The Shadow of the Inevitable

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By IURY TAVARES*

The Bolsonarist emptiness is on display. Its inconsistencies with the civilizing minimum must be increasingly exposed, as they were never compatible with democracy

The paths of representative democracy have taken winding paths in recent years. From the understanding that there would be a predominance of liberal democracy[I], it would only be a matter of time before the model won the four corners of the world. In fact, the number of countries that made this transition has grown, but, in any case, the world is going through a democratic recession.

In addition to the lack of improvement or even erosion of global levels of democracy and freedom, political scientist Larry Diamond[ii] identified four ongoing weaknesses: 1) a significant and accelerated collapse of democracy; 2) the decline in the quality or stability of democracy in many emerging countries; 3) the deepening of authoritarianism in strategically important countries; 4) the lack of will or confidence in established societies to promote democracy. The drop in support for the democratic model is also accompanied by a strong criticism of political representation[iii], of increasing electoral abstention, of the contestation of knowledge and, consequently, of the intensification of the tests to which democracy is subjected.

In a scenario of uncertainty and inequality, disgruntled voters find a possible way out in extremist candidates, but perhaps they have fallen into a trap, as “(…) there is another way to ruin a democracy. It's less dramatic, but just as destructive. Democracies can die not at the hands of generals but elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”[iv].

The Brazilian case

Bolsonaro built his political platform based on an anti-system, politically implosive discourse, opposing institutional rules. If the anxieties and disappointments were concentrated in the “old policy”, the ex-captain's candidacy as outsider by a minority party gained strength among social groups hurt by corruption scandals, in the expectation that the wounds of unemployment and violence could be solved. He and his group have never stopped investing in this vector when: they pose like a lion attacked by hyenas (STF, press, opposition); discredits the electoral system without providing evidence; your minister sends a “Fuck you!” to political negotiations; and another produces the symbolic pearl “we know we are different”[v].

Recently, the firepower turned against the Judiciary, as it is there that investigations advance that could expose more illegalities of the political group. Thus, either by the judgment of the cancellation of the ticket in the TSE or by the evidence collected in the inquiry of the fake news in the STF, the Bolsonarist nucleus reinforces the institutional shock to relativize the weight of judicial decisions, since there would be no reason to respect them when they are absurd. The presidential note is in line with what Bolsonaro defended in the ministerial horror show on April 22, when he defended arming the population to fight against social distancing. Of course, conveniently, resistance would only be valid against mayors and governors and not against the federal government.

In line with other western democracies, the growing trend of abstention in Brazilian elections was confirmed. In 2018, it was 21% or about 31 million voters, considering the 7% of null votes and the more than 2% of blank votes[vi]. Therefore, a third of the electorate did not endorse either of the two proposals presented. A French study showed that electoral abstention became the rule among the popular classes and among young people, who lost any belief in the electoral phenomenon or even in the political system. The increase in abstention, which is not necessarily synonymous with an increase in political indifference, must be related to the general weakening of structures of representation and socialization of popular categories[vii].

The contestation of knowledge is flagrant. So it was when INPE was attacked for exposing the deforestation of the Amazon Forest, IBGE for pointing out the increase in unemployment and hunger and Fiocruz for concluding that there is no epidemic of drug use in Brazil. In the midst of a pandemic, the President resorts to the inconsequential rhetoric of downgrading medical-sanitary guidelines in favor of social media cabinet guesses. In fact, modern societies are marked by the division of the legitimacy of two types of discourse: scientists have gradually become the only authorized spokespersons for nature, in the same way as politicians for society.[viii]. In the political field, this movement provoked a social reaction against a process of representation that did not translate into quality of life. However, delegitimizing scientific discourse is risky and can be fatal. The anti-vaccination movement is proof of this and the President's criminal conduct is at the cost of the lives of thousands of people.

The conflict as a characteristic feature of Bolsonarism has as one of its consequences the intensification of the tests of Brazilian democracy. Controversial statements and offenses, unfounded accusations, measures enacted and then withdrawn, test the limits of harmonious coexistence between powers and expand the lines of what is acceptable. The continuous attempt to fray the interpretation of Article 142, which deals with the role of the Armed Forces in the Democratic State of Law, for example, embarrasses the active duty military in the governmental web and seeks to coerce the other Powers. If, a few weeks ago, there was talk of impeachment, today, what emerges with prominence is the speculation of a coup, gradually constraining the Armed Forces towards politics, a field from which they must keep their distance.

If the crisis intensifies the tests of democracy internally, Brazil is also subjected to stress at the international level, as there are challenges that can only be answered on a global scale. The spread of Covid-19 exceeds the capabilities of a single state. Instead of engaging in collaboration, the country is turning its back on global health consortia and could be at the back of the queue if a treatment is developed. Even if there is separation between state and government, the credibility of years is required. As Rubens Ricupero, former ambassador to Washington and former Minister of the Environment and Finance, said: “Brazil is seen as increasingly ruined in all sectors”[ix].

Resistance loopholes

If there is strong criticism of representation, it is precisely governors and mayors, the first on the front line in the fight against the pandemic, to adopt the most responsible measures. Senators, deputies and councilors also exert pressure, as they are directly questioned by their constituencies, who see reports of deaths from Covid-19 getting closer and closer. It is in this moment of crisis that the function of the representative in society can be revalued, mainly in resistance to obscurantism. The collective contestation of the government's attempt to suppress and distort the daily balance of victims of the pandemic shows that there is an energy of political resistance that can take shape, if organized. Other pro-democracy movements have worked to link popular dissatisfaction and direct it toward an anti-government agenda.

If we understand electoral abstention as a sign of the lack of vitality for political life, on the other hand, we follow daily pots, provocative projections on the facades of buildings, manifestations of contestation to Bolsonarist motorcades. Confinement is generating a new vitality in popular engagement, social awareness, appreciation of the collective, which has accepted to expose itself to the danger of contamination to protest because it is no longer possible to swallow so much expired chloroquine.

Likewise, at the end of the crisis, what will prevail is knowledge, in its closest approach to people, without technocracies. It is the rapprochement of scientific knowledge with society, in a pedagogical and accessible way. Segregating apedeuts is as wrong as believing that the Earth is flat. Citizens must be able to be contradictorily informed about risks and produce a collective judgment that decision makers will have to consider when implementing public policies[X].

If governments face a crisis of legitimacy and efficiency, in the sense of the erosion of their capacity for action, for intervention in the social sphere, the same is true of their capacity to solve a large number of problems. At this point, it's hard to see the horizon through such optimistic lenses. There is no prospect that the challenges will diminish or latent issues will be resolved – on the contrary. In the wake of the economic downturn, unemployment, violence, and misery are on the rise. Discontent is a window of opportunity for contestation or even insurrection against the democratic system, driven by digital tools that strengthen mobilization capacities and challenge authority structures. What characterizes contemporary mobilizations is unpredictability, with weak forms of structuring and multiple participants.[xi], but doubling down and stirring up reactions almost always comes at a high price, the main risk of which is the opportune resort to state violence as a tool of repression.

There is an axiom which says that there is no vacuum in power, that is, when there is no command model, the actors quickly move and a new format begins to take shape. Bolsonaro is increasingly isolated. He is criticized by those who offered him support and, soon, he could be hostage to the physiologism he received from open ministries. Their untimely and ignoble attitudes brought back the language of the demonstrations and instigated thinking about possible forms of resistance and openness to the return of life.

The Bolsonarist emptiness is on display. Its inconsistencies with the civilizing minimum must be increasingly exposed, as they were never compatible with democracy. He who asserted himself by shouting “Johnny Bravo won, damn it!”, “I am the president” and “I am the Constitution!” make their demonstrations of popular force. In typical militia behavior, Bolsonaro wants to make those who criticize him disappear, in the belief that his authority prevents the inevitable, just like an arrogant warrior who does not admit defeat while being swallowed by the last shadow he sees.

*Iury Tavares Master in Political Science and International Relations from Universidade Nova de Lisboa

Notes

[i] Fukuyama, F. (1989). The end of history?. The national interest, (16), 3-18.

[ii] Diamond, L. (2015). Facing up to the democratic recession. Journal of Democracy, 141-155.

[iii] New challenges were imposed on how to represent society, especially marginalized groups that still dispute space with global actors, transnational bodies and other specific groups. Castiglione, D., & Warren, M. (May 18-19, 2006). Eight Theoretical Issues. Rethinking Democratic Representation. Columbia: University of British Columbia.

[iv] Levitsky, S., & Ziblatt, D. (2018). How democracies die. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar.

[v] Phrase spoken by Paulo Guedes, at the ministerial meeting on 22/04/2020.

[vi] Data from the second round of the presidential election.

[vii] Braconnier, C., & Dormagen, JY (2007). La démocratie de l'abstention. Paris: Gallimard.

[viii] Latour, B. (2005). Nous n'avons Nunca été modernes. Paris: La découverte.

[ix] Rubens Ricupero and the image of Brazil abroad. Interviewers: Magê Flores and Rodrigo Vizeu. Interviewee: Rubens Ricupero. São Paulo: Folha de São Paulo, 10 June. 2020. Podcast. Available at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2wjvjwja7U8wGRbHUZT6cV. Accessed on: 10 Jun. 2020.

[X] Some authors defend the establishment of systems of expertise multiannual meetings and/or scientific/technical democracy that should enable the resolution of controversies: different points of view are expressed equally and citizens participate in the production of the decision, producing a judgment. (Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (1991). Acting gives a lot of uncertainty. Essai sur la démocratie technique. Paris: Seuil.)

[xi] Sociologist Angela Alonso (USP) recalls that, in 2013, different segments shared a common negative point: criticism of the Dilma Rousseff government and the PT. It was possible to find in the current protests against corruption, liberals dissatisfied with the size of the State, interventionist conservatives, in addition to left-wing opposition. In the demonstrations of 2020, for her, it will be difficult to unify the different groups, because even those who join the protest do so according to their reasons for revolt. Will June 2013 and June 2020 have anything in common? Interviewers: Magê Flores and Rodrigo Vizeu. Interviewee: Angela Alonso. São Paulo: Folha de São Paulo, 09 June. 2020. Podcast. Available at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/7IT419rIOZpZokJVJ5i3sB. Accessed on: 09 Jun. 2020

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