Two years of misgovernment – ​​the effects of anti-politics

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By LEONARDO AVRITZER*

Bolsonarismo is both a movement and a form of government

Bolsonaro is the third outsider of the Brazilian right to reach the presidency in the last 60 years. Jânio Quadros and Fernando Collor preceded him. The two did not complete their terms. Jair Bolsonaro has a fundamental difference in relation to the other two who were also elected, highlighting the fight against corruption and trying to draw a relationship between the left and government corruption: Bolsonarism has greater traits of movement than of form of government and the president has acted since the beginning of the pandemic in an attempt to accentuate the movement side of Bolsonarism, as we saw in his already notorious trip to Praia Grande on the morning of January 04th to greet all those who broke social isolation and did not wear a protective mask.

In this brief assessment of the two years of Bolsonaro's government, I will defend a thesis: Bolsonarismo is both a movement and a form of government; the president likes the movement part of Bolsonarism better, but the survival of Bolsonarism will be determined by its ability to govern. Bolsonaro became president without having any capacity to hold office. In fact, Bolsonarismo did not emerge as a form of government and it is not part of the captain's proposal to try to govern. The poor anti-candidacy for the mayoral presidency in 2017, for which Bolsonaro received four votes, the constant change of parties and extremist verbiage seemed to guarantee this position.

As I already had the opportunity to explain in the book Politics and anti-politics: the crisis of the Bolsonaro government (However), two events are central to the transformation of Jair Bolsonaro into a national political leader and both took place in early 2016. position that became famous: “The PT must be removed from democratic coexistence and freedom”.

But it was on April 17, the day of the vote on the authorization for the impeachment of former President Dilma, that Bolsonaro became the undisputed leader of the Brazilian right. The then federal deputy declared his vote as follows: “For the memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, for the terror of Dilma Rousseff, for the Army of Caxias, for the Armed Forces, for Brazil above all and for God above all, my vote is yes”. With this vote, Bolsonaro qualified as the leader of the Brazilian right that had been reorganizing itself since 2015. Bolsonarismo as a movement took off from that moment on, but it had not yet qualified to become a government proposal.

Bolsonarismo becomes a government proposal after the interdiction of former President Lula and the resounding failure of the PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin in the elections. There, members of the Lava Jato operation and market forces gained unconditional support from the mainstream press for Bolsonarism's political normalization operation and the acceptance of the retired captain in the mainstream of politics. Jair M. Bolsonaro makes a move towards governability through an operation of dubious effectiveness that involved the acceptance of a set of proposals for economic reform carried out by an individual who would be the perfect blend of authoritarianism and economic freedom, Paulo Guedes. The operation would still involve some nods to conservative groups within the political system, among which, it is worth mentioning the Democrats who are contemplated with three ministries, the Civil House with Onix Lorenzonni, agriculture with Thereza Cristina Dias and Health with Luiz Eduardo Mandetta.

Two points of tension immediately arise with the proposal of semi-governability accepted by the insurgent captain. The first of them is that the captain needs to please his movement base and, for that, it was necessary to tension members of the political system, exposing their ills linked to corruption and political privilege. Bolsonaro chose Onix Lorenzonni for this role, sometimes humiliating him in public, sometimes assigning him responsibilities that were not his, as in the case of the private plane flight of the friend of the captain's children. The same happened with the Minister of Tourism Álvaro Antônio and later with Osmar Terra. That is, Bolsonaro had to show, in his first two years in office, that he was part of a political system that he controls and, if he wishes, humiliates. Thus, we have the first element of tension that is not good with governance, but with politicians.

The second point of tension is more complicated and led to the conflict with Sergio Moro and Luis Henrique Mandetta. In this case, the central issue is that Bolsonarism, as a movement, and the interests of the clan are above public policies. Sergio Moro's lack of character and political clarity makes it difficult to identify him as someone interested in implementing public security policies. At various times in his career, he made deals behind the scenes in relation to the Lava Jato operation and, by all indications, he always had a political project based on punitivism and not on public safety.

Even so, at times, Sérgio Moro had manager raptures and made proposals in the area of ​​public safety that immediately found opposition from the captain because they clashed with the interests of his movement base. The interference, for political reasons, in the Federal Police made the minister's permanence unsustainable because it would mean engaging with Bolsonarism, with the movement that puts the interests of the clan above governance.

Bolsonarismo, as a movement, needs to rely on the complacency of public security agencies because it strains political institutions to their limits and, in doing so, often goes beyond the limits of the law and collides with Bolsonarismo as a government. This is a conflict not yet resolved by the captain or by right-wing populism, as we see in Trumpism in the last week. Both proposals signal to their bases the overcoming of legal limits.

However, the biggest conflict of the two years of Bolsonaro’s government, which is also part of the field of Bolsonarism as a movement versus Bolsonarism as a government, took place in response to the pandemic. Health was an area of ​​composition between Bolsonarism and governance from the captain’s tenure until March 2020. The appointment of Luis Henrique Mandetta signaled a composition between these objectives: on the one hand, Mandetta had stood out in the fight against the program “ More Doctors” in the Chamber, thus qualifying among Bolsonarist bases.

On the other hand, he represented a private agenda since he had been the superintendent of UNIMED and even had experience in the SUS during his tenure at the Campo Grande health department. The problem is that Bolsonarism was uncomfortable with a response based on governance at the beginning of the pandemic and radicalized its position from semi-governability to anti-governability, as the ministerial meeting on April 22 showed.

If the president forced a radicalization of the movementist conception against isolation and managed to stabilize his government from it, he runs very serious dangers if he tries to do the same in relation to vaccination against COVID in 2021. There is a difference that may eventually point to the end of Bolsonarism. I explain. Social isolation was controversial and produced different results in different countries, so that it does not produce a conception of absolute political incompetence.

Vaccination seems to have much higher levels of consensus around it and everything indicates that only the Bolsonaro government, among the right-wing populist governments in the world, has engaged in an anti-vaccine campaign against COVID. On the other hand, Bolsonarist bases are more vocal against the vaccine than against isolation and this should mobilize the captain, since vaccination is a point of honor for anti-modern conceptions and for religious fundamentalism since the emergence of Christian Science in the United States in the XNUMXth century, being one of the central agendas of the anti-politics and anti-science movement in recent decades.

It is in this context that the insurgent captain's opposition to the vaccine comes as absolutely no surprise. However, what should be added to his anti-vaccination conception and will mark 2021 is that he is willing to deepen anti-governance to ensure that vaccination is not successful in Brazil. The first skirmishes regarding this issue took place in the discussion about the emergency approval of vaccines, but we see other attitudes that may have even more dramatic repercussions, such as the absence of a syringe purchase policy and the request to sign a term of responsibility.

All of these issues seem to place Brazil many months behind other countries on vaccination and are likely to have dramatic economic and political consequences. If in fact the return to normality in Brazil takes place months after the other countries and Brazil becomes an international pariah, the conditions will be in place for breaking the pact of semi-governability ratified between the captain and the market forces. 2021 may be the year of the end of the most macabre pact signed by Brazilian elites in the last 100 years, which will not mean the end of Bolsonarism as a movement.

This one is here to stay and perhaps the anti-vaccine campaign means as much to him as the attack on Congress meant to Trumpism. Both forms of right-wing populism draw their energy from the anti-institutional movement they produce. Everything indicates that Bolsonarism draws its energy from the anti-science and anti-vaccination struggle and the president will engage head-on in this struggle that could separate him from the market and even from the military.

It is in this square that not only the future of Bolsonarism, but probably that of democratic institutions in Brazil will be decided. Even if Bolsonarism is politically defeated and that chance exists, it will continue to exist as a movement and to put pressure on Brazilian democracy in this decade that is beginning.

*Leonardo Avritzer He is a professor at the Department of Political Science at UFMG. Author, among other books, of Impasses of democracy in Brazil(Brazilian Civilization).

 

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