“We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.” -Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Even before election results had come in, darkness seemed to come over Brazil, and cover further a dusking globe. The military police determined that to be anti-fascist was being strictly political, which is giving away the game to a terrifying degree.
But really, there wasn’t a game left to be given away. From the beginning of his campaign, Jair Bolsanaro, the next President of Brazil, has been clear about his contempt for democracy and his willingness, even eagerness, to destroy his opponents. He has shown disgust at the way Brazil has been run in the 30 years since it transitioned away from dictatorship and into democracy, and has exploited that chaos to all but promise to bring back that dictatorship.
In this, he has been aided by a wide coalition of Brazilians, many of whom are reeling by the epidemic violence and (mostly-manufactured) political chaos the nation has seen. There are the poor who are most impacted by the violence who are looking for a strong leader. Religious leaders like his cult of manliness and abhorrence of gay rights and “feminism”. The professional middle class has been stung by a relative decrease in purchasing power.
But of course, none of this would matter without the economic elites. As Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo K. Silva explained in the Boston Review, the rich and powerful wanted someone who would make them even richer and more powerful.
…Bolsonaro has received support from arms manufacturers, large land-owners, and owners of industry and commerce. Included among his few specific policy proposals (beyond rolling back government regulation in general) are proposals to legalize access to fire-arms, abolish progressive education, lower the penal age to sixteen, give immunity to police officers who kill civilians, treat social movements such as the Landless Movement as a terrorist organization, de-fund human rights organizations, roll-back already weakened worker protections, and weaken collective bargaining. Throughout his campaign he has frequently spoken of attacking social rights, such as public health and retirement benefits—something even conservatives in the past have avoided during election years.
This, of course, is the blueprint for fascism, a merger between economic elites and snarling nationalists, cruel epauletted tyrants who destroy enemies while paving away any resistance to further enrichment. Militarism and police-state wilding are always going to make money for some people, and Bolsonaro promises unlimited amounts of both.
Of course, that’s not all he’s promising. He is also vowing to open up all of the Amazon to development, leaving no tree uncut.
That isn’t an exaggeration.
That’s been a thorn in the side of the Brazilian elite for years (really, ever since occupation). Indigenous rights have always been inconvenient, which is why they were ignored and destroyed for centuries. It’s only in the last few generations that countries have cared, in theory if not always in practice, for the indigenous.
That this has overlapped with protecting the Amazon, a vital part of the global ecosystem and legitimately crucial to human survival, has been a happy moral coincidence. Both need to be protected. And in the way of every iron-and-blood fascist since Saruman, Bolsonaro plans to destroy both.
In this way, he is more extreme than some of his contemporaries, but not by much. The Trump administration has been flagrant in its reversal of environmental regulations and abuse of indigenous people (these often amount to the same thing, which is the heart of environmental justice). Even seemingly minor things like their abuse of Bear Ears is designed to foster white nationalism by reminding Native Americans that they don’t belong.
Across the world we see this. We see the resurgence of homophobia, a toxic maleness, a desire for violence, a sneer at the idea the environment needs to be protected, a hatred of the weak, an oppression of the oppressed. These are the boots that are marching across the world every day, from Orban to Trump to Erdogan to Brexiteers to Duterte to Bolsonaro.
This is a fire that is spreading, and quickly. In America it has a buffoonish quality, but only to those who aren’t having their lives destroyed. It will get much worse after the midterms, win or lose. All over the world, the far-right is on the march, and their success will be emulated. With Angela Merkel announcing she won’t run again in 2021, Europe has been given a window of three years to destroy its right, lest it be consumed again by the madness that was started in its borders last century.
When Francis Fukuyama said that history was over after the Cold War, he was roundly mocked, and rightfully so. But so was Samuel Huntington, whose Clash of Civilizations was too broad and deterministic, but much closer to the mark. As the shape of the 20th-century broke apart, it seemed clear that violence was going to be the order.
The stability of the world, the idea of post-history was an illusion, as the Balkans and Rwanda quickly reminded people. But even those catastrophes were in line with the fighting in the Caucuses that erupted in the Soviet Union’s death throes. Still, though, very few grasped the fire that was slowly catching around the world, as the pre-WWI order suffered its final revolutions.
All of this has been exacerbated by climate change, by new media, and by the fragmenting and coalescing of different human orders. Fascism wasn’t inevitable, but it was always possible, even if we didn’t want to see it.
I don’t think people actually dismissed Fukuyama. I think while we said we did, we all sort of believed that the horrors of the past could never come back, that the light would always be shining, and that yesterday’s darkness would always be flickered away. That was a deep and dumb delusion.
Anyone who thought our time immune from fascism was wrong. It’s here, and it’s growing, and it has to be fought. We didn’t expect that this was the time in which we’d live, but it is. We’re living in the grinder now. We’re living in history. The sooner we fully realize that, the sooner we can fight.