Brazilian nutter’s victory is a warning sign for SA
When voters feel betrayed by the political class, they will abandon politics in favour of reaction
“I would not rape you,” the new president of Brazil told a congresswoman in 2014, “because you are not worthy of it.”
That really should have been the whole story, right there. That simple statement revealed a soul so profoundly toxic and a grasp of the law so flawed that Jair Bolsonaro's public life should have ended the same day.
But, of course, it didn’t. This is the age in which you can boast about grabbing someone by the pussy, moving on her like a bitch, and become the president of the United States. And now Bolsonaro is the leader of Brazil.
So far he’s making Donald Trump look like a humanitarian. He has gone on record as being in favour of torture, and has also dismissed democratic processes, saying things in Brazil would only improve “on the day that we break out in civil war here and do the job that the military didn’t do: killing 30,000". If, he added, “some innocent people die, that's fine”.
Inevitably, he is also terrified of gay people: he has stated that he would rather his son die in a car crash than be gay, and in 2011 suggested that the presence of gay couples in a building could reduce the property’s value.
And in case you’re playing Far-Right Bingo and you’re still waiting to tick off the environment-hating agenda, wait no more: Bolsonaro says he will merge the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment. So that’s the Amazon rainforest sorted.
He is, in short, a parody of the sort of aggressively bad leadership produced by the right wing in banana republics the world over. So why was he elected?
Simple: 54% of Brazilians believed the other lot was worse.
The majority of Brazilians would rather have a bigoted yahoo suspend human rights and undermine democracy than spend another minute being sat on by the ultra-corrupt, fantastically inept leftists he’s just replaced.
Some SA pundits have recently been warning us to take heed of the implosion of Venezuela and to stay away from Cloud-Cuckooland socialism of the sort that saw Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro flush their country down the toilet.
It’s a fair warning, but Venezuela isn’t the only South American country flashing red lights at SA.
This week, Brazil has shown us what happens when a country is completely swamped by corruption. It has reminded us that when voters feel entirely betrayed by the political class, and believe that the corruption is so endemic that there is absolutely no escape from it, they will abandon politics in favour of reaction.
They will support a racist, sexist, homophobic dictator if it means they don’t have to listen to another hypocritical sermon about peace, love and understanding from slime-balls on the take.
I don’t believe that this deep existential despair has taken hold in SA yet. Perhaps it’s because we’re still a very young democracy and we’re still idealists. Perhaps we’re just naïve, or slow learners.
Either way, many millions of South Africans still believe that the ANC is a servant of the people rather than a patronage machine. Millions believe that DA knows what it’s doing. And at least one million believe that the EFF is a radical revolutionary organisation rather than a club in which very wealthy malcontents plan their revenge on the ANC for booting them out.
No, the soul-sapping cynicism has not set in yet. But if the rulers of this country don’t curb their appetite for our money, it will. And then it won’t be about who has the better policies. It will be about whose prejudices resonate with the most bigots.
Liberal democracy is a grand old house, but it requires endless maintenance. In theory, you and I get a chance to do a major renovation every five years, replacing rotten wood and cracked roof tiles, treating rising damp and evicting the termites in the rafters.
But when the whole thing becomes so rotten that renovations seem like a waste of time, that’s when people start deciding that perhaps it’s best just to knock it all down and start again.
And while you’re homeless, which will be years, because, you’ve discovered, houses take way longer to build than to demolish, you’ll live anywhere.
Even in the fleapit motel of a wretched, angry little man who tells women he won’t rape them because they’re not worthy.