Brazil Is About To Show The World How A Modern Democracy Collapses

Bolsonaro wielded corruption as a cudgel against the PT from the start, turning its links to Car Wash into an all-out attack on its legitimacy and right to exist. The left, Bolsonaro suggested on his website, wanted to “import ideologies that destroy our identity” as Brazilians. That appealed to growing evangelical and conservative movements, as well as segments of the middle classes that opposed the left’s social liberalism, and played on a backlash against efforts to advance the civil rights of the poor, LGBTQ people and black Brazilians. 

That Bolsonaro had adopted an anti-corruption posture merely as a campaign tactic ― much like Trump’s promise to “Drain the Swamp” ― was evident even before he took office. Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio, is already facing questions about potential corruption, and despite pledging that his government ministries would not include anyone convicted of corruption, Bolsonaro has appointed at least seven people who have been or currently are involved in such scandals, according to The Intercept. They include his chief of staff and his finance minister, Paulo Guedes ― the University of Chicago–educated economist and free marketeer whose close ties to Bolsonaro during the campaign gave Brazil’s business elite the assurances they needed to cozy up to the supposed “populist.”

As with Trump, Bolsonaro’s attack on corruption went beyond hypocrisy. It was a Herrenvolk appeal — spoils for the dominant class, banishment or marginalization for everyone else — and the tubthumping about corruption fit into larger themes about the contamination of Brazilian identity by the country’s underclasses. 

For the whole of history, as Hannah Arendt wrote, totalitarians have depended on a coalition between the elite and the mob. In Brazil, as elsewhere, the rise of a new authoritarian required the acquiescence of a patrician class unwilling to accept any of the blame for the systemic ills the country was facing. And while so much media attention was lavished on the ordinary folks who supported Bolsonaro, it was more significant that >his levels of support rose with each step up the income ladder, thanks to elites who shared his disdain for the left and were happy to empower a fascist to thwart it.

The worst ills Bolsonaro would inflict would be reserved for the most vulnerable of Brazil’s populations, anyway. The elites, as always, are exempt from the pain they cause.

‘Bolsonaro Can Do Things Trump Can’t Do’

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Brazil Is About To Show The World How A Modern Democracy Collapses