2018 is a hard year for Brazil. Not only is it the most dangerous year for LGBTI people in the country, but their presidential election is also out of control.
For those who don’t know, a man named Jair Bolsonaro could potentially become the next president of the nation. Described by many as the ‘Brazilian Trump,’ right-wing Bolsonaro is incredibly homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic. Despite the strong opposition to him and his policies, he is still a frontrunner in the upcoming runoff election.
GSN spoke to Jussara dos Santos Raxlen, a Ph.D candidate in Sociology at The New School for Social Research in New York. Raxlen, who left Brazil 32 years ago, specializes in the fields of feminist and political theory.
Important election for Brazil
‘This is one of the most, if not “the” most important election in Brazilian history,’ Raxlen says. ‘The stakes are incredibly high, a veritable litmus test to the health and longevity of Brazil’s relatively young democracy.’
‘As many commentators have also indicated, in some direct or indirect way, the outcomes of this election will be felt across the globe. Certainly affecting Brazil’s close Latin American neighbors, and quite likely the global geopolitical order. The ballot results will mean whether Brazilians embrace or reject an explicitly illiberal ideology of a radical right political project.’
‘I don’t say this lightly: it is between a democracy, with all of its imperfections but also with its instruments for defending universal rights and public debate about how we want to be governed, and a neo-fascist dictatorship. Unfortunately, after all of the corruption that has been exposed, and the profound economic and institutional crises that have accompanied it, many people find appealing the “anti-establishment,” “anti-corruption” and “law and order” rhetoric of the right wing candidate. But it is more than that.’
‘As this seems to be the case moving forward worldwide, this election is also another example of the unintended consequences of our social media technology. That is, as it has happened in the Brexit referendum in the U.K., here in the U.S., in the 2016 election, and also, in the recent mob lynching incidents in India, our connecting technologies (Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp) have been used to spread gross misinformation (fake news abound!) to advance absolutely the worst that humanity has to offer.’
Raxlen points to reports that Cambridge Analytica, the same data analytics company that skewed the 2016 presidential election in America, is also currently doing work in Brazil. Additionally, Bolsonaro has been seen mingling with the likes of Steve Bannon, the right-wing provocateur who founded Breitbart.
Trump & Bolsonaro
Aside from the use of social media to create strong political divides, Raxlen sees more similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro.
‘There are countless interviews of him where he uses vulgar language, and becomes overtly aggressive and belligerent when questioned on standard issues to which any presidential candidate should answer,’ Raxlen says.
In fact, even right-wing French politician Marie Le Pen found Bolsonaro ‘too extreme.’
‘Bolsonaro, a retired army captain who has held a seat in the Brazilian parliament for the last 28 years (with hardly any legislation done to his credit and despite his claims of being anti-establishment), embraces similar policies to those of Trump, but perhaps more like a Mike Pence than a Trump,’ Raxlen says.
‘For example, his campaign slogan is: “Brasil acima de tudo, Deus acima de todos,” that is, “Brazil above all, God above everyone.” He openly defends views that go against basic notions of human rights, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and of a secular state! Also, even though he appears to be quite more religious than Trump, he is an even stauncher proponent (and apologist) of torture, of the death penalty and of ramping up law enforcement institutions for a toughened up militarized state.’
‘As a sociologist, I try to understand what goes on by understanding the social and historical contexts in which people live. So, in a way, Brazil’s military dictatorship and recent past troubles may help us to explain the making of Bolsonaro’s toxic masculinity. But to explain how this masculinity has become so popular and embraced by large segments of the population is a far more complex question.’
‘My hunch is that, given the social progresses made in Brazil since early in the 21st century, which meant that millions of people were able to raise above extreme poverty and hunger. Through policies of affirmative action their children had access to higher education and gained social mobility, and with that, there was a blossoming of alternative narratives to those of the dominant white heteronormative middle class, through the proliferation and empowerment of the subjugated knowledges of racial and sexual minorities. And all of this has radically altered the “natural” order of things.’
‘To me, Bolsonaro’s misogyny and homophobia is a clear response to this collapse of an old order (which, in many ways, was still the colonial order), in the face of a running away world, in which minorities – blacks, women, gays – talk back to the patriarch. To him and to people who think like him, this threat of a new order in which the power that had until then been traditionally bestowed to one [type of person] was legitimized by (now anachronistic) notions of a nuclear family — this threat is something that needs to be decisively defeated. This worldview purports to eradicate the derangement of things, when in fact it is the very derangement that it wants to combat – in my view. It denies the humanness of all that which cannot be “properly” classified and understood within a grid of traditional categories and hierarchies.’
The now-infamous 2017 clip of gay actress Ellen Page visiting Brazil and meeting Bolsonaro speaks volumes about his worldview.
In the clip, Page asks Bolsonaro if he thinks she should die for being gay. He replies by calling her pretty and saying, regardless of her sexuality, that he would still catcall her.
‘I don’t know how Ellen Page’s words were translated to him, but my sense was that some of her comments went right through his head,’ Raxlen says of the clip.
‘His thought style is quite basic: god created man and woman; we have sex to procreate (although, I am sure he thinks that men can have pleasure and fun too). Anything that does not follow this foundational narrative is a disease, a social derangement caused by these liberal ideas that people are told that normalize such aberrations.’
‘What is interesting about this clip is that he, in fact, seems to believe that homosexuality is something that is socially created by a particular kind of socialization of young children. This way, homosexuality can thus be prevented by the right kind of early education. He also uses the traditional liberal argument that what you do behind closed doors is not my business. Which, to him, is something remarkable. He will tolerate you because you are already an adult, but when he has the power to prevent it to happen in young children, you bet he will resort to the most archaic form of sexual education.’
Raxlen points out that Bolsonaro has straight-out said he is homophobic, and proudly at that.
‘It is likely that a Bolsonaro’s presidency poses a great threat to those who in any way stray from a cisheterormative norm,’ Raxlen says.
The damage already done
Unfortunately, the effects of Bolsonaro’s candidacy have already impacted Brazil in negative ways.
‘Similarly to what Trump has done here in the U.S., Bolsonaro’s candidacy has already unleashed a wave of violence throughout the country,’ Raxlen states.
‘Emboldened by his rhetoric of hate, those who do not conform or agree are violently silenced,’ she continues. ‘The message is that it is ok to behave as a barbarian. Basic norms of civility appear to be dissolving. So, if he wins and indeed our worst fears are confirmed, Brazil may end up under a ruthless totalitarian dictatorship. I fear for black, indigenous, and LBGTQ communities and women. For anyone who simply does not follow the cookie-cutter shape of his worldviews.’