A pure-blood right-wing “democracy”

Image: Marcio Costa


The rhetoric of equivalence in the Brazilian press

In the evening news on September 23, in GloboNews' Jornal das 10, journalist Eliane Cantanhede, commenting on General Heleno's statements that criticism from foreign nations about deforestation in the Amazon is aimed at harming Brazil and overthrowing the Bolsonaro government , said that bolsonaristas are equal to petistas, as they do not accept criticism: they attribute to them the exclusive function of discrediting their leader. It was not the first time that he used such a comparison, on the last day of July 11, in the same Jornal das 10 of the same GloboNews, Cantanhede said that Jair Bolsonaro's threats to the press are equivalent to the different treatment that Lula gave to “dirty bloggers”. . That is, in her view, both would equally disrespect freedom of expression (represented by the mainstream press).

Responsible for popularizing the expression “smelling people”, created with the intention of suggesting that the poor smell bad, this journalist is far from being an exception in the Brazilian press. The equating of the PT agenda with that of Jair Bolsonaro, as if they were equivalent radicalizations, one on the left and the other on the right of the political-ideological spectrum; The assertion that both positions would be outside the reasonable scope of democracy and, therefore, would threaten its stability in our country, appeared with great force in the three newspapers studied by Manchetômetro during the 2018 presidential campaign.

In our base of journalistic texts, we identified 14 editorials in Estadão structured around this idea of ​​equivalence, 6 in O Globo and 6 in Folha de S.Paulo. Nine of these Estadão editorials also use the word “lulopetismo”, a term invented by journalist Clovis Rossi, from Folha de S.Paulo, and which has become common in editorials and opinion columns of the Brazilian mainstream media (Gagliardi, 2018).

The editorials of Estadão bring excerpts such as:

Lula da Silva and the PT are identical twins of Jair Bolsonaro.

Lula da Silva's PT, therefore, is in no way different from its antipode, primitive Bolsonarism: both invoke democracy with the aim of destroying it as soon as there is an opportunity.

The histrionic tone of the language used by the editorialists of Estadão should not cloud the understanding of the position of the other two newspapers, which repeatedly stated in an editorial, until the eve of the second round of the 2018 election, that Bolsonaro and the PT represented equivalent threats to democracy.

But the press was not content to use the rhetoric of equivalence to try to produce an electoral effect. Almost two years into the Bolsonaro government, despite the abundant evidence of disapproval of democratic values ​​and institutions given by the president, his ministers, supporters and followers, the discourse of equivalence still remains in the mainstream media. On May 13, 2020, the edition of Estadão brought an editorial commenting on the possibility of an agreement between Bolsonaro and Centrão, at the conclusion of the text it reads:

The implementation of Jair Bolsonaro's agreement with Centrão represents the abandonment of the policy promised in the campaign, sidelining both the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, and the president of the Central Bank (BC), Roberto Campos Neto. As Lula and Dilma did, such a pact would drive the country to the brink of fiscal irresponsibility, all in exchange for political-electoral support. Tragically and painfully, the country sees how Bolsonarism and lulopetismo are similar, if not in the means employed, certainly in terms of the ends they seek.

In an editorial on May 24, the idea appears again:

The extreme political polarization is nothing new, it only interests the irresponsible people who appear in the two opposite poles. Jair Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva – or whoever his representative is – feed off each other from the enormous rejection that significant portions of citizens feel for one and the other.

In an editorial of May 26, 2020, entitled “Born for each other”, the newspaper makes the following passages:

Both President Jair Bolsonaro and PT boss Lula da Silva are associated with the most absolute lack of scruples, at levels that would make even Machiavelli blush.

Jair Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva unite like Siamese. They see the world and their role in it from exactly the same perspective. Everything they do concerns exclusively their power projects, in which the State and the people cease to be the ultimate goal of political activity and become mere vehicles of their totalitarian aspirations.

Both Bolsonaro and Lula only care about the suffering and anxiety of the population to the exact extent of their electoral objectives.

The rhetoric of equivalence is not restricted to the journal founded by Júlio de Mesquita. O Globo brings similar framing in recent editorials. When commenting on the launch of the National Arts Award, produced by the secretary Roberto Alvim as a tribute to the Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbels, the editorial commits the following passage:

The award demonstrates how the Bolsonarist project to support the arts is, or was, leadership, interventionist. No different than in any authoritarian state. If society and institutions rejected this same deviation in the Lulopetista era, even with the support of Regina Duarte, it does the same now (sic).

In the editorial of July 2, 2020, the editorialists of O Globo produce yet another pearl of the rhetoric of equivalence:

The bombardment of messages during campaign times is a resource that has already been used by the PT and serves as the basis for the process that the Bolsonaro-Mourão ticket is facing at the TSE. Digital weapons do not discriminate against ideology.

Now the argument is of more topical application. There are strong indications that Bolsonaro used illegal schemes to disseminate messages via WhatsApp in the last campaign. Globo then declares that the PT used the same electoral trickery.

As we showed at the beginning of the text when commenting on statements by Eliane Cantanhede in GloboNews, the rhetoric of equivalence is not only in the Globo Newspaper.

Joining his peers, Folha de S.Paulo published an editorial entitled “Jair Rousseff” on August 23, in which he argues that Bolsonaro would be equaling Dilma by “releasing the keys to the government coffers in the hope that, later on, , guarantee a smoother re-election”.

The above analysis demonstrates a combination of political activism – at first with the aim of influencing the electoral result and, later, the formation of public opinion – and a strong rejection of ideological pluralism. To say that the PT represents a threat to democracy comparable to Bolsonarism, a movement with clear fascist inclinations, is to agree with a very narrow vision of what is the set of ideas worthy of appearing in the democratic public sphere. Throughout the democratic world, positions around the issue of fiscal discipline by the state and, consequently, its role in the economy define the division between left and right. By trying to exclude the PT from the scope of democratic debate, the Brazilian press intends to institute a pure-blood right-wing democracy. The fact that such an “authoritarian” conception of democracy is very close to the Bolsonarist project is a lurid irony that does not escape the most attentive eyes.

*João Feres Junior is professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. He is coordinator of the Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (GEMAA) and of the Media and Public Space Studies Laboratory (LEMEP).

*Eduardo Barbabela is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at IESP-UERJ.

Originally published on the website pressure gauge 


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