The story of this self-appeasement can be told in the imagined world of romance, but it is also part of the daily life of the real country in which we live.
Over the past decade, all of our standards of civility have deteriorated. Evidence appeared on social media and on the streets, in the Legislature, in quarrels in the Judiciary, before reaching the height of the Federal Executive’s bravado. What started in scream came to blood, which, despite the gap that separates them, touched Marielle and Adriano, Bolsonaro and Cid Gomes.
Barbarism is everywhere. It does not hide, on the contrary. Barbarians were euphemists in the past, when a military minister sent his few scruples to the surface. Now, another one finishes his breaks without velvety, in a resounding “Fuck it”.
Who are the barbarians? Throughout our history, the political elite has always seen itself as civilized and civilizing. Barbarians were the others: the natives, the Africans, the poor.
In Brazil, political and intellectual elites became intertwined, with politicians writing essays, newspaper columns, poems, and the educated occupying or postulating political posts. This original indistinction created an optical illusion, that the Brazilian elite, or at least its cream, has a civilizing tendency.
The belief even survived the situation in which it was rooted, with the autonomy of the university career and the professionalization of political parties.
Illusory belief because there was never a part without the other. Since the Empire, the illustrated had their noses raised and their feet in the puddle. They were elected thanks to few parish chiefs in Latin, but with abundant bags and bloodthirsty methods.
The chic part of the national elite has since cherished the dream of taming its less noble part. But the Illuminist boat rediscovers its anchor with each attempt to set sail. The political processes of abolishing slavery in 1888 and promulgating the “citizen” Constitution, a century later, are emblematic of the national elite’s resistance to universal rights and civilized practices.
The 1988 Constitution is a civilizing feat, with its support for social strata previously discovered – specific endowments for health and education; protection for the environment, indigenous groups and social minorities.
But the Charter also paved the way for enlightened members of the social elite to assume commanding roles in the civilizing process. Judicial activism, encouraged by the press, parties, intellectuals, gained this sense. The consequences of hypertrophy are in sight.
On the other hand, many civilizing laws never went down the throats of part of the political elite that inhabits the corners. Protection of work, the environment, indigenous groups, sexual minorities or the ethnic majority relied on their animosity. Ditto for democratizing public policies, such as SUS and Bolsa Família.
Many enlightened people believed that they deepened the civilizing process by supporting actions such as Dilma’s impeachment. They supposed to be in a controlled operation, capable of directing the allucious allies. It was the other way around.
After the election of the current president, the most optimistic still clung to the idea of having partners in the ministries. But, after a year, it is naive to believe that civilizing principles guide any part of the government or that it is divided into a bright and a dark wing.
The government is one-sided in branding individual rights, services and public policies as forms of “parasitism”. It is guided by the liberalism of the Minister of Economy, which forbids domestic servants even the freedom to dream.
His misogynistic jokes (like about the French first lady) are in moral tune with his boss. In addition to the private outrage at journalist Patrícia Campos Mello, the president attacked the entire press, with repeated sign bananas.
In the face of all this, the presidential declaration that democracy in the country has never been stronger has been teased. Bolsonaro doesn’t care about democracy. It never was.
Civilized reactions to the advance of barbarism have been tepid and delayed. As Coetzee’s character reflects: “Something has been looking me straight in the face, and I still don’t see what it is.” Just open your eyes to see that they are barbarians. And they have arrived.