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MATTHEW BOOSE: Elites need to acknowledge globalism’s failures
Brazil became the latest country to embrace a populist leader when it elected Jair Bolsonaro this weekend.
Bolsonaro joins a growing list of unlikely right-wing leaders who have won recent elections in nations ranging from the United States to Hungary to Italy.
Often compared to Trump, Bolsonaro’s aggressive, strong man personality and offensive comments about women, gays, and minorities have shocked many.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro won an election he shouldn’t have by riding a wave of irrational, populist anger at the establishment. At least, this seems to be the consensus of the liberal left.
Like Vladimir Putin, Bolsonaro’s public persona is almost cartoonishly macho and, to his critics, fascistic. His famous gesture, fingers pointed to resemble a gun, became a salute of sorts to his supporters. He favors a Rodrigo Duterte-style approach to crime, promising to crack down on Brazil’s rampant violence with pronouncements like “the only good criminal is a dead criminal,” and he is a strong supporter of relaxing gun laws so citizens can fight crime themselves.
He has said that he’d rather have a dead son than a gay son. A former Army captain, he has defended the country’s former military dictatorship and its use of torture.
Whatever one thinks of Bolsonaro’s policies or rhetoric, he won an election fair and square. The people chose him.
What could have driven ordinary people in Brazil to elect a man who once told a lawmaker that she was not attractive enough to be “worthy” of being raped?
That depends. What could be driving evangelicals in America to support a twice-divorced man who had sex with a porn star and bragged about grabbing women by the genitals?
In both cases, supporters were willing to ignore obvious faults to vote for a candidate who offered an alternative to a failing system. The issues that motivated Bolsonaro’s supporters are not unlike those that led voters to choose Trump and other populists.
“Brazilification” evokes images of stark inequality — literal walls separating posh apartments from run-down favelas — but even by Brazil’s standards, the country is going through a historic recession. Violent crime is on the rise, and Brazil’s political class has been swept by a massive corruption scandal.
A one-to-one comparison between Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Trump’s America is inexact because Brazil’s troubles are more severe. But for all the differences between those flocking to populism in Brazil, America and elsewhere, they’re similar enough that a line can be drawn.
They are responding to broadly similar pressures: a vanishing middle class, anxiety about crime, real or imagined, mass migration, dislocating technological progress, a selfish, irresponsible ruling class, political correctness, and fear of rapid social change.
Some Trump voters responded to his promises to bring back jobs, while others resonated with his attacks on political correctness and “the elites.” As distinct as Brazil’s problems are, Bolsonaro’s politically incorrect rhetoric provoked a similar reaction from social conservatives after years of progressive rule that threatened traditional values. Like Trump, he promised to clean up the “swamp” of corruption that plagued the country’s leftist government for the better part of 20 years.
The common link is despair over the future: a future of dwindling opportunity and degrading culture. These things can be credibly linked — or at least blamed — on “globalism.”
Unwilling or unable to address the profound problems caused by globalism, the ruling class blames the people. And so the people choose leaders who will listen.
In its editorial, the New York Times laments that voters blamed the political class for the country’s problems. But are rampant crime, corruption, unresponsive leaders, and a bad economy not good enough reasons for a change of leadership?
Some have blamed “fake news” on the social media platform WhatsApp for Bolsonaro’s victory – sound familiar?
What if the people just, you know, chose them?
Ironically, while liberals fret about the collapse of democracy, it’s evident that they have little respect for it. To be sure, democracies can consume themselves when the people elect a dictator. But there’s also nothing democratic about questioning the legitimacy of an election when the result is “wrong.”
Liberals would rather keep the same failed leaders in place, so long as liberalism goes unchallenged. What’s democratic about that?
Whenever populism “hijacks” democracy, the left accuses the electorate of being enticed by a vague “fear” against their best interest. Trump supporters were told that their jobs would leave the country because of their rash decisions. Western liberals have responded to the rise of populism in Europe in much the same way, by blaming and condescending to Europeans who have been nudged to the right by the refugee crisis, rather than addressing the failures of European leadership.
One day after Bolsonaro’s victory, Angela Merkel announced that she will not be seeking re-election as chancellor of Germany, which comes amidst the rise of the nationalist AfD. It’s hard to see this turn of fortunes as anything other than the fallout from her decision to allow one million refugees into the country.
If recent history is any indicator, blaming the people won’t change their minds about the establishment. Liberal democracy will keep failing until the ruling class acknowledges the economic and cultural dislocations created by globalism — and does something about it.
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