Fascism isn’t funny, but I had to smile when I saw a photo from the ‘Ele não’ (not him) protest in São Paulo last Saturday in which a smiling woman is holding a sign that reads ‘Sou coxinha, mas não sou fascista!’ (I’m a coxinha, but I’m not a fascist) A coxinha is a fried chicken snack, usually eaten at a bakery or cafe and the term can be applied to a person who is middle-class and wants people to know – kind of like the ‘yuppies’ we suffered in the UK back in the 1980s.
This is how politics used to work. When the British left-wing Labour veteran Tony Benn died in 2014 Conservative commentators were falling over themselves to pay tribute to his legacy. Even the Prime Minister David Cameron spoke in the House of Commons and declared that he would be missed.
This collegiate approach to legislation died in the UK with Brexit, it died in the US with Trump, and it died in Brazil with the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff two years ago. Democracy is in chaos across the world as disaffected citizens reject truth in favour of fake news and diligent representatives are rejected in favour of those who shout loudest on social networks. What they say, and the veracity of their tweets, matters less than how many likes and shares they can achieve.
No democracy is perfect and each nation differs in their definition of what representation really means. Thomas Paine said it all starts out with us sitting under a big tree and arguing with neighbours. Singapore has elections, but is this small nation really democratic when the same party – and family – has dominated since independence? In the British 2015 general election, over 5 million people voted for a minority party such as the Greens or Ukip – only two MPs from these parties ended up winning seats and therefore millions of people were just ignored by the system.
It is these people that are now crying out for attention, here in Brazil with the rise in popularity of extreme candidates such as Jair Bolsonaro, and beyond. American candidates for the midterm elections in November are trying their best to be more Trump than Trump. Far right thugs from ‘Britain First’ are openly harassing foreign residents in Northern Ireland.
People may argue that Bolsonaro is just a politician, like any other, and if he wins a popular vote then he only represents what the people want but even Adolf Hitler stood before an electorate, asking for their votes. I believe that we need to redefine what democracy means, why we still allow fake news and lies to influence a faulty election process. Who is really being represented when fools are elected based on lies?
I’m not arguing against Bolsonaro because I don’t like his policies. I didn’t like or support Aécio Neves when he ran for the presidential election in 2014. But Aécio never asked for support by being openly misogynistic. What I dislike is the way that people such as Bolsonaro and Trump are bringing fascism back into the mainstream. These politicians are normalising racism, sexism, and homophobic violence. Bolsonaro even declared that if he loses this election then he will not accept that he has lost – essentially inviting the military to stage a coup if he does not win. This is no longer a debate or argument or political discourse – it is an open incitement to chaos and violence and people like Bolsonaro know it. This playbook was written long ago and should be understood by now, but it seems that many people never learn from history.
When I walked home from the ‘Ele Não’ protest on Saturday I stumbled into a protest calling for a military coup. Wearing a bright red shirt I was an obvious target for comments, but the protestors actually tried to fight me – right there in one of the main avenues in São Paulo. It was only because the police were around that I could walk to my own home without being attacked, just for holding a different view to these thugs.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro had arranged a protest near to my home and my girlfriend and I were walking our dog near to the event – it was literally across the street so it was difficult to avoid. This time I wasn’t wearing anything provocative, but at one point my girlfriend responded to the protestors by telling them ‘ele não’ – it wasn’t wise, but it shouldn’t lead to violence and she was just getting tired of seeing so much hatred all around. We literally had to run from two men who wanted to hit me on the street. Once again, I was grateful for the protection of a cop who was nearby. Twice in one weekend, the police protected me from a beating based on a disagreement over which candidate would make the best president – and I can’t even vote in Brazil anyway.
Bolsonaro isn’t offering a credible future for Brazil. In the same way that Donald Trump is now normalising racism and pussy-grabbing in the US, we will see anyone who isn’t white, evangelical, and wealthy in Brazil being marginalised as abnormal. None of us should have to walk the streets in fear just because we support one presidential candidate or another. When we reach the point that political supporters no longer want to argue their case or fight for votes, just literally fight in the street, then we are facing the death of democracy and there is very little time left to save it.
Mark Hillary is a British writer based in São Paulo, Brazil.