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By HOMERO SANTIAGO*

There was no disaster; but the horizon is not the best

Expectation is the mother of disappointment. It is impossible not to recall this almanac maxim when considering, from a leftist point of view, the result of the first round of the Brazilian general elections of October 2nd. The projection of a big red wave was followed by a bitter-sweet victory that was expressed in tighter-than-expected vote disputes and last-minute overturns. Although it was not a disaster, this realization does not bring relief to the mood of those who remain frustrated and fearful about the more immediate future.

To a large extent fueled by electoral polls that proved incapable of detecting the movements of the last days of the campaign, a significant part of the left launched a kind of anticipated revenge against Bolsonarism, projecting a resounding success of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva already in the first round and the victory of Lula's candidates in strategic posts in state governments and in the Senate, in addition to a large bench in the federal and state legislatures.

Quite frankly, none of that happened. On the contrary, despite Lula's victory, with a participation of about 80% of the electorate, the final result showed a small margin of difference for his main opponent, Jair Bolsonaro (48% against 43%), and unexpected state defeats, with emphasis on for the executive and the seat of senator in the state of São Paulo, the largest in the federation and the birthplace of the PT.

Lula and Jair Bolsonaro will still face each other in a second round on October 30 and the leftist candidate will probably win the parade. The final assessment, however, will be complex and rough; it will not be able to escape from some urgent political issues in the short term and others whose in-depth consideration will determine, in the medium and long term, the possible successes of the left and the fight against the extreme right.

Even if it is reckless to reflect on an ongoing process, we believe that there are already enough elements to formulate some of these problems left to the Brazilian left by the elections of October 2nd.

In the first place, in the case of Lula's victory, the challenge of the relationship with a parliament that was elected, for the most part, alongside Jair Bolsonaro will be huge. In particular, Bolsonarism now holds a majority in the Senate, which will allow it to act directly (through mechanisms provided for in the Constitution) against the Federal Supreme Court, which in recent years has served as a brake on the Bolsonarist razia. In Brazil, due to the fragility of many party associations, instead of being born from the ballot box, majorities tend to be formed through intense post-election negotiations. Now, it is difficult to bet on broad compositions between the most fiercely Bolsonarist portion of the legislature and an eventual Lula government.

Moreover, the work of nullifying the effects of Bolsonarism in the field of social and civil rights, environmental preservation, relations between the powers and the armed forces and the police, between the State and the market, will be complex. It is worth highlighting the example of the dismantling of environmental inspection bodies and mechanisms in the Bolsonaro years – when Brazil experienced the worst deforestation rates in its history and millions of reais in fines were forgiven – with the consent of an important part of the agricultural sector which accounts for almost half of the Brazilian trade balance and is politically and culturally dominant in several regions of the country.

The migration of votes, at the last minute, from several minor candidates to Jair Bolsonaro demonstrates the persistence of anti-Lulism, anti-PTism, anti-leftism, which took shape with the Lava Jato operation in the past decade. The sharp turnaround in important states and the sudden rise in voting for Jair Bolsonaro against all forecasts cannot be explained by one incident; rather they indicate deep-seated political tendencies. Just as it is not credible that all Jair Bolsonaro voters are Bolsonarists, it is very likely that, in a tight electoral dispute, they will prefer any name to a leftist president. In short, Bolsonarism demonstrated a capillarity, and an ability to speak to those who are not immediately its that were not expected.

Political campaigns were almost completely transferred to the virtual world – an unsuspecting foreigner who landed in Brazil in mid-September, based only on the atmosphere on the streets, would hardly imagine that we were in the middle of an electoral campaign. Well, Bolsonarist skill in the universe of social networks is recognized; with rare exceptions, the discourse of the left has not yet managed to adapt to new technologies.

And with that comes an additional problem: what should be the point of such an adaptation? In view of the massive diffusion of fake news and the use of intimidation practiced by Bolsonarist troops, for example, there are those who defend the adoption of similar expedients by the left (a federal deputy aligned with Lula’s campaign even suggested that Bolsonarism cannot be defeated without being a Bolsonarist a bit). . However – here is the cardinal point – does it make any sense to act according to the characteristic parameters of the enemy?

Along the same lines, this year’s election, even more so than the 2018 election that elected Bolsonaro for the first time, determined the centrality of “moral” issues, or so considered, in the political debate: Christian values, homeland, family, corruption, drug policies, LGBTQIA+ rights, gender equality, etc. If it is true that this update of the agenda is strongly connected to the emergence of broad sectors of the neo-Pentecostal matrix (today more or less a third of the Brazilian population), such an explanation is not enough; it must be recognized that other sectors, including some less attached to religiosity, have awakened to guidelines more linked to religious and moral values.

In summary, an interval between the current concerns of more than half of the population and the major issues that punctuated the national political debate until at least the second government of Dilma Rousseff (2015-2016) seems to be more and more imposed, especially the problem of overcoming the structural inequality of Brazilian society, to be carried out (let's say in broad terms, even at the risk of oversimplification) or at a slower pace and with predominant market action (Fernando Henrique Cardoso's social democratic path) or in faster pace and through strong State action (the PT route). The left still finds enormous difficulties in adapting (and once again the problem of the meaning of this adaptation is posed) to the new demands.

Many problems and questions will certainly surface by the end of this year, with the definitive results of the general elections and the “atmosphere” of the first successive months, whether victory is destined for one side or the other. From a left-wing political point of view, however, a broader conclusion is already on the horizon and it is unavoidable: what is called “bolsonarismo” is a phenomenon that goes far beyond the very figure of Jair Bolsonaro and points to an organization of the right and the extreme right that managed to gather within Brazilian society – socially, politically, culturally and religiously reconfigured by factors that still need to be clarified – a force such as had not been seen since at least 1964, the date of the last coup d'état led by the military and courted by large sectors of the civilian population.

It is worth reiterating that there was no disaster; but the horizon is not the best.

* Homer Santiago He is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at USP.

Originally published on the website poor condition.

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