Brazil Is Falling Under an Evil Political Spell

By Thomas Palley

Brazil is falling under an evil political spell. The leading candidate in the presidential election is Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing politician. It is as if voters are sleepwalking their way to destruction of Brazilian democracy. Under the spell’s influence, they have become blind to the truth about Brazilian politics and blind to their better nature.

The resurrection of the fascist political tradition

Bolsonaro represents the resurrection of the fascist political tradition. That tradition discards norms of decency, tolerance, compromise and due process whenever they obstruct taking power.

He is an open advocate of racism, sexism, torture, and police execution squads. Those views are paired with a neoliberal economic program which aims to savage Brazil’s welfare state and privatize key state assets. That economic program has won him the support of the business elite, which has been willing to overlook his fascist inclinations as part of the bargain.

Brazil is sleepwalking

Bolsonaro’s popularity is inconsistent with Brazil’s expressed political preferences, which is why it is as if Brazil is sleepwalking. Past polls have shown about 65 percent of Brazilians support democracy.

Even more striking is the fact that former President Lula was the most popular political figure prior to the election. However, Brazil’s corrupt political elite imprisoned him on fake corruption charges and, with Lula barred from the election, Bolsonaro has become the front-runner. That speaks to the blinding power of the evil spell since Bolsonaro is the polar opposite of Lula.

A poisonous political potion, voter amnesia, and shapeshifting

Voters’ zombie condition reflects the poisonous political potion the elite has force-fed them. The feeding tubes have been a parliamentary coup and a dishonest media.

The potion has induced an amnesia whereby voters have forgotten history. They have forgotten how President Lula’s administration oversaw an economic miracle of growth with rising wages and declining inequality.

At the same time, the potion has enabled a shapeshift whereby the Workers’ Party (PT) has been falsely tarred as the party of corruption. The reality is the massive decades long thievery for personal enrichment was restricted to the business elite and political establishment. The PT received a relatively small amount of money, which it used for political purposes to grease Brazil’s corrupt Congress. Sadly, the novice PT government was confronted with the fact that Brazil is ungovernable without such grease.

Economic history rewritten

Worse yet, the long recession has been falsely blamed on the PT. The truth is Brazil’s long recession was triggered by the financial crisis of 2008 that began on Wall Street. President Rousseff advocated modest fiscal stimulus to help recovery, but her political opponents obstructed her and then impeached her for using improper budget accounting procedures that previous presidents had also used on a smaller scale.

A political vacuum and the appeal of authoritarianism

The charge against President Rousseff was technical budget improprieties. The real motive was to regain power and stop the “Car Wash” corruption investigation that implicated most of the political establishment, but not Rousseff.

The political elite regained power through its parliamentary “impeachment” coup. However, it was unable to hide its massive criminal corruption, which discredited it and created a political vacuum Bolsonaro has filled.

With the PT falsely smeared and the political establishment discredited, Bolsonaro’s neo-fascism began to appear attractive. He combines authoritarianism and nationalism. Authoritarianism offers false certainty, while nationalism exploits Brazilians’ loyalty to their country. All that is wrapped in the blanket of social conservatism, which incites the self-righteous and deceives the exploited.

Bolsonaro and the five big lies

Ninety years ago Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis learned the power of the “Big Lie”. Tell a big lie often and loudly enough, and it will be believed. Bolsonaro’s candidacy is built on five big lies.

Lie number one, and the most important lie, is that the PT is corrupt and the same as Brazil’s thieving elite. The reality is the elite has enriched itself, stealing tens of millions from the Brazilian state and people. There is no equivalent behavior by the PT.

Lie number two is the PT is responsible for the long economic recession. The truth is the recession was triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, and deepened by Brazil’s political elite which suffocated President Rousseff’s economic stimulus plans.

Lie number three is Bolsonaro is the candidate of patriotism. The truth is he is the anti-Brazil. Brazil is the country of the “beautiful game” and Pelé, of Samba and Bossa Nova, of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Those are what have made Brazil a global cultural force. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, Brazilians have struggled for social progress and succeeded. Bolsonaro is the opposite of all that. He would destroy tolerance and multi-culturalism, roll-back social progress, and inflict a new dictatorship.

Lie number four is Bolsonaro is the anti-crime candidate. Brazil has a gang and street crime problem owing to narco-trafficking and poverty. The solution is economic recovery and jobs, plus a narco-trafficking strategy. Bolsonaro will worsen poverty by his anti-worker policies. He also wants to kill the gangsters. The reality is many innocents will die, civil rights will be anihilated, and street gangsterism will be supplemented by police gangsterism. Brazil will have both street crime and police crime, making Bolsonaro the king of crime.

Lie number five is Bolsonaro is the anti-corruption candidate. The reality is he is allied with the neoliberal bankers who want to privatize and pillage the Brazilian state. He is an authoritarian, and authoritarianism always breeds corruption and economic inefficiency because it lacks accountability and checks.

The magic question: is that what you really want?

There is an antidote to the spell. Bolsonaro is the anti-Brazil. He is openly racist and tacitly approving of rape; a supporter of torture, extra-judicial killing, and dictatorship; and his neoliberal economic program aims to slash the welfare state. The antidote is to show the real Bolsonaro and then ask Brazilians “is that what you really want from your next president?”

Since the end of the last dictatorship, Brazil has enjoyed three decades of social progress. That history means voters know the answer if only they are asked the magic question.

Is The US Hypocritical To Criticize Russian Election Meddling?

Cross-posted at Social Europe.

Thomas Carothers has recently written an article in Foreign Affairs, the prestigious elite journal published by the US-based Council on Foreign Relations. The article asks: is the US hypocritical for criticizing Russian election meddling?

Given the place of publication, the unsurprising conclusion is that it is not. The problem is the US is a champion meddler. Consequently, the argument crumbles every time Carothers reaches for substance.

At the end of the day, the defense reduces to the claim that we (the US) are good and they are evil, so that our meddling is a net good and theirs bad: “the trends of US and Russian behavior are divergent, not convergent – with Russia on the negative side of the divide.”

That is a moral superiority defense which is doubly flawed. First, the US can still be a hypocrite. Second, framing great power international relations in terms of moral superiority quickly promotes crusader thinking, which is a grave menace to all.

Meddling Since The Cold War

The first line of defense is that the US meddles less now than in the Cold war. But exactly the same can be said of the Russians. Moreover, since the US is far wealthier than Russia, its democracy manipulations now dwarf those of Russia measured in financial terms.

On top of that, the recent history of US meddling is of an order of magnitude worse than that of Russia. In the Ukraine, which is a highly sensitive space on Russia’s border and historically part of the Motherland, the US helped promote a coup in 2014 three months before scheduled elections.

Moreover, this intervention in the Ukraine came on top of 20 years of the US pushing NATO into former Soviet bloc countries. That has put US forces closer and closer to Russia’s borders, and violated the end of Cold War understanding that former Soviet bloc countries would remain outside NATO.

Elsewhere, in 2016, following an illegal and unconstitutional coup in Honduras, the US supported the junta’s consolidation of power.

Going back to the previous decade, there was the internationally illegal invasion of Iraq and the promotion of a coup in Venezuela. And before that, in 1996 there was the mother of all interventions when the US intervened to influence Russia’s election in favor its preferred candidate, Boris Yeltsin. Carothers fesses up to that, but fessing up does not mean acquittal.

In short, not only has there been a lot of US meddling since the end of the Cold War, it exceeds Russian meddling.

The Democracy Promotion Charade

The second line of defense is that the US is different because of its democracy promotion efforts, which are not matched by Russia.

It is absolutely true Russia does not have such programs. But we must be careful to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. Forty years ago, the Soviet Union was dedicated to liberating the workers of the world, but no one except a Soviet apparatchik would have counseled taking this at face value. Similar skepticism is warranted regarding US democracy promotion.

The US is for democracy promotion when it suits its interests, and against it when it does not. Strategically important undemocratic allies are given a free ride, while unfriendly undemocratic countries are subjected to subversive meddling in the name of democracy. Seen in that light, US democracy promotion is the twin of democracy meddling. Both are tactics serving US interests.

The hollowness of the US commitment to democracy promotion is evidenced by how quickly it is dropped when real interests come in to play. That is forever etched in the record by the way the Tiananmen Square protests were conveniently forgotten when trade with China was at stake. Similarly, democracy concerns are always excluded from the room in dealings with Saudi Arabia.

That is exactly how a great power with important interests is expected to behave. But it speaks to being done with the democracy promotion charade, which the US elite pumps up to gain rhetorical advantage in international relations and disingenuously enlist the support of common citizens.

The US Is A Double Hypocrite

Any honest assessment of US democracy would compel the admission that the real threats to it lie within the US. These threats include fake corporate-produced news, the political power of money and corporations, gerrymandering of congressional districts, voter suppression, built-in representational biases from the electoral college and Senate, and obstruction of change from the first-past-the post electoral system which blocks emergence of new political parties.

Compared to those problems, Russia’s Facebook interventions are a small time side-show. Moreover, Russia’s actions are par for the course of international relations, as long practiced by both the US and itself.

It is relatively easy to further secure the US voting system, and there is much that can readily be done to make US democracy more competitive and informed. But a high quality democracy is not the real goal. Instead, the US elite’s obsession with Russia’s election meddling is a circus aimed at distracting the public from domestic problems, and at increasing national security paranoia to justify more military spending and more domestic surveillance.

Warning: Don’t Be Conned By The Democracy Meddling Narrative

How we got here, how to address authoritarian Russia’s encirclement fears, and how to restrain the US imperial impulse are huge questions. A good starting place is to strip away US hypocrisy regarding democracy meddling and democracy promotion.

Doing so does not imply moral equivalence, but it has two huge benefits. First, it can help avoid getting locked into conflict on grounds of false principle. Second, it can help surface the real concerns and conflicts of interest that must be managed.

All of this is especially important for Europe, where the damaging backwash of US actions are now so often felt.