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Extremism in Brazil: Bolsonaro as the Response to Economic, Political and Moral Crises

Democracy
Extremism
Latin America
Nationalism
Populism
Political Sociology
Electoral Behaviour
Public Opinion
Esther Solano Gallego
Universidade Federal de São Paulo
Esther Solano Gallego
Universidade Federal de São Paulo

Abstract

The Bolsonarist tsunami ran over Brazilian politics with an unexpected force. Jair Bolsonaro won the elections with eight seconds of television campaigning and managed to earn the Social Liberal Party (PSL), until then an insignificant player in Brazilian electoral politics, 52 deputies. As if it was not enough, some of the new state and federal congressmen of the PSL had massive voter support, like Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair´s son, who received the highest vote total of anyone running for the Federal Congress in History. We are not facing a historically isolated political mass phenomenon. The victory of Bolsonaro, was the fruit of a long political and social process whose beginning goes back to the denunciation of the Mensalão corruption scandal in 2005, and the formation of new militant networks, new leaderships and new forms of expression, that have come to circulate with greater force in the Brazilian public sphere in recent times built on the defence of the existence of a leftist cultural hegemony in the country. This new right began to spread new ideas amid a series of critical moments that occurred between 2011 and 2016: the shock of progressiveness (2011-2014); the protests against corruption (2011-2012); the trial of the Mensalão scandal (2012); the uprisings of June 2013; the Car-Wash operation (2014); the re-election of Dilma Rousseff (2014); and the pro-impeachment protests (2014-2016). Bolsonaro was able to capitalize politically on the feelings of anger and indignation directed at the PT and the political system and the desires for law, order and discipline on the part of expressive segments of the population, as well as he approached to evangelical leaders, military leaders and free market advocates. Bolsonaro managed to represent a strong neoliberalism-neoconservatism conjunction built on three vectors: 1) Bolsonaro as a response to the economic crisis offering both a neoliberal agenda and subjectivity 2) Bolsonaro as a response to the political crisis offering an strong anti-system, anti- partisanship and antiPT disruptive, indecorous, performative language 3) Bolsonaro as a response to the moral crisis offering the solutions of anticorruption crusade, Christianisation and militarization of politics. By the combination of these three vectors he managed a large scaled process of empowerment of right-wing counter-publics. For this paper, we will use a series of in-depth interviews (mini focus groups) conducted between 2018 and 2019 with supporters and voters of Bolsonaro. Although covering with these interviews a wide range of bolsonarist voters, the main research interest here will be moderate ones, who, opposite to the more radical ones, will express feelings of discontent, frustration and regret about the captain already in the first year in office.