Can someone be what they are not?

The signs are all there in plain sight. All over the world. From Brexit to Salvini's Italy and Orban's Hungary, from Donald Trump's election to the growth of xenophobic movements in central and eastern Europe. Yet this quicksand 'zeitgeist' goes well beyond the 'Western world'. It has incarnated in the Philippines, through Duterte, and now, in a particularly worrying way for the Portuguese-speaking world, in Brazil, through Bolsonaro.

Notwithstanding the differences between these actors, they are bound together by populism, demagoguery, and an anti-liberal and even anti-intellectual rhetoric. It is a reaction against globalization, marked by nationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia and, in some cases, homophobia and negationism (regarding man's impact on climate change). Social media and the proliferation of fake news are fertile ground for the rise of 'providential men' - chosen by the people in electoral democracy systems.

In Jair Bolsonaro's case, we are dealing with someone who embodies almost all the ingredients of this new era. But he is someone whose erratic and inconsistent nature makes him even more dangerous than his populist avatars in the European and American radical right. However, both this diagnosis and the well-intentioned protest campaigns that took the streets and social media may prove to be relatively worthless. We must understand how we got here. Whether we are talking about Europe, the US or Brazil. And we must understand what prompts the masses to elect or hand over political power to these movements and figures. For years, or even decades, problems involving unemployment, social and public security, education, health, inequality, transparency and honesty in the exercise of public office have been either ignored or undervalued. If Brazil does elect Bolsonaro, it may be comforting to think that Jair "the Messiah" will become more 'presidential' once he reaches Planalto Palace. Some people nurtured this hope regarding Trump, with the results we all know. A rhetorical question sung by Sérgio Godinho comes to mind: 'Can someone be what they are not?'

Editorial published in Plataforma Macau on October 12, 2018

Premium