Column, by Michael Royster
RIBEIRÃO PRETO, Brazil – This coming Monday, July 1st, will mark the beginning of the second semester of Jair Bolsonaro’s reign as president of Brazil, so it’s fair to ask the above question.
If you ask U.S. president Donald Trump, interviewed in Japan while attending the G20 meeting, his answer is resoundingly positive: “he’s a special guy, he’s doing very well, very much loved by the Brazilian people….”
If you ask Brazilians, or at least those 2,000 people interviewed by pollster IBOPE in late June, Bolsonaro’s government is liked/loved by 32 percent of the Brazilian people, but disliked/hated by 32 percent; yet another 32 percent say he’s doing okay.
So, who do you trust? The venerable virtuoso of veracity, or the vox populi?
Will more numbers help make up your mind? Per IBOPE, those Brazilians who approve of the way President Bolsonaro runs his administration fell, last month, from 51 to 46 percent, while those who disapprove increased from 40 to 48 percent.
Clearly, the honeymoon enjoyed by newly elected presidents is over, and domestic squabbles have begun. Cresting a wave of anti-corruption enthusiasm, Bolsonaro (figuratively) rode into office astride a white stallion, brandishing his peacemakers and proclaiming “down with old-style politics”.
The pertinent questions then become, “What are the president’s ‘new style’ politics?” and “Are they working?”.
The first and greatest commandment of new style politics is, put an end to systemic corruption; in particular, terminate the exchange of favors with corrupt legislators. There has not been a hint of corruption involving the president’s choice of cabinet ministers, nor about his appointments to administrative agencies and state-owned companies.
The second commandment is, follow your personal ideological instincts, as expounded by your influencers, including your children. After all, following those instincts and presenting them to voters enabled you to win the presidency, against considerable odds.
Major governmental appointments (and a few replacements) have reflected one overriding ideological tenet—godless socialists have been corroding Brazilian society and usurping its government ever since the 1988 Constitution came into effect.
Hence, the following appointments: (1) a “Chicago School” capitalist as Minister of the Economy; (2) an Education Minister dedicated to rooting out leftist thought from Brazilian schools; (3) an Agriculture Minister who favors growth over environmental concerns; (4) a crusading anti-corruption judge as Justice Minister; and (5) a Human Rights Minister who says girls should wear pink and boys blue.
The third commandment is, when unable to convince Congress of the righteousness of your position, use your powers to issue decrees, and appeal to the “voice of the people” for support if they are challenged in court. Hence, the multiple decrees about expanding gun ownership and carriage; hence the protests in favor of Minister Sergio Moro.
The overriding problem with Bolsonaro’s treble commandment politics is that it either deprecates or ignores the legislative and judicial branches of government. The Brazilian people, who elected Bolsonaro president, also elected federal and state legislators. The judiciary, though unelected, is essential to any democracy as a means of avoiding injustice.
Are the “new style” politics working? The people’s answers split three ways—yes, no, and maybe—and the people are right.
This writer believes that most Brazilians do not share President Bolsonaro’s conviction that godless communism has overtaken Brazilian education, nor that more people having guns will mean less crime, nor that a rigorous capitalistic approach will right (pun intended) Brazil’s stagnant economy.
Yet, opportunities for success remain, particularly in the areas of economics (pension reform and the EU trade agreement) and anti-corruption, where the administration’s measures are now being voted on in Congress; there is still hope for fiscal or perhaps even electoral reform.
So, on balance, this writer will reply “definitely maybe” to his own question, but will check back in another 90 days or so.