Two Years of Misrule – How We Got Here



In this and next year, an immense challenge is posed to those who want a more democratic nation

It's been more than two years of a bizarre government, which made the country dive deep into a labyrinth of extremely difficult exit. In this and next year, an immense challenge lies ahead for those who want a more democratic nation to re-emerge from our current misfortunes. To better assess it, it is convenient to remember a little how we got here, before examining what awaits us.

The crisis of democracy in Brazil, of course, did not start with Bolsonaro. In normal times, figures like him would live entirely outside the representational system. However, as the political crisis deepened in recent years, turning into a crisis of the regime, the extreme right began to gain an audience. Bolsonaro is the result of this. Today he is the very personification of the crisis, the agent that most resolutely seeks to take it to its ultimate consequences: the complete destruction of democracy laid down by the 1988 Constitution. . It so happens that in this conjuncture of institutional disarray, the opportunities for leaders like him to advance between the gaps that the crisis itself is offering them are multiplying. There is no longer any reason to be surprised by the possibilities of success of your undertaking.

Democratic regimes can be destroyed by natural death or by violent death. The first is the tendency towards the gradual disfigurement of democratic practices and rights; the second, the abrupt, coercive closure of the institutions of the Republic. Until the rise of Bolsonaro, we were walking down the first path, which was bad news in itself. Since the installation of his government, however, the chances of moving from the first to the second route have greatly increased. Bolsonaro represents the willingness and the device to end the 1988 regime through violence. And in fact, just as the crisis projected him to the forefront of national politics, it also urged him to narrow the game's options, towards that outcome.

Since the beginning of his government, he has been careful in the practice of trial and error, probing the walls of institutions in search of their most fragile parts, where he can break them and make his authoritarian heel pass. To apply this does not require a skilled politician; in fact, it requires nothing more than the “talent” he already possesses: the ability to explore the dark side of every situation and turn it into an occasion for institutional deadlock. Tireless in this objective, he hopes that at some point the structure of the republic will end up giving in, due to material fatigue. From that point on he will finally be in his element: the realm of unfettered violence. His most emblematic gestures already prefigure this state of affairs, which means nothing more than the passage from disposition to act.

But the crisis of our democracy is not just an expression of institutional weakness. It echoes a deeper fragility, rooted in the Brazilian social pyramid. The 1988 constitutional pact, heir to a long and profound aspiration for freedom and social justice, undertook a project to flatten this pyramid through consensus and negotiation. Over nearly twenty years of political stability, this project has set the course for successive governments: implemented rather hesitantly at first, it acquired firmer consistency later on.

It never failed to bump into conservative resistance, especially the most strident spokesmen of the neoliberal agenda, hegemonic almost everywhere. Despite this, it reached a cruise point in the last years of the Lula government, when it gained consensus both at the base and at the top. However, stability itself took its toll later on, as the PT's management of the project relegated a considerable mass of dissatisfied people, situated right in the middle of the pyramid. And it was from this flank that the consensus broke down, opening a period of instability.

O turning point it was the popular uprising that exploded in mid-2013. I say “popular uprising” more because of its massive and spontaneous character than because of its social composition. At bottom, it gave vent to the accumulated resentment of the middle classes, their perception that they bore the costs of others' prosperity without receiving due benefits in return. Perception that now became more acute, even though the years of prosperity seemed threatened by the enormous difficulties of the international crisis of capitalism. Spontaneous as it was, the most diverse reasons – some excellent, by the way, and others not so much – and the most diverse flags were poured into the streets.

All of them expressions of a political radicalism, healthy in principle, but which, without focus, would hardly escape frustration. Instead of a point of confluence of trends pointing to a clear political alternative, it became just a crossing point, where opposing currents looked at each other, didn't like what they saw and moved on, never to meet again.

Even though the revolt was frustrated, its social and political effect was felt, as it undermined the prestige of the PT governments in the area where it was least expected to be affected: precisely in the streets. Perplexed and paralyzed, he was slow to react. And when he did, an entire avenue had already been opened for opponents, which in turn brought together and renewed the old conservative questioning of the constitutional regime itself. From the point of view of this analysis, this last aspect is the most important to highlight. In subsequent years, each stretch of the avenue covered meant one more step towards the subversion of the consensus obtained in 1988.

Here it is worth registering a shift in the behavior of the representatives of the “upstairs” of the Brazilian pyramid in their ambivalent relations with the PT governments, which occurred precisely in this period. In order to face the international economic crisis, which started in 2008, but which took a while to reach Brazil, the government of Dilma Rousseff decided to promote a great agreement between unions and business federations to guarantee production and employment. At first, all the big names in the business community participated in its sewing, and gave the green light to develop the agreed program. However, throughout its implementation, and as the government was already doing its part – for example, granting a series of stimuli and tax exemptions, cutting interest rates and electricity tariffs, etc. – business voices began to change their position.

Something that already echoed, on the one hand, the economic results of the private sector below expectations and, on the other, the political wear and tear of the government, which reached its critical point in the 2013 revolt. of taxes and the lack of fiscal rigor, the “Brazil cost” and the social clauses of the Constitution… All of this packaged in an environment of successive denunciations of government corruption.

Summary of the opera: Dilma Rousseff ended up having to seek her re-election against a broad alliance formed by the conservative parties (still under the leadership of the PSDB), almost the entire business sector and the main media. The PT's new victory, but by a small margin, sowed among the defeated the desire to turn the tide by non-electoral means, ultimately by way of constitutional subversion. And in fact, in just over a year of the re-elected government, the ground was already plowed: Operation Lava-Jato in full swing, supported by the Supreme Court, the economy in shambles and the government without a majority in Congress, with a vice-president. president of the republic ready to head a replacement government. O impeachment of the holder of the position was a matter of time.

Although the legality of the process continues to be a matter of debate, there is no doubt that his real motive had nothing to do with the piece of indictment that served as a pretext. It was all contained elsewhere: an ultraliberal program for a replacement government, called the “Bridge to the Future”, of those who would never be able to obtain the consent of the polls, providing for the dismantling of the social rights enshrined in the Constitution and the laws themselves. achievements conquered many decades ago.

It has not been seen for a long time – perhaps since the times of the Old Republic – a government so closely articulated with the great holders of national wealth and so helpful to them. However, even having the full support of the economic, institutional and media powers, he carried a birth defect: the complete lack of popular appeal. For that very reason, it could only have been formed the way it was. He didn't like the ballot box. Thus, with the democratic regime persisting, this alliance had little chance of continuing its project, despite the serious damage inflicted on its hitherto most obvious opponent, with Lula imprisoned and ineligible.

We know the tragic outcome of this story. Having confirmed the lack of electoral vocation of the alliance of money with the traditional conservative parties, the floor above was left with the choice between an extreme right candidate and the return of the PT to the government. The first made no attempt to hide his authoritarian pretensions, tending towards fascism; and the second was not trusted, though it could not remotely compare with what the alternative meant. But didn't the business community decide to double down, supporting the far right candidate? Greater proof of this was the jubilation with which investors on the São Paulo Stock Exchange, on the following day, received the news of the results of the polls.

Unfortunately, we also know that Bolsonaro's election was just the beginning of the tragedy. We have reached the third year of his term, and the second of the pandemic, but only now has the class at the top of the pyramid come to the conclusion that he can't handle it anymore. What the consequences of this will be, only time will tell. It so happens that political time, at least at this juncture, is scarce material. The risks of the violent death of our democratic regime grow with each new day that the current president remains in his post. The image I'm going to use next, I believe, must have crossed the minds of those who are aware of the gravity I'm referring to.

Bolsonaro installed in the presidency of the republic represents a challenge similar to living with a ferocious animal in the same house. Worse: inhabiting not the basement, but the larger room, a noble space and passageway to all the rooms. Aware of this, the other residents try to devise, through a thousand artifices, ways to keep the beast isolated in its enclosure. A kind of imaginary cage. To contain it as much as possible, and quench its immense hunger and thirst, a group of volunteer tamers is willing to enter inside and serve it. (As it couldn't be otherwise, every now and then one of them leaves the cage torn to pieces. Good job.)

Confined, the animal becomes even more intractable, roaring all the time and hitting the bars that limit its movement with all its might. On-call inspectors (“political scientists”) assess the risks and ensure that the structure is robust and will hold up. But it's hard to imagine that such an anomaly persists indefinitely. A house thus divided cannot stand. One of two things: either you find a way to expel the brute, or the whole house becomes a jungle.

The Republic is already a complicated house by nature. Usually, residents fight a lot, although always avoiding reciprocal (physical) elimination. The rooms are therefore carefully separated. But for the house to exist as a livable place, they have to maintain constant communication. Circulation, transit between rooms, is a matter of primary necessity. The walls between them are made of subtle matter, the result of institutional imagination; its boundaries are not precise and may vary according to circumstances. They are like “quantum walls”, so to speak: next to them, the resident does not know, in advance, whether he is inside or outside the room. Hence the imperative to negotiate and renegotiate spaces.

But what happens when you have a ferocious animal inside your house, let alone in the main room, even if it's sealed in a cage? A thick atmosphere of insecurity takes hold of everyone. They avoid approaching the cage because, as it is also a product of institutional imagination, they never know exactly how far they are from the animal's claws. As the living room is the normal point of confluence of the other rooms and pass through them, a series of “workarounds” have to be made to get around it and preserve communication with the rest of the house. Bad communication means, in turn, a new source of conflicts, but now without the same slack to resolve them. So the whole house starts to get so messed up that the worn-out residents prefer to settle in their own spaces. Which results in more mess. So, time works in favor of the brute: the longer it remains in the house, the more complicated it becomes to remove it.

The metaphor I'm using is, of course, a simplification. It does not take into account, for example, the powers that a president continues to hold, even “caged” in his enclosure. In the most different ways, Bolsonaro's ferocity tends to contaminate these powers, exposing the danger he poses to the integrity of the republic. Such powers are materialized in the control of the state machine that the president, head of the Executive, holds and with which he contributes to articulate the functioning of society itself. However, just as this machine can turn on, it can also turn off vital sections of the social circuit. As, incidentally, the management of the pandemic demonstrates. The suggested damage to the beast's image in the house is therefore an "under" estimate.

In short, and returning to the starting point of this text: immense challenges, in addition to a lot of agony, still await us. It should be clear to any minimally attentive observer that Bolsonarism will spare no time to cling to what it achieved in 2018. But those who think that, to defeat it, it will be enough to unite all political currents, on the right, are mistaken. and to the left, in the next electoral clash. Before that, it will be necessary to strengthen the dialogue with the majorities that have no organic connection with any political force, and that at this very moment are struggling, anxious, to survive the painful days that the country is going through. Which means that many engaged voices will be needed to echo this affliction and bring a clear answer, a very concrete proposal showing how the democratic forces, and only them, will be able to remedy it.

*Cicero Araujo He is a professor of Political Theory at the Department of Philosophy at FFLCH-USP. He is the author, among other books, of The Form of the Republic: from the mixed Constitution to the State (WMF Martins Fontes).



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