A Reflection on Fear

Disclaimer: I fully understand and respect each individual’s right to
interpret political landscapes as they will. The following is not the right
answer. It’s simply my simplified understanding of extraordinarily complex
political dynamics.

Brazil, as with much of South America and elsewhere, has repeatedly
struggled with corrupt politicians in the government. In 2003, PT (Partido
Trabalhadores/as- worker’s party) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was
elected President. Over his 8 years in office, he implemented broad–and
extremely effective–socioeconomic reforms, leaving office with a record
shattering 80% approval rating. He was succeeded by President Dilma
Rousseff, also a PT candidate, and Brazil’s first female head of state. She
was initially very popular, continuing Lula-era economic policy, with
approval ratings hovering around 65-75%. However, word of corruption
charges emerged in 2014, and by early 2015, her approval ratings had fallen
to 13%. She was impeached the following year during the peak of the Federal
Police investigation into Opereção Lava Joto (Operation Car Wash), perhaps
the biggest corruption scandal in modern history (involving $10,000,000,000
USD, over 1,000 search/seizure warrants, and 242 (and counting) arrests
resulting in more than 2,000 years in collective sentencing time). The
unveiling of Lava Joto saw Rousseff impeached, Lula sentenced to 12 years
in prison, and hundreds of politicians implicated in the scandals,
Brazilians’ patience for corruption has been worn thin.

This election saw 13 submissions for candidacy, but the key players were
Lula (kicking off his campaign while in prison), Haddad (PT member, former
mayor of São Paulo, Minister of education and self-proclaimed Lula crony),
and Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is the self-proclaimed ‘Trump of Brazil’. As
a career politician, with substantially more socially conservative views,
and close ties to the military, it’s easy to differentiate the two.
However, both have the nasty habit of praying upon the fears of the white
working class, saying horrible bigoted things, normalizing them, and
blaming ‘fake news’. Interestingly, this term has entered political
discourse here as well, though not translated. It’s retained its English
form despite less than 3% of the population speaking English as if to
prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is Trump to blame for the
widespread distrust of the media, and lack of accountability.

Among Bolsonaro’s greatest hits are ‘I’d rather my son die, than turn up
gay’, the time on the floor of the legislature he told a female Senator he
would not rape her because she didn’t deserve him, later saying he would
not rape a female senator because she was too ugly and saying ‘hit me so I
can hit you back harder’ over and over. He called quilombolas
(Afro-Brazilian communities) ‘useless’, the people there ‘lazy’ and are
‘good for nothing, not even to procreate’. He’s praised some of the most
violent members of Brazil’s former military dictatorship and implied that
he would utilize the military to claim the Presidency should he lose the
election. This is the tip of the iceberg in a political history of
discrimination, hatred, and blatant disregard for democracy.

I had the same conversation over and over again from 2015 to mid-2016. My
friends would ask me what I thought of Donald Trump. I would get irritated
with them for asking, and tell them I saw no use in applying any manner of
intellectualism to a man using free media cycles to boost his fame. Then he
won the New Hampshire primary. One by one, each of the 11 other Republican
candidates dropped out of the race. And sometime that summer I realized
that I couldn’t afford not to take him seriously. But I had hope. I had
faith that our nation could not, would not put a man like that in office.
Then the Access Hollywood tape was released. I was disgusted, but for the
first time in months, I felt at ease because now I was certain that he
could not get elected…and then he did. When Lula, the only candidate
capable of defeating Bolsonaro was ruled unable to run, I sighed with the
tired but unsurprised acceptance that most left-leaning Americans have
become all too accustomed to over the last couple of years.
In the office after the election, all conversation was turned towards the
election. However, there was no tired acceptance. I saw something else.
Several of the women in the office took their morning coffee break together
today. As we sat down, my boss turned to each one. ‘Bolsonaro or PT?’ To my
surprise, all said PT. These women, of diverse economic, religious, and
ideological backgrounds, most even being fairly conservative, came together
against Bolsonaro. I asked one woman why. ‘I’m a conservative’ she said.
“Mas eu sou mulher então temo ele. Eu temo ditadura” but I am a woman and
so I fear him. I fear dictatorship. In this moment, I was snapped to my
senses and a fog lifted. Maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because I
was just tired, I think I’d disconnected politics from reality. I’ve been
very politically active these last couple years, it wasn’t apathy. But
somehow politics had become an abstraction, and I’d lost touch with the
human effect that these issues had. It was as if I was in a game, and I’d
been playing to win. It was in this moment I realized that I play, not to
win for its own sake, but for those who do not get the privilege of
playing. I am a woman and so I fear him. I fear dictatorship. These words
echo in my mind. This is not an abstraction. This is not theoretical. This
is real. This is human. This is fear.