Brazil: The Hard Right wins again

Waikato Times - - Opinion - Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)’. Gwynne Dyer

Aman who makes United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump look like a bleed­ing-heart lib­eral will al­most cer­tainly be Brazil’s next pres­i­dent.

Jair Bol­sonaro won 46 per cent of the vote in last week’s first round of the Brazil­ian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, with 12 other can­di­dates run­ning. Fer­nando Had­dad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 per cent.

Had­dad, who leads the so­cial­ist Work­ers’ Party, will pick up most of the vot­ers whose first-choice can­di­dates have fallen by the way­side, but Bol­sonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the sec­ond round. Game over, in more ways than one.

Trump and Bol­sonaro are pop­ulists cut from the same cloth. They both de­pend heav­ily on so­cial me­dia and on the sup­port of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. They both op­pose same-sex mar­riage, abortion, af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion for mi­nori­ties and drug lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage – he once sup­ported most of those poli­cies – whereas Bol­sonaro has al­ways be­longed to the hard right. Trump is an in­stinc­tive au­thor­i­tar­ian who chafes at the re­stric­tions of the US con­sti­tu­tion, but does not at­tack it di­rectly. Bol­sonaro praises the ‘‘glo­ri­ous’’ pe­riod of the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, 1964-1985, in which he served as an army of­fi­cer, and claims that its only er­ror was that ‘‘it tor­tured, but did not kill’’. It did, ac­tu­ally. At least 434 left­ists were killed af­ter be­ing tor­tured. Trump is a racist, but he talks to his over­whelm­ingly white base in dog­whis­tle code. Last year Bol­sonaro said mem­bers of black ru­ral set­tle­ments founded by the de­scen­dants of slaves ‘‘don’t do any­thing. I don’t think they’re even good for pro­cre­ation any more.’’ No dog whis­tle there.

Trump pulled the US out of the cli­mate change treaty and Bol­sonaro wants Brazil to do the same.

But Bol­sonaro also wants to pri­va­tise and ‘‘de­velop’’ the en­tire Ama­zon: ‘‘Not one cen­time­tre will be de­mar­cated for in­dige­nous re­serves.’’

Trump is a sex­ist who was once caught boast­ing on tape about ‘‘grab­bing pussy’’, but mostly avoids such lan­guage in pub­lic. Bol­sonaro told a fe­male mem­ber of Congress that ‘‘I’m not go­ing to rape you, be­cause you’re very ugly’’. He be­lieves women should not get the same salaries as men be­cause they get preg­nant, and said that he had a daugh­ter in ‘‘a mo­ment of weak­ness’’ af­ter fa­ther­ing four sons.

Trump is an undis­ci­plined nar­cis­sist who claims to be a tough ne­go­tia­tor, but will gen­er­ally roll over if you throw him a few con­ces­sions and let him de­clare a ‘‘vic­tory’’. His fa­mously short at­ten­tion span dis­qual­i­fies him as an aspiring dic­ta­tor even if he were that way in­clined.

Bol­sonaro, how­ever, is a se­ri­ous man. He has made a former gen­eral, Hamil­ton Moura˜ o, his run­ning mate, and prom­ises to fill his cabinet with other gen­er­als. In a re­cent video pro­duced by Had­dad, he can be seen ar­gu­ing: ‘‘You won’t change any­thing in this coun­try through vot­ing... You’ll only change things by hav­ing a civil war and do­ing the work the mil­i­tary regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000... If a few in­no­cent peo­ple die, that’s all right.’’

Bol­sonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, but there is no rea­son to be­lieve that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 mil­lion peo­ple may be in for some nasty sur­prises – and be­yond the coun­try’s bor­ders Bol­sonaro’s pres­i­dency will en­cour­age neo-fas­cists and would-be mil­i­tary dic­ta­tors in other Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries.

That’s the real con­cern and it ex­tends to other con­ti­nents too. The wave of non­vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tions that spread democ­racy to ev­ery part of the world, in­clud­ing Brazil, in the past few decades seems to have gone into re­verse.

In some coun­tries, like Thai­land and Egypt, the gen­er­als are openly back in power. In oth­ers, like Turkey, Hun­gary, and the Philip­pines, ‘‘il­lib­eral democ­ra­cies’’ run by strong­men have re­placed the gen­uine ar­ti­cle. Even in longestab­lished democ­ra­cies like the US, the United King­dom and Italy the na­tion­al­ists and pop­ulists dom­i­nate the po­lit­i­cal scene.

How bad will it get and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one sus­pects. The world is not yet head­ing back towards big great-power war, but we are en­ter­ing the last crit­i­cal decade be­fore cli­mate change over­whelms us with a grow­ing num­ber of gov­ern­ments that are not only po­ten­tially vi­o­lent, but mil­i­tantly ig­no­rant.


Pres­i­den­tial fron­trun­ner Jair Bol­sonaro, of the So­cial Lib­eral Party, left, flashes a thumbs up at a polling sta­tion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last week.

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