Where is Argentina going?

Image: Alex Umbelino
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By GUSTAVO CAPONI*

Progressivism and conservative reaction today face each other in Argentina as they once did in Brazil; and the result of the clash could be regrettable

I imagine that many Brazilians, perhaps not so many, must be wondering about the electoral crossroads that Argentina is going through. It is to be expected, above all, that they will have some questions regarding the similarities and differences that may exist between the figures of Javier Milei and Jair Bolsonaro.

It is evident, firstly, that the similarities between them are many and very relevant: the two figures are clear manifestations of those ultra-right leaders that now abound throughout the world, offering themselves as supposed anti-system alternatives capable of challenging an establishment whose most The most prominent and negative aspect would be, precisely, progressivism.

Javier Milei, like Jair Bolsonaro, made the left his great ideological enemy; although he, Javier Milei, does not speak of 'communism' but of 'zurdaje': 'leftism'. On the other hand, in the same way that the Brazilian pointed to the PT, and Lula, as being the local expressions of this vilified ideology, Javier Milei chose Kirchnerism, and Cristina Kirchner, as the incarnations of this evil to be exorcised.

Both, moreover, propagate an explicitly anti-rights discourse that surfs the waves of the dominant ideology, always strongly supported by the media hegemonic. A discourse to which, paradoxically, those who would be the first to be harmed by the definitive denial of these rights seem to adhere.

A media, it is worth pointing out, you do not need to explicitly support these characters; and you can even allow yourself to take some distance from them. The 'evidence' that this media installs, and the discredit of the popular movements that it promotes, will, in any case, serve as support for these strange proposals that the oligarchies never fail to support from below or above the table.

It is worth pointing out, in this sense, that Javier Milei is a figure created by his own media. He does not have the long history of political irrelevance of the 'lower clergy' center that Jair Bolsonaro had; Nor did he have to make use of the fake news to wear down your opponents. Unlike Jair Bolsonaro, Javier Milei limited himself to taking advantage of the cataract of insults and slander that media hegemonic, regularly and copiously, unleashed on the leaders and political movements of the popular field.

This is not, however, the most important difference that exists between the Bolsonaro phenomenon and the Milei phenomenon. There are others more relevant. The first and most obvious is the fact that Javier Milei is not the only ultra-right proposal that will arrive well positioned in October's presidential elections. There is also the candidacy of Patricia Bullrich: the triumphant in the primaries of the party of former president Mauricio Macri. Her speech, often soaked in Malbec, is not very different from the speech shouted by Javier Milei; sharing, above all, the same lack of sustenance and the same definitely delusional character.

And, in some aspects, Patricia Bullrich seems more similar to Jair Bolsonaro than Javier Milei himself. She, for example, insists more on the police's 'tough hand'; including as a response to social protest. Her proposals for public security policy explicitly appeal to the 'easy trigger' and the arming of 'good citizens' to defend themselves against the criminals currently protected by 'guarantor' judges.

All of this is something that Javier Milei subscribes to, but which he does not place at the center of his speech. The latter revolves, fundamentally, on strange, and incendiary, anarcho-capitalist digressions that allude to the economic policy that he would conduct once he came to power. Unlike Jair Bolsonaro, Javier Milei poses as an intellectual. He wants to be intelligent and not bestial. But, in this sense and evaluated by virtue of the objectives pursued by both, it must be said that Jair Bolsonaro was more successful than Javier Milei. His aesthetic, it is also worth noting, is not that of country musicians; but rather that of rock musicians.

This may explain the fact that it was Patricia Bullrich who won the vote of the middle and upper middle classes, who are older and more conservative. Javier Milei, in return, collected his votes among the youngest. So far, its supporters are some middle-class students and, above all, young people belonging to the precarious proletariat from poor neighborhoods and favelas.

I understand, however, that the sectors that support Patricia Bullrich will not hesitate to support Javier Milei, if their candidate is left out of a 'second round' in which Peronism is one of the alternatives. Unfortunately, it is very possible that, when push comes to shove, the reactionary electoral bloc will function as it did when Jair Bolsonaro won against Fernando Haddad. Anti-Peronism is an older passion than anti-PTism, but no weaker.

It must be said, on the other hand, that neither Milei nor Bullrich insist on the 'customs agenda' as much as Bolsonaro did; Neither of his speeches, nor Javier Milei's nor Patricia Bullrich's, are so permeated by religious invocations. However, in both cases, this cultural agenda has its place; and, in Javier Miliei's speech, the importance of religion continues to grow. It is possible, moreover, that he is receiving support from some evangelical churches; which are less powerful than the Brazilian ones, but equally reactionary.

However, if on this side the Argentine ultra-right is less well off than the Brazilian one, in this electoral situation it runs with an additional advantage: the performance of Alberto Fernández's government was, by far, much lower than the performance of Dilma Rousseff's government. The unmanageable external debt inherited from Mauricio Macri's disastrous management, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the drought in an election year were calamities that were very difficult to overcome; and everything was made worse by the extreme moderation, the firm indecision, the decided lack of courage, and the obstinate incapacity for effort, which characterizes the current president: ever more in absentia than in exercise. On the other hand, Sergio Massa (the official candidate) is a much, much less reliable and attractive figure than Fernando Haddad. AND Last but not least, there is the IMF; who shamelessly played in favor of Mauricio Macri in the 2019 elections and today openly plays against Sergio Massa.

Finally, and more on anecdotal grounds, it must be said that both Javier Milei, Patricia Bullrich and Jair Bolsonaro are equally sordid and bizarre figures. With different styles, yes, but equally ridiculous. That they have any popular support speaks of a profound cultural crisis, of a regrettable cognitive, and even moral, indigence that affects a large part of the electorate.

But, in addition, this support also highlights a persistent inability to challenge the people that afflicts progressivism in general and not just Argentine progressivism. His timid policies weaken him, and his moderate speech sinks him into irrelevance. But let it be known that I use this word, 'progressivism', without irony and without any pejorative charge. I use it because its meaning is clear, opposing what is reactionary and conservative. Progressivism and conservative reaction today face each other in Argentina as they once did in Brazil; and the result of the clash could be regrettable.

Argentines may pay dearly for the new, and inexcusable, mistake that an important part of the electorate seems about to make. And the fact that a mistake is explainable does not make it stop being a mistake. Beyond Patricia Bullrich's alcoholic rhetoric, and regardless of the references to her past lives, and those of her dog, made by Javier Milei, the fact is that her or his triumph would lead to something already painfully known by Argentines: the same neoliberal adjustment and the same primarization of the economy promoted by the dictatorship and the governments of Carlos Menem and Mauricio Macri.

*Gustavo Caponi is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).


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