Reuters. The Guardian. BBC. The Economist. Almost all the international media outlets label Jair Bolsonaro as being "far-right." His television slogans like "Brazil above everything, God above all " serve to reinforce the idea that the congressman is the tropical chapter of right-wing radicalism that has Marine Le Pen in France, the Dutch Geert Wilders or Jimmie Åkesson, in Sweden, as other exponents.
It's a questionable idea. Far-right parties and movements share principles that Bolsonaro, in fact, does not appear to defend. Scholars do not have a unanimous voice over all the ingredients that make up right-wing radicalism, but they are consensual in stating that it is at least centered on ethnonationalism, the apology of the nation's empowerment based on the glorification of myths of the past, and the idea of an ethnically homogeneous and superior society. But Bolsonaro's political agenda does not follow this direction. The 81-page electoral program has an army of pamphlet ideas, but none against immigration. In fact, it speaks of the need of society to develop without "differentiation among Brazilians" and stresses that "anyone, even though not a Brazilian citizen, has inalienable rights." Emmanuel Macron would not write better.
In the French presidency of 2017, Le Pen defended the restriction of the asylum requests made in the French diplomatic posts, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán publicly defends the ethnic homogenization of the population and the newly appointed Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, is an apologist for the expulsion of Roma people. It is true that Bolsonaro has already made disparaging remarks against Haitians and Venezuelans, but contrary to extreme right-wing leaders, his political agenda is not centered on immigration.
Brazil is an intensely multi-ethnic country. It has the largest Italian, Japanese and Lebanese communities in the world. Several presidents of Brazil are children of immigrants, like Michel Temer, Dilma Rousseff, Ernesto Geisel or Emílio Médici. Nationalism and racial uniformity have no fertile ground in the country because Brazilians are genetically multicultural. Bolsonaro is a descendant of Italians and his father-in-law is Afrodescendant. His deputy, General Hamilton Mourão, has blood from European settlers, indigenous and black. They are the rule. Being Brazilian and xenophobic is the same as being a Muslim and denying Muhammad.
Radical right-wing parties and movements also argue that the interests of the nation should override the interests of internationalism. Le Pen defends the departure of France from NATO, while Jimmie Åkesson proposes a referendum on Sweden's stay in the European Union. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is far from defending the isolation of the country. He is critical of the Cuban regime (Venezuela both supports and criticizes), but publicly praises countries he has recently visited, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Israel. He proposes a comprehensive liberalization program, reducing trade barriers and accelerating trade negotiations and agreements.
Not being in the far-right, Bolsonaro could, at most, be seen as a liberal in economics, a conservative politician in values and anti-establishment in speech. But he also does not appear to be any of this. At least not consistently.
About economics, Bolsonaro usually says, in a liberating ignorance, that he understands nothing. And whenever he receives economic questions that, for being so simple, would embarrass the interviewer more than the interviewee, he hesitates or replies that he does not know. What is known is that, as Folha de São Paulo research shows, Bolsonaro voted with the PT on economic issues during the second term of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration and the two Lula governments. Proponent of a strong and interventionist state , he likes to see the public bureaucracy where liberals would like to find the market. He publicly praises the evolutionism of military governments. Despite this trajectory, his government program has a chapter on economic liberalism and his main adviser for this area, Paulo Guedes, is the largest Brazilian supporter of a minimalist government. The contradictions are grotesque: it's like having Portugal's Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) defending Robert Nozick .
Nor is he the archetype of the traditional family values. Father of five children of three wives, his tumultuous married life has been revealed in recent months. Several witnesses say that his second wife had to flee Brazil due to the death threats of the captain, with whom she fought for the custody of a child. With the first one he also cut relations. Revolted with the political autonomy that his wife was achieving as city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro forced his teenage son to go to elections against his own mother. The matricide worked. Carlos, then 17, was elected the youngest councilor in the city. The mother, defeated, abandoned politics.
Bolsonaro is also far from being the anti-establishment model. Elected 7 times as deputy and with a history of membership to 9 different parties, he was always a member of the lower clergy who took advantage of the papal privileges that the system gave him. All the things that anti-establishment movements criticize - stewardship, opportunistic party exchanges, nepotism, the use of public resources for private interests, the retinue of advisors, the small corruption - are part of his biography. If the Five Stars of Italy or the Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong looked at Brazil, Bolsonaro would be a perfect target.
The agendas that Bolsonaro has consistently defended in recent decades, such as criticism of homosexuals, nationalism, the right to gun possession, torture apology, are also not included in an ideologically agglutinative context, do not involve an obvious intellectual density, nor are consistent between them. His patriotism, for example, does not conform to the salute he continually makes to the US, proposing that Americans exploit the Amazonian mineral wealth and pre-salt layer oil. His Catholic fervor led him to be baptized in the Jordan River, in Israel, but his verbal radicalism desecrates half of the Gospels.
Who, then, is Bolsonaro? The ex-captain is a wandering being. Without a consistent ideology that guides his gestures and without a political party that illuminates the way to him, the ex-military of low rank gets lost with each political step he makes. For some, lack of observance could be a sign of freedom, but in practice, Bolsonaro is simply an easily influenced person.
That's what makes him dangerous. Voting Bolsonaro, whether for administrator of the condominiumorPresident of the Republic is to vote in a constantly wandering mind. It's the four seasons of the year in a single day. Their lacks of understanding are easily occupied by personal whims, emotional deprivations, childish fears. He is a homeless man who considers his best friend the one who flatters him and his ultimate foe the one who admonishes him. Deprived of his own will, Bolsonaro takes refuge behind the militaristic and macho speech - the only things that could give him the stature his height can not hope for.
Comparing Bolsonaro to hideous leaders like Le Pen would, therefore, be a compliment. Bolsonaro is worse than authoritarian leaders because he does not have a consistent trajectory or a mind of his own. Those who vote Le Pen know that she would reject international trade agreements and would propose taxes for those who hire foreigners. It's the far-right manual. In the middle of chaos there is order. But with Bolsonaro, the message of order would lead to chaos. If elected, no one knows what orders the captain of the army will give, with his head held high, to the generals who will lead the ministries. Brazil, which is already undergoing the worst crisis of the last two decades, will march unruled.
But if all this is true, why do so many people vote for it? Bolsonaro is a perfect storm, a rare combination of circumstances that results in an unexpected disaster. It was a similar, though counter-clockwise, phenomenon that turned the popular Warren G. Harding into one of America's most infamous presidents. Bolsonaro feeds on several pots. His voters are people who are disappointed with the PT or members of anti-PT and anti-Lula movements (although he has already said that he voted for Lula in past elections). His voters are in favor of economic liberalism and the minimal state (although he has defended the idea of big government in the past and the PT is increasingly a corollary of the financial market), the millions of social conservatives who have finally found a voice to represent them (despite being a postmodern in the house). His voters are anti-establishment (although he is the prototype of the professional politician and bureaucrat) and those who suffer from the economic insecurity brought on by the current crisis (even though he himself has confessed to be unskilled to deal with the economic storm the country is going through). With all the contradictions and inadequacies, Bolsonaro managed to be seen as the therapist of collective disenchantment. It may even be enough to win elections, but it is not enough to govern a country.
* Rodrigo Tavares is founder and president of Granito Group. His academic career includes the universities of Harvard, Columbia, Gothenburg and California-Berkeley. He was nominated Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.