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Goodbye to Bolsonaro

We are campaigning. And therefore, as anguished as engaged. Those who were stunned by the results of the 2018 elections are at least now more aware of what Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism represent for Brazil. For those who bet until the last second that a significant fraction of Brazilian society would not align itself with totalitarianism and fascism, today after every electoral poll released, there is a fear of looking at the variation of voting intention figures by considering that it may not be in 2022 when we can say goodbye to Bolsonaro.

However, even if we can, it is important to be clear: the goodbye will be to the figure of Bolsonaro as president, but not to Bolsonaro as an authoritarian, disloyal, and violent popular leader; even less (and more worrying) not to Bolsonarism as a long-term presence in Brazilian society.

After re-democratization, despite numerous social achievements and the guarantee of critical social rights, it is important to remember that daily life in our peripheries continued to be marked by violence and social insecurity. The poorest workers, despite the possibility of upward mobility and social inclusion – which came essentially through consumption – were forced to adapt to the voracity and exploitation of informal, precarious, and uberized work. The poor, forced to concentrate on survival, found support in some public policies, but above all, in networks within their communities, in the churches, and in the militia. 

Frustration with the failed attempts at social integration generated a reaction of resentment in a frayed social fabric. The reaction was structured in the peripheries and strengthened in the churches – especially the neo-Pentecostal churches and on the Internet.

The reaction also came from fractions of the middle classes that felt threatened by the movement of the social ascent of the lower classes (observed between 2003 and 2014), and from the financial and conservative elites, displeased with the political and economic directions of the country, until the outburst in 2013 that made front pages of newspapers in this year. A war whose outline only became clearer from 2016 onwards, and especially, after 2018.

Violence, abandonment, indignation, injustice, and resentment. These are the affections that guide political action by hatred of the different and by a primal sense of justice, which demands that the aggrieved take the law into their own hands. The social resentment generated by the feeling of injustice caused by an unfulfilled promise is a defiant collective manifestation, challenging to resolve because the resentful person blames the other for his situation, for what he has lost or not gained. In this case, those who feel wronged do not perceive themselves as authors of the social pact, nor capable of changing it. Without political power, they also tend unconsciously to look for rulers to protect them, an authority like the father figures of childhood. They look for a redeeming messiah.

The continuity of Bolsonarism beyond Bolsonaro

These feelings are more alive than ever in Brazilian society and tend to surface again, with force. If Brazilians have never felt much appreciation for politics, such feelings make its return even more resentfully to Facebook profiles, family WhatsApp groups, but also to Sunday lunch tables, bar tables, supermarket queues, bakery, bus, subway, and train lines. Through opinions formed on social networks, in WhatsApp groups, by YouTube influencers, or by authority figures totally unconcerned with facts, data released by research institutes, science, or any truth.

Certainly one of the major problems we will have to face is the socially widespread discrediting of the formal media, institutions, science, schools, and teachers (accused of indoctrination).

In recent years, in the wave of hatred towards politics, we have seen a mass of people disgusted with the media – many of them even aligned with right-wing values – grow, some associated with pejorative hashtags, such as the term “trash”, and with “left-wing communist indoctrinators”. “Trash!” they shouted. In the midst of a cultural and political war, the media burned at the bonfire of denialism, and opinion makers, public intellectuals, and “influencers” (them too) went on to burn at the bonfires of the cancel culture.

Universities, schools, and professors were publicly scorned, accused of ideological indoctrination, “party takers”. Having and publicly stating a political opinion became an abominable act, the reason for a deep schism between “us, good citizens”, and “them, leftists, cultural Marxists, bandits”. 

My point is: this scenario has not been dismantled, and the opinions and actions it creates and fuels have no relation to science, data, the facts of economics, or the politics of office and party politics. They are based on micro-perceptions of the world and theological conceptions of what is good, which are presented as incontestable truths. So there is no discourse, no argument capable of dealing with what is felt and the indignant reaction that accumulates, justified on the basis of redeeming values and slogans. In this logic, it is necessary to resist the problems and be persevering, because to rescue the values of the homeland and save Brazil it is still necessary to fight.

In the meantime, the reality is a challenge. The data and newspaper headlines insist: inflation has soared, unemployment is soaring, hunger is back. The shopping basket is empty, and the size of the products on the shelves (despite price increases) has shrunk. Gasoline and cooking gas are unaffordable. Diseases are back: measles, polio, and dengue fever outbreak in 2022. Social mobility has regressed, in the last five years we have experienced a labor regression, and we have returned to the levels of the lost decades, of the 80s and 90s. 

It never hurts to remember the pandemic management decisions made by the Bolsonaro government and the denunciations contained in the COVID’s Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) report. Let us not forget the collective mourning and the dead and orphans of the pandemic, nor the delays in schooling and the deprivation of socialization of our children, the traumas that will face an entire generation marked by the management of a government that turned its back on the collective, the social and the suffering.  

The bet is that the pains of reality will prevent Bolsonaro’s reelection, but Bolsonarism and all the social resentment on which it feeds will remain alive, throbbing. We have the historic duty to confront them.

Translated from Portuguese by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Cientista social. Profesora del Programa de Postgrado en Sociología Política del Instituto Universitario de Investigaciones de Rio de janeiro, Univ. Candido Mendes (IUPERJ / UCAM). Doctora en Ciencias Sociales por la Universidad Estatal de Campinas (UNICAMP).


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