Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Jair Bolsonaro, a/k/a “o Mito” has been elected President of Brazil. He had over sixty percent majority support in all regions of Brazil except its Northeast, where PT’s candidate Fernando Haddad won practically everywhere.
As the Curmudgeon has pointed out, “mito” can be properly rendered, in English, as either “legend” or “myth”. Simply put, heroes become legends, failed heroes become myths. The jury is out on how posterity will view Mr. Bolsonaro after his term in office.
In this column the Curmudgeon submits there was, and is, an actual, existing legend in Brazilian politics, one whose hubris has caused him to become a myth — former President Lula.
Lula’s campaign slogan in 2002, when he ran for President for the fourth time, was “Agora é Lula!” which we may translate into “It’s Time for Lula!” This catch phrase was designed to distinguish the ultimately successful 21st Century Lula from the historically unsuccessful candidate in three 20th Century elections.
Politically and economically, two principal features distinguished the 2002 Lula from the former Lula: (a) he divorced himself and PT from the radical labor union movement; and (2) he recognized that the Plano Real, long opposed by PT, had finally succeeded in removing the scourge of inflation from Brazil.
In his campaign, Lula moved from the strident political left to the moderate center-left, in order to be elected. After election, he expanded social policies begun by his center-right predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
His policies worked wonders, particularly in Brazil’s Northeast, where he was raised before his family moved to São Paulo. He easily won re-election, and “retired” in 2010 with a legendary approval rating of eighty percent. During his two terms in office, tens of millions of Brazilians entered the money economy, creating a previously unknown lower middle class.
So great was Lula’s popularity that he was able to elect as President his right-hand woman, Dilma Rousseff. Everyone in Brazil, doubtless including Dilma herself, assumed she would serve only one term before graciously retiring, allowing Lula to return to power in 2014.
And then hubris raised its head. Dilma became enamored of office, believing she should continue in office. Lula thought he could remain as her puppet master. Both were wrong, and were duly punished.
Nemesis was the Greek goddess who enacted retribution upon those who succumbed to hubris. Lula’s nemesis was the systemic corruption he had introduced and overseen, which was unmasked by the Mensalão and Lava Jato investigations.
When the investigations bore fruit and many of Lula’s former collaborators were shown to be criminals, buying votes and enriching themselves, Lula’s hubris not only caused him to deny any knowledge of or complicity in their schemes, but also induced him to accept a seafront apartment and a country house.
Lula’s hubris caused him to question the motives of prosecutors and judges, and to attempt to overcome legal judgments with political arguments—to him, the end of bringing millions out of poverty justified the illegal means used to do so.
Even after having been incarcerated, Lula’s hubris told him that he would be free to run for office (and would win!) or that he could anoint yet another successor (who would win!).
He was wrong once again. The Brazilian people, by a 55/45 percent margin, rejected Lula and PT and their crooked cronies. Nemesis was stronger than hubris. The former legend became a myth.