Has Bolsonarism come to stay?

Image: Action Group


Bolsonarism has always been among us and will remain present for a long time, what we can do is work to deactivate it by updating other stories

Some indications from the municipal elections in Brazil and the presidential elections in the USA point in the direction that Bolsonarism and Trumpism are here to stay, regardless of the outcome of the elections. Both political movements can be understood as updates of the long history of reactionary-authoritarianism. But, in the current context, they represent dissimulation movements of predatory majorities in supposed minorities. Movements to the detriment of parties. Process mediated by disinformation, culture wars and (pseudo) social networks.

Bolsonaro and Trump all the time play this game of representing a threatened and supposedly oppressed “majority”. This type of strategy has proven to be efficient and will be a long-lasting phenomenon. In the terms of Indian anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, it is an anguish of incompleteness that seems to be in the DNA of national states. A fact that implies the construction of predatory identities, that is, majority identities that represent themselves as threatened in their narcissistic fantasies of living in a society without differences, where everyone would be the portrait of themselves.

In this year's municipal elections, we realized that the core of the speeches of most evangelical and military candidates is based on these codes. Faced with the threat of extinction and the different, political representation is offered to guarantee protection. Political leaders represent this anxious “majority”, and here it is worth remembering that these groups do not always configure real numerical majorities, but present themselves as such. Majority can be synonymous with what is considered normal and/or superior, and therefore should be the “soul of the nation”.

In the case of our reactionary tradition, the “majority” is white (as much as possible), Christian, heterosexual. This majority is expressed by myths such as racial democracy and Brazilian cordiality. In general, their speech mobilizes the fear that they could become minorities and that, therefore, the soul and body of the homeland-nation would be threatened.

Let's remember Bolsonaro's speech at the end of his speech at the UN General Assembly this year: "Brazil is a Christian and conservative country and has its base in the family". Anyone who is not Christian or conservative cannot be Brazilian, it is the internal enemy that must be converted, subjugated or exterminated. Although Bolsonaro's blue eyes do not see color, his nation, in addition to being Christian and conservative, is also preferably white. Anyone who doubts can cross the voting percentages for Bolsonaro in the last election with the black and white categories.

Bolsonaro does not need to interfere directly in the elections, as the agenda, language and energy of his movement are already placed in municipal elections, crossing a broad party spectrum. With regard to the so-called evangelicals, it should be noted that one in three Brazilians is evangelical. It is not, therefore, a fragile minority. When it comes to political representation, it is certainly the religious segment with the highest representation.

The Evangelical Parliamentary Front, for example, is made up of more than 200 parliamentarians, that is, more than 30% of the total number of parliamentarians. Last year, this front was considered by “Estadão” the most pro-government group in the last five presidential terms, since 90% of its votes were in favor of the Bolsonaro government. It is within this context that we must understand the increase, in this year's election, of 10% of candidates for mayors and more than 40% of candidates for councilors with titles religious.

Bolsonaro was able, like no one else, to capture most of the leaders and bases of this segment. The political dispute in Brazil will increasingly go through some kind of negotiation and articulation with the evangelical movement/segment. Ignoring them and/or just labeling them is certainly a mistake. And current studies show that if evangelicals continue to grow at the same pace, they will be the majority of the Brazilian population in the next decade. The big problem is that the “evangelical field” is increasingly being dominated by conservative and/or reactionary leaders.

In this sense, for this segment of the population, an alliance with political leaders who update the conservative tradition and carry out the cultural war through the construction of predatory identities becomes strategic. Thus, our bet is that in this year's elections, conservative evangelical representation will be the one that will grow the most. And it will stay that way until the progressive camp develops an intelligent dialogue strategy.

The left should not be seen as an existential threat that feeds the anxieties of this rising majority. Guidelines such as the decriminalization of abortion and same-sex marriage are examples of how this majority yearns for total forms of control. Is there a deep fear that, with abortion being decriminalized, evangelical Christians themselves would adopt the practice? Likewise, in the conservative discourse there is a fear that LGBT visibility generates some kind of contamination and epidemic. Deep down, there is the fear that, in a new normal, a new majority will reproduce the intolerant behavior of predatory majorities.

By taking taboos such as the right to abortion and respect for differences out of the closet, even if involuntarily, the conservative wave may have finally opened the opportunity for a deeper debate on these issues in Brazilian society. Maybe we can find ways in which majorities can be less predatory and more supportive.

The new strategy of the progressive field needs to be thought of beyond neoliberal capitalism and its metamorphoses, since the destruction caused by this hegemonic model has undermined the emancipatory and transformative possibilities that existed, even if latently, in liberal societies. The right has been more astute in updating its discourse. An example of this, in this election, was the phrase by the candidate for mayor of São Paulo, Joice Hasselmann, who stated that almost overnight you can turn an unemployed person into an entrepreneur.

As long as the progressive field is not able to understand the ongoing changes, for example, in the worlds of religion and work, Bolsonarismo, understood as a local, circumstantial and singular update of the conservative/reactionary-authoritarian tradition, will continue to build a strong social base and not just on the outskirts of big cities. This is what part of the data available from the surveys carried out so far is indicating.

Thus, without abandoning its specificities and agendas, one of the challenges of the progressive field is to build discourses and concrete public policies also for the “anxious majorities” that can become, as we said, predatory, but that can also assume forms of solidarity. Otherwise, fear will continue to be the dominant affect in our political and social life. Bolsonarism has always been among us and will remain present for a long time, what we can do is work to deactivate it by updating other stories.

*Matthew Pereira is professor of history at the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP).

*Valdei Araújo is professor of history at the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP).

Originally published on the website 2020 Election Observatory [https://observatoriodaseleicoes.com.br/] of the Institute of Democracy and Democratization of Communication (INCT/IDDC).


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