, because of their vulgar expressions or uneducated assertions. But to ridicule is to underestimate.
And that is like playing with fire.