Post-Bolsonarism: a backfire?

Could the terrorist aggression of the Bolsonarist hordes against the pillars of the Brazilian institutional system have been an unexpected gift that favors the consolidation of democracy in that country?

Self-convened by social networks, inspired by four years of anti-political and anti-democratic preaching by former President Bolsonaro during his term of office and fueled by bloggers and digital influencers cultivating fake news against judges, progressive leaders and political pluralism, between four and six thousand radicalized people rose up with sticks, stones, and machetes (and surely some hidden weapons) to invade and destroy the infrastructure of Congress, the Judiciary and part of the Executive in Brasília. 

This episode – the boiling point of a series of increasingly violent and anti-civic demonstrations by supporters of the former president – occurred on Sunday, January 8, 2023, one week after Lula’s inauguration as president. Therefore, it was not intended to prevent the transfer of power but was basically a purely expressive and chaotic act of repudiation against the powers and institutional protagonists of Brazilian democracy.

Financed by military and police allies, accomplices from the agribusiness, logging and illegal mining sectors, plus some other business leaders and radicalized evangelical sects associated with the losing candidate in the 2022 elections, the subversive movement was created – initially – in order to keep Bolsonaro in the center of the public scene. 

In this way, the extremists intended to perpetuate the representative monopoly of the right-wing and far right, focusing on the former president the opposition to the new Worker’s Party (PT) government. Thus, the imbalance caused, almost a decade ago, when the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) (former coalition of national leaders such as former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and governors José Serra, Gerardo Alckmin, Franco Montoro and Mario Covas), which represented the center and center-right, and counterbalanced the PT in the electoral competition by ordering and organizing the Brazilian political system for 30 years, abdicated its managerial capacities and political ambitions, would be consolidated. 

Under the control of minor figures, the PSDB ceased to be a force anchored in programmatic proposals to settle exclusively in an empty and hypocritical moralistic denunciation, where the center-left and left-wing adversaries were denounced as profaners of the sacred. This paved the way for the rise of bolsonarista fundamentalism.

However, with Bolsonaro out of the country in a covert self-exile and with the surprising autonomy demonstrated in this invasion and depredation of the symbols of republican democracy last Sunday, this movement of radicalized people ended up starring in the founding act of a Bolsonarism without Bolsonaro. Brazil is a country used to negotiate among few elites its most substantial systemic and institutional changes, from its independence from Portugal to the end of slavery, passing through the transition from monarchy to republic, and even during the different metamorphoses between supervised democracy and dictatorship. Nevertheless, this movement could only generate – even among the more right-wing leadership – a feeling, at least of discomfort, if not openly reactive to see a hysterical crowd transshipping its supposed leaders and commanders.

The destructive anomie and apocalyptic fanaticism staged by the attackers, along with their circus-like choreographies of military rituals, hysterical surges, and war cries, are not only reminiscent of the Trumpists who invaded the U.S. Congress two years ago but also of the violent rebellion of the Kirchnerist and radicalized leftist hosts that attacked the Argentine Congress in 2017 with more than 14 tons of stones and rubble at the time a pension reform was being legislated.

They are even more reminiscent of Vargas Llosa’s delightful accounts in his book “The War at the End of the World” of the romantic and ultramontane monarchist madness of the followers of Father Antonio Conselheiro in Canudos in reaction to the rise of the republic. Stories plagued by dogmatic delusions, beliefs in medieval tricks and embraced by a thinking as magical as it was violent. Undoubtedly, Canudos constituted an episode as hallucinatory and portrait-like of the celebrated literary magical realism as it was a tragic phenomenon of Northeastern Brazil during the late 19th century.

The rise of post-Bolsonarism, consecrated by the recent attacks and which generated some intoxicated celebrations in the social networks, should fulfill very few of its hopes. It probably more resembles a cathartic and chaotic lapse than a pressure factor with its own weight and long life. All the evidence about the majority of its participants warns that it is an almost psychiatric phenomenon: they are the broken people of the lonely crowd, of which David Riesman already spoke to us in the last century. Individuals looking for a sense of meaning and community mission at any cost, embraced to a maximalist identity, fanatic, full of certainties, uncritical, zero reflective and without fissures or ambiguities. In short, the same breeding ground that nurtured fascism and Nazism.

Despite the tacit passive support awakened among some police forces, the violent and anarchic post-Bolsonarism will have to accelerate the disenchantment of the conservative middle class with the far right, and facilitate the new government to clean up the colonization of state entities implemented by Bolsonaro. It must also galvanize the political class and mainly the legislative power around democracy and the reconstruction project led by Lula and Alckmin, and liquidate the sources of financing of the coup and other anti-system expressions.

The birth of Bolsonarism without Bolsonaro, wrapped in his green-yellow attire and the national soccer team’s t-shirt, may have been – paradoxically – a gift for the consolidation of Brazilian democracy.

*Translated from Spanish by Camille Henry

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