Politics and anti-politics

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By PRISCILA DELGADO DE CARVALHO*

Commentary on the newly released book by Leonardo Avritzer

Em Politics and anti-politics: the crisis of the Bolsonaro government Leonardo Avritzer shows how the coronavirus pandemic has made evident the need for politics to face collective problems and, with that, contributes to the crisis that the current government is going through. The pandemic replaced the need for public policies and the reaction to the denialist president allowed public opinion to recompose, weakening the anti-politics discourse. This discourse is also undermined by a renewed role of the legislature and the Supreme Court in expressing limits to anti-democratic outbursts of different origins. Even shaken, however, anti-politics resists, in part due to the lavajatist heritage that echoes over the functioning of institutions. In the book, Avritzer discusses the behavior of key actors for the unfolding of this crisis – elites and middle classes, a recomposed democratic center, the judiciary and the armed forces – and points out possible solutions, either through the cesarist route with the strengthening of the military, or for a political solution that passes through the center. The publication, by Editora Hoje, is part of the 2020 – Essays on the Pandemic collection, and circulates in e-book format.

The book is the result of monitoring – with impressive intensity and speed, it should be said – the political news, but it is not satisfied with the reporting of facts. Avritzer is among those who understand conjuncture analyzes as efforts, guided by theory, to identify patterns that allow access to the logic of ongoing processes. Therein lie the strength and urgency of the text, divided into five acts. In this review, I present each chapter and argue that the book pays attention to a central point of the author's recent work, the pendular role of middle-class elites in the (reluctant) construction of democracy in Brazil.

The first chapter deals with how the new coronavirus quickly produced a rehabilitation of science and highlighted the urgency for public authorities to respond to the pandemic, reintroducing to public opinion the need for governments capable of organizing policies – and not distorting them, as Jair had been doing. Bolsonaro. In this scenario, support for Bolsonarism did not end, but weakened. Bolsonaro was left out of the new alliance between the press, scientists, governors and international organizations, which attracted part of the middle class – doctors and health professionals included.

The role of the elite and the middle class in the crisis of democracy in Brazil is a central point of the analyzes that have been constructed by Avritzer since his two previous books. Impasses of Democracy in Brazil (2016), published in the heat of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment process, ends with a reflection on changes in the composition of the middle class and its role in withdrawing support for the PT (under the aegis of the press that fueled anti-PTism and Operation Lava Jato), pointing out the risk of withdrawing support for the post-1988 democratic project.

In the next book, The Pendulum of Democracy (2019), the author seeks explanations for the crisis in the long term. Democratic construction has suffered from oscillations in elite support for democracy in Brazil since 1946. There were times when political agreements allowed for the democratic expansion of the political system (albeit slow and partial), but even they left core aspects of the power structure intact in the country – economic system marked by political privileges, judiciary impervious to democratic modernization, military police that did not fully incorporate civil rights and the armed forces that withdrew from power but maintained the potential to interfere in politics. The author includes important sectors of the police, the Public Prosecutor's Office and federal agencies among the elites with fragile democratic convictions.

Avritzer's argument resonates with the by Fábio Wanderley Reis (2016), for whom, in the midst of the strong social inequality that characterizes Brazil, less favored economic strata are characterized by inattention and lack of information about politics, not being protagonists of public opinion. The opinion that prevails arises in the highest socioeconomic strata and is articulated in two ways with the mass media. This key understands the importance that Avritzer gives to the displacement of public opinion to undermine the legitimacy of the Bolsonaro government. In times of Bolsonarism, however, the author could advance the idea, also present in Reis, that public opinions, in the plural, have been developing in the country. This would help explain how, despite the impact of the pandemic on a significant part of the press and elites, not all of Bolsonaro's support was lost. Possibly, there are other axes of formation of other public opinions that pass through other spaces of sociability - such as churches -, through the flow of information via the internet (not mediated or mediated by other elites) and even through channels such as TV Record or SBT . Part of these elements are in the text, especially in the final chapter, but still without composing a clearer image of these competing public opinions.

The author remains attentive to the movements of the judicial elites. The consequences of the crisis indicate the persistence of the logic of pure and impure, corrupt and non-corrupt, inaugurated by the Lava Jato operation, as well as the disconnect between the legal system and the rule of law that the operation helped to establish – these are the themes of the second chapter. Until recently, Sergio Moro, who had the role of guaranteeing the government's removal from corruption. Bolsonaro not only lost a popular minister, but, without Moro, the government's alleged linkage to the axis of purity loses strength. Furthermore, the disembarkation of the former judge made clear Bolsonaro's eagerness to influence the Federal Police in Rio de Janeiro, precisely where one of his sons is investigated for practices involving the misuse of public money and association with militias - a recent theme that reinforces the accuracy of the book reviews. Dealing with the son's case and the investigation into fake news and the misuse of the internet during the campaign, Moro's departure created yet another problem for the government and reinforces the perception that Bolsonaro's destiny passes through the judiciary.

In the third chapter, Avritzer discusses the return of the armed forces to the center of the Brazilian political agenda and the risks of this movement, from the perspective of the problem posed by the politicization of the military corporation in previous episodes and the consequences of the periods in which it established forms of guardianship over the political system. When the military returned to the barracks after democratization in 1985, they managed to keep alive three myths – efficiency, legitimacy of political repression and absence of corruption. Each one of them is at the base of the recent revaluation of its political action, which has been taking place for some years, but has been intensified in a government without a party to support itself. It remains to be seen to what extent the military will be willing to link themselves to Bolsonaro's political project and to assume the risks of this linkage.

Avritzer, then, adds to this scenario a recomposition of the political center led by the Democrat party, the DEM – which occupies the presidency of the Senate and the Chamber and occupied the Ministry of Health until April with Luiz Henrique Mandetta. The recomposition of the center also involves the coordinated action of the governors in the face of the coronavirus and by nods, by the center-right, of the space for the reintegration of the forces of the left into the political field – especially by those who, in the electoral debate, in bad faith made an effort to to present voters with a picture in which they placed the left and extreme right as opposite but equivalent poles.

Ways out of the crisis are the theme of the final chapter, which outlines Bolsonaro’s inability (or lack of interest) in getting out of the crisis and the maintenance of part of his support base, now concentrated mainly in allies of his conservative ideological agenda. It also discusses the fact that other possible developments – an agreement that gives power to the military or an eventual interruption of the mandate – remain open. The second option seems to come less from Congress, where the Centrão is still available for cuddles, than from the Supreme Court. The option of a limping government, which reaches the end of its mandate, is not present.

Avritzer aligned the text by bringing authors of different theoretical affiliations into dialogue. In the conclusion, he revisits the concept of Caesarism, goes through the hegemony of Gramsci and ends with Weber, reminding us that moments of crisis demand passion, responsibility and proportion from political leaders, and that the current president lacks the last two.

*Priscila Delgado de Carvalho holds a PhD in political science from UFMG.

REFERENCES

Politics and anti-politics: The Bolsonaro government crisis – July 2020 – Leonardo Avritzer (https://amzn.to/3KJ8TLA)

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