Last Sunday, Brazil democratically elected Jair Bolsonaro for President. Bolsonaro became internationally known for his hate speech, xenophobia, sexism, and racism. It is hard to come to terms with the fact that someone who defends that women should make less money than men could have 56% of valid votes in my country. He said once to a reporter that he wouldn’t rape her because she didn’t deserve it. Yet, somehow, Brazil elected him.
The same person who defended beating gay couples on the streets will be in charge of the largest country in Latin America. He, who said that his children would never date black people because he taught them well, will be the most powerful person in Brazil. He used a livestock weight measure to refer to body shaming overweight black people. But he still got 57 million votes with an empty platform filled with hate speech.
From this perspective, the political scenario feels like an absurdist play in which nothing quite makes sense. And it doesn’t. Five years ago, I didn’t imagine I would be writing about the fragilities of democracy in my own country. Democracy seemed eternal only a few years back. I felt like it had started long before me and would go on long after my death. Today, I see quite clearly that Brazil is a young democracy, only 33 years old. The military dictatorship of 1964-1985 lurks in the recent past. And yet, Brazil elected a president who openly defends torture. I keep wondering what happened. How is this possible?
Here are the ingredients you need to elect your fascist: first, a well-seasoned sexual assaulter, anti-black, ugly-faced, anti-government politician. You will also need four million dollars of illegal social media sprinkles to convince your electorate. You will need white fragility, too. A lot of it. And generalized fear. Most importantly, you will need all-purpose fresh fiction writers, for garnish.
Apart from deeply ingrained hate, marketing fear is what got Bolsonaro elected. The setup was quite similar to the United States elections of 2016. On one side, a left-wing career politician. On the other, a military-like male figure that “refuses” to play by the rules. In Brazil, many people stopped believing in the democratic institutions. For someone that fears losing their jobs to immigration, generalized corruption, or “the commies,” the ironic decision to vote for anti-politics may seem logical. Bolsonaro’s strong figure is the antithesis of democracy, and yet he appealed to the media-fabricated, fear-induced, misinformed concerns of many Brazilians. To them, it was a logical decision to vote for a man who will allow everyone to buy their own firearm.
However, it is not logical. It is not logical to vote for a person that praised the most feared torturer of the 1964 Military Dictatorship. The military dictatorship ended in 1985, but despite its recency, many seem to have forgotten what real terror looks like. Bolsonaro didn’t win on logic; he won on emotion, on fear, and on fragility.
Bolsonaro vowed to end corruption, fight violence with violence, and save the economy. There is no real plan. Much like Trump up here, people say that he sounds “honest” because he speaks his mind. They both use and abuse the media to lie repeatedly and convince their electorate on an emotional level. If it is repeated enough, people will genuinely believe that schools make children queer, that the communists are trying to “abolish development,” and that hairy feminists will force you to abort a new fetus every couple of months. It is supposed to gross you out, to wake you up from the inertia of your sofa, even if you don’t believe in what he says. Bolsonaro’s secret is to manipulate the public imagination. He defends “traditional values” that capitalize on people’s nostalgia of an imaginary past they’ve never had, all while juxtaposing it to an equally imaginary catastrophic future. It works.
Similarly to Trump, Bolsonaro won because he blamed the enemy. A quick scroll through social media for me and I can see his followers calling the opposition dirty scum, rats, communists, pigs, criminals, addicts, bums, gay slurs, gendered insults, and monkeys. The resemblance to the Nazi rise to power is not a mere coincidence.
It shocks me to see that we are almost in the 20s again and nothing has radically changed. Keep an eye out for fascism, not only in Brazil but worldwide. Times are truly changing, and they are changing fast.