Vaccine and politics – the pitfalls

Image: Luiz Armando Bagolin
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By NATALIA FINGERMANN & LUÍS FERNANDO VITAGLIANO*

Those who do not know the attributions of each entity of the federation are not bothered by the president's speech

Bolsonaro has put governors and mayors in a trap. Since the STF judged that the Covid-19 issue was federative and that each member of the federation would have autonomy to act, Pazuello's purposeful incompetence exerts direct pressure on state and municipal governments, which alone try to find a way out for their regions. One thing are the facts and the clashes caused by a government of denialist misfits, another thing is how the population perceives the issue of the Covid-19 vaccine and how this positively affects Bolsonaro's popularity.

After a period of protagonism, with the drop in tax collection at the state and municipal levels and the need to increase spending to make the vaccine viable, the states and municipalities became hostages of the strategy of detachment from the disease that the federal government uses in denial of the health crisis or, at least, the denial of its responsibility. Asphyxiated by the budget issue, many local leaders see the only way out of the lack of federal support to join Bolsonaro's blatant denialism. Which, in itself, reinforces the government's version of the situation.

Thus, even with the proactivity of governors and mayors, the lack of results leads to the population not recognizing the efforts. Common sense judges that the closest powers have greater responsibility in the provision of public services. The mayor must care more for the health of the population in the municipality than the governor and, more distant is the president. We live in the logic of responsibility attributed by the proximity of the ruler. Thus, those who do not know the attributions of each entity of the federation are not bothered by the president's speech that assumes the Union's lack of responsibility for the pandemic.

To complicate the context, part of the population was convinced (or was convinced) that the ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Health is the result of the political fights created by these governors and mayors. Entrepreneurs are also seen as obstacles to vaccination, especially when Bolsonaro declares that he will boycott the purchase of syringes due to the abuse in the price charged by the market.

It is enough to go to a pharmacy in times of a pandemic and talk to a random elderly person to identify how misinformation circulates among the population. The case of the lady below is an example. Worried about her health and that of her family, the elderly woman went to the pharmacy to buy her own syringes to get the vaccine available from January 25th. According to her, Bolsonaro had finally managed to buy the vaccines, but the market and the greed of entrepreneurs were making her plans unfeasible. Worse, she got into a fight with the poor clerk who didn't know which syringe to sell because he didn't know the dosage volume. It got worse when I learned that the vaccination plan for January 25 is from Dória, to São Paulo, and without the need for the population to buy syringes.

Thus, the confusion created around vaccination opens up interpretation for any hallucinatory theory that ranges from the idea about communism raised by Elba Ramalho to the unbridled search for syringes with exorbitant prices in pharmacies due to greedy market capitalists. It was how the controversy surrounding the price and bidding of syringes reverberates as a problem created by the “others”. For, in the logic of Bolsonarism, there will always be a metaphysical entity called “others” to be the culprits. The “others” can be governors, mayors, businessmen, the STF, the Centrão… anyway, but the preferred tormentor for these “others” is the left, the PT, all those leftists there.

The point to be analyzed is that the project of eternal accountability of “others” and “victimization” of Bolsonaro and his followers, is the fuel for the president to articulate and strengthen the Brazilian extreme right. Today, this new right is more radical, organic and mobilized to take to the streets to defend its leaders and flags. It's the same profile and the same mobilization strategies of the new right that easily invaded the US Capitol. Even without having many resources and materials for this, the conquest of the minds and hearts of the white middle class and low-level security forces facilitate the action of these subjects. On Capitol Hill, these security forces seemed to be in agreement with the reckless march of the Trumpist Republicans. Just notice that the use of firearms (as we saw in the 'Black Live Matter' demonstrations) was postponed to use only after entry.

With an American test, the formula for the coup in Brazil is ready: anti-systemic conservative engagement and security forces lenient with the protests. Some are organized to occupy government public spaces and others facilitate their access. In 2022, Brazil will be very vulnerable. Because if Bolsonaro will not make a good government, but will not be satisfied with having exposed his incompetence, he will blame the “others” who made his plans unfeasible. This will add to the accusation of electoral fraud, to turn the institutions against the president. And the public call to its defence.

The parliamentary coup suffered by Dilma Rousseff showed not only the fragility of our institutions in defending the rule of law, but that these institutions are also sensitive to the argument of the constructed “majority”. That is why the mobilization power of the extreme right is dangerous, not because it has a majority, but because it can shout louder and put the 2022 transition of government in check.

That there may be a blow; let us not be naive in doubting. But, we have time and we can prepare. It is also necessary to take into account that any reaction to the escalation of the Bolsonarist coup cannot be limited to the institutional. We must work with popular forces capable of guaranteeing results. Because it is increasingly proven that the radical right does not have a majority. Trump did not have a majority either in 2016 (when he won in the electoral college) or in 2020, when he lost in both colleges. Bolsonaro wins with abstention and non-voting. Both are supported by an aggressive and sectarian political engagement of white middle-class majority groups who are desperate with the loss of their privileges. So the issue here is not the quantitative support that Bolsonaro has. Because there is no majority. But the engagement of its troops makes it look strong and the support that public security forces favor the defense of Bolsonarist ideals among armed people.

This ability to dialogue almost exclusively with the security forces makes democracy vulnerable. And the reaction to this can only come from a forceful popular mobilization. Increasingly, it is necessary to prepare progressive political forces for a reaction capable of confronting Bolsonaro supporters in the streets and at home. A Bolsonarist soldier will only back down when he gets home and is scolded by his mother. An official who defends Bolsonaro must satisfy his close ones, his neighbors, his non-radical relatives. Therefore, for 2022, it will not be enough to beat Bolsonaro. It will be necessary to build victory in each manifestation, in each strategy, in each campaign, delivering the majority, not only the vote, but also providing it with the argument against those who might use force against reason.

*Natalia Fingermann Professor of International Relations at the Catholic University of Santos (UNISANTOS).

*Luis Fernando Vitagliano holds a master's degree in political science from Unicamp.

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