Two years of misrule – criminal, anti-national and libertarian

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By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL*

Bolsonaro reached the middle of his term stronger than he started.

The first two years of the Bolsonaro government, it must be recognized, did not disappoint. The president proved to be, in office, exactly what he had revealed throughout the electoral campaign and throughout his previous public life.

If there was any surprise, it was that Bolsonaro, despite all his administrative incompetence and apparent cognitive difficulty, knew how to navigate through the arc of support that made his election possible and reached the middle of his term stronger than he started. He got rid of one of his “superministers”, Sérgio Moro, with minimal political wear and tear. As for the other, Paulo Guedes, he made him swallow his pride and docilely submit to his boss's orders.

Bolsonaro increased the Armed Forces' commitment to his government, without accepting the tutelage that the generals wanted to impose on him. He framed the Olavists and transformed the “guru” from a candidate for eminence grise to a supporter like any other. He set the pace in negotiations with Centrão and now has a broad base in Congress, albeit unstable, like any venal parliamentary base. He has extended his influence over the police, advancing towards a strategic goal, which is to guarantee the personal loyalty of armed bodies.

He placed people willing to protect him in sensitive positions in the Public Prosecutor's Office. Between concessions and threats, it reached a modus vivendi with the Supreme. With that, he achieved one of his central goals: the various skeletons that haunted him (from cracks to Marielle's murder) are long out of the closets, but have lost the ability to reach him.

The new coronavirus pandemic led, perhaps unexpectedly, to an acceleration of the distance between Bolsonaro and his occasional allies on the more traditional right, such as João Doria and Rodrigo Maia. In a gamble that seemed risky, he gambled everything on denialism and irrationality, sacrificing health policies in favor of strengthening his person policy. He showed that he understands his country: a country that despises life, either out of interest or out of desperation, and that increasingly mirrors itself in violence. Thanks to this and the emergency aid approved against his will, but which he was able to capitalize on in his favor, he was able to maintain high levels of popular approval even amid the collapse of hospital care and deaths counted daily in the hundreds or thousands. .

It is impossible to calculate exactly how many lives Bolsonaro's boycott of measures to combat the pandemic has already cost and will still cost – from the campaign against social isolation and the promotion of chloroquine to the sabotage of vaccination. There are certainly many thousands. Rarely in the history of the world has there been a government so patently injurious to the national interest, however understood.

Even in the face of such a government, the famous institutions are not able to reach a consensus in favor of removing him from office. Bolsonaro sabotages public health measures, barely hides his connections with organized crime, equips the State to protect himself and his family members, spreads lies with the aim of disrupting the political game, flirts in broad daylight with the idea of ​​a new coup, turned the country into a pariah of the international community, made servility towards the United States the north of foreign policy, promoted the expansion of unemployment, misery and hunger. But what one sees are the PSDB and DEM leaders concerned with avoiding the “instability” that a process of impeachment would occasion and STF ministers periodically going public to assert that the President of the Republic does not constitute any threat to Brazilian democracy, quite the contrary.

A democracy, by the way, that hardly deserves the name. Bolsonaro's presidency, more than a cause, is a symptom of his decline. It is a presidency made possible (a) by the 2016 coup, which fractured the order determined by the 1988 Constitution; (b) by Operation Lava Jato, which instrumentalized the Judiciary for the persecution of political groups; and (c) the arbitrary arrest of former President Lula, for which there was no lack of explicit pressure from military leadership. It is a demonstration that the Brazilian ruling class believes that, at this moment, political democracy does not suit its interests.

Brazil is a particularly extreme case of what has long been called de-democratization. The word does not just indicate – as in the works on the crisis of democracy that the mainstream of Political Science has produced since the electoral victory of Donald Trump in 2016 – the success of authoritarian leaders who strive to destroy, from within, the institutional framework of liberal democracies. It indicates that the space for decisions to be taken democratically, requiring popular support, is increasingly limited, that is, that the veto power of large corporations, financial capital, public debt creditors is increasing. The advance of so-called “right-wing populism”, which triggered the alarm in so many political scientists, is rather an effect of feelings of alienation and disillusionment with the mechanisms of political expression available in competitive regimes, which de-democratization has aggravated.

In the case of Brazil, the center of the narrative is occupied by the growing dissatisfaction of the ruling class and the sectors of the middle class that it attracts into its orbit with the (modest) civilizing advance obtained in the PT governments. The 2016 coup and the Temer government pointed in the direction of a reduction of the politically possible spectrum, with the imposition of important setbacks without the popular field being accepted even as an interlocutor in the debate. Support for Bolsonaro in the second round, refusing any possibility of dialogue with the moderate candidacy of Fernando Haddad, already indicated the radicalism with which this path was embraced – and, even more, the prolonged leniency in the face of such a senseless and destructive government.

As the failed movements in favor of a broad front against Bolsonaro clearly revealed, in mid-2020, the price to pay for a democratic “normalization” would be to accept the setbacks and, in particular, the veto to any protagonism of organization and linked political actors to popular interests. In short: the democratic normalization projected by the ruling classes involves preventing the resumption of any political dynamic that approaches democracy.

It's just that the traditional right asserts itself as opposition to Bolsonaro and in fact differs from him on many points, out of conviction or opportunism. But de-democratization is also his project. It is the way to nullify the possibility that political rights will be used to reduce inequalities and build a fairer society.

What the global de-democratization process showed was that democracy, however commonly presented as a neutral ground of fair rules for resolving political disputes, is in fact an achievement of the dominated and is only able to sustain itself to the extent that they have the strength to do so. He revealed the weakness of the liberal consensus on procedural democracy, lauded in prose and verse at the end of the Cold War, and the futility of idealistic theories of democracy that thrived even in critical milieus (such as “deliberative democracy”) – which form the equivalent of century of scholastic disputes about the sex of angels.

In the case of Brazil, the situation is even more dramatic because our ruling classes have very low tolerance for social equality. Even in homeopathic doses it causes extreme reactions. For this reason, despite all the criticisms made of him, Bolsonaro is tolerable.

The Bolsonaro government exposes the impossibility of building democracy in Brazil without confronting imperialism and capitalism. Any advance will be lukewarm and unstable if there is no correlation of forces that guarantees it, that is, if there is no capacity for pressure from the working class and other dominated groups.

Still stunned by the successive and serious defeats it has suffered in recent years (“this enemy has not ceased to win”, as Walter Benjamin said), the left shows difficulty in finding the path of mobilization and popular organization. Often, it seems to wait for the mythical silver bullet that will defeat Bolsonarism with a single shot – the revelations of Vaza Jato, the arrest of Queiroz or even health chaos. But the idea of ​​the silver bullet reveals the permanence of the illusion of institutional normality: some facts are so serious that they would force a reaction from political institutions in defense of the order they embody. It's not like this. While Dilma was overthrown on the basis of occasional pretexts, Bolsonaro will continue to commit crimes of responsibility day in, day out, without being touched, as long as it is considered that removing him from office jeopardizes the project of social regression and de-democratization.

It may be that Bolsonaro completes his term and even wins another. It may be stopped midway. But it is important not to forget the complacency of the institutions, the tolerance of the conservative political elite, the complicity of the bourgeoisie in the face of a criminal, anti-national and libertarian government. The risk is to accept that post-Bolsonaro normalization enthrones the order that emerges from de-democratization.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. Author, among other books, of The collapse of democracy in Brazil (Popular Expression).

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