The virus, the parasite and the body politic


By João Feres Junior*

The virus is not going to change, the parasite has already shown its inability to change, so the body politic is left with the choice between two options: fight to guarantee its own preservation or accept death.

In two recent articles published on the website the earth is round (In search of the lost center e the quantum vote) proposed the camel hump metaphor to illustrate the division of the ideological spectrum into two practically watertight positions. This has happened elsewhere in the world, usually as a product of the right's strategy to come to power.

Instead of seeking to conquer the center in a scenario of normal distribution of ideological preferences, right-wing politicians began to radicalize the discourse in order to bring together a greater number of adherents than those who opted for non-radicalization, thus deflating the center.

We can say that in a binary scenario of choice, as is largely the case in the US election or the second round in Brazil, whoever captures the median voter still wins. However, this median voter no longer represents a majority ideological position. That position is now that of the winning hump, located far to the right of the spectrum.

Bolsonaro clearly opted for such a strategy in a radical way and won the 2018 election, to the great surprise of the analysts on duty, among which I include myself, I must confess. The reason for my skepticism was its almost complete lack of the campaign instruments that historically ensured electoral success in the New Republic: strong party structure, derived from a broad coalition or a large party, Electoral Schedule time and benevolent treatment of the media - the latter advantage gained only by center-right and right-wing candidates. But Bolsonaro broke the paradigm and won through unorthodox means, betting at the same time on a polarization strategy.

In January 2019, his mandate began and many analysts bet that, despite his aggressive rhetoric, the new ruler would adapt to the modus operandi of coalition presidentialism. I must confess that, with some skepticism, I also adhered to this reading. But Bolsonaro once again broke the paradigm, now refusing to compose a parliamentary majority in order to acquire more or less stable instruments of government – ​​and thus pass through Congress the bills necessary for the proper functioning of the executive.

There were countless times when he seemed to be folding to an administrative power-sharing agreement with Congress, only to in the end reaffirm his independence from parliamentary representation, parties and political forces. As if that were not enough, the Bolsonaro clan managed to dynamit their own party, the PSL, leaving the president himself without a party.

As incredible as it may seem to an outside observer, all Bolsonarism's political aberration was already quite normalized after a year of presidency. The presidents of the legislative houses seemed comfortable in the role of mediators between the executive's apparent madness and the various social interests they represent, particularly those of big capital, which in Brazil has a strong agrarian component.

Many conservative politicians began to pose as defenders of the people in the face of the government's demophobic actions, which was very promising for them in terms of elections. On the other hand, left-wing parties and civil society associations linked to the popular sectors were completely sidelined in the public debate, unable to break the press boycott or to establish channels of direct communication with the population.

Meanwhile, that same press surfed the abundance of newsworthy absurdities produced by the president, his ministers and family members, taking the opportunity to vehemently affirm the role of watchdog of the public interest, which he constantly assumes. Finally, the popular sectors continued to lose rights and public services, in addition to suffering the harsh consequences of the economic crisis managed with the strictest neoliberal fervor by Minister Paulo Guedes.

Bolsonaro and his troupe seemed well-adapted to the practice of communicating with their captive audiences via social media, while the actual government was driven in fits and starts according to a macabre partition of power. The economy was in the hands of dogmatic neoliberals led by Paulo Guedes, fundamental areas such as education, culture and foreign policy were in the hands of villainous followers of Olavo de Carvalho, justice and security under the baton of the fallen angel of laundering moralism, Sergio Moro, and sectors linked to social policies and minority rights delivered to evangelical pastors.

But the normalization of this bizarre picture was hit hard by the virus. His logic is simple, he is extremely contagious and kills. The more contagion, the more deaths. There is only one solution, isolation. Until proven otherwise, this is the only tactic that has worked so far.

Bolsonaro could have accepted the facts and tried to lead the mobilization against the virus, particularly as a world consensus is forming around the isolation tactic, a consensus that has already garnered important majorities at the domestic level: governors, associations and entities. class, public opinion, media, etc. Even among the public that still supports the president, supporters of isolation are already a clear majority.

But not. Once again the former captain opted for polarization, now defending against these majorities that people go back to work to preserve the economy, and that the services continue to happen, because “the pastors will know how to keep people safe”, and other potatoes of this carat. First, he tried to finance a Federal Government campaign against isolation, which was barred in court, and now he has gone on to make surprise appearances in locations in the Federal District, where he pontificates against isolation, promoting the gathering of onlookers and enabling photoops to feed your social networks.

The amount of nonsense and false news disseminated by him and his supporters is enormous, from miraculous cures to the false perception that it is a “gripinha”, even suggesting that isolation is a coping tactic for a kid and not a man in truth.

Finally, his crusade against isolation makes him clash with his own minister of health, who seems to be making an effort to rationalize measures to combat the virus. Every day, rumors circulate of Mandetta's resignation, which unfolds between the responsibility of leading efforts in the midst of the biggest crisis the country has experienced in the last century and the impossible task of not stepping on his boss's toes.

Despite all this misfortune, there is a profound lesson to be learned about the nature of the figure of the president and his relationship with politics.

Bolsonaro works with a Schmittian conception of politics, constantly defining friends and enemies, and virulently preaching the elimination of the second. Politicization is his and his group's modus operandi. Social movements, followers of a different conception of politics, which values ​​dialogue and negotiation, have worked for decades to bring gender issues, LGBT rights and minority rights to light in the political debate, with positive results, but quite gradual. Bolsonaro managed to politicize these and many other issues much faster and more effectively.

This politicizing strategy, quite apt to produce electoral effects, when applied to the logic of the government causes enormous damage, because instead of governance and public policies, it produces the continuation of the conflict and the breakdown of these same policies. That is, it cannot constitute a way of governing and can only guarantee its existence as a parasite of the body it inhabits, in this case the State and its government. Well, Bolsonarism only sustains itself because the institutions of Brazilian democracy insist on working minimally, maintaining the life of the political body, even if it is sick.

The exogenous threat of the virus put this body politic at terminal risk, exposing the parasitism of the president's strategy as never before. Whether due to moral or intellectual deficit, he seems to be incapable of adopting a stance other than politicization, even to the point of electing the most common and widespread sense of the most appropriate way to react to the pandemic as an enemy.

The virus is not going to change, the parasite has already shown its inability to change, so the body politic is left with the choice between two options: fight to guarantee its own preservation or accept death.

*João Feres Junior Professor of Political Science at the Institute of Social and Political Studies (IESP) at UERJ. He is coordinator of GEMAA – Group of Multidisciplinary Studies of Affirmative Action ( and of LEMEP – Laboratory of Studies of Media and Public Space

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