I am very worried; he talked too much about God.” So said a prominent Brazilian political commentator on TV after hearing President Jair Bolsonaro’s victory speech on the night of October 28, 2018, when the polls showed his victory by a 55–45 margin over the Marxist candidate, Fernando Haddad.
So now talk of God is supposed to worry people. This is sad. But the people of Brazil don’t care. Bolsonaro’s government, in which I serve as foreign minister, doesn’t care what pundits say or what they worry about: they don’t have a clue about who God is or who the Brazilian people are and want to be. Their worry is that of an elite about to be dispossessed. They are afraid because they can no longer control public discourse. They can no longer dictate the limits of the president’s or anyone else’s speech. The last barrier has been broken: we can now talk about God in public. Who could imagine?
Over the years, Brazil had become a cesspool of corruption and despair. The fact that people didn’t talk about God and didn’t bring their faith to the public square was certainly part of the problem. Now that a president talks about God and expresses his faith in a deep, heartfelt way, that is supposed to be the problem? To the contrary. I am convinced that President Bolsonaro’s faith is instrumental, not accidental, to his electoral victory and to the wave of change that is washing over Brazil.
Brazil is experiencing a political and spiritual rebirth, and the spiritual aspect of this phenomenon is the determinant one. The political aspect is only a consequence.
For a third of a century, Brazil was subject to a political system composed of three parties acting increasingly in concert. Only now are we realizing the shape and full extent of that domination. First, we had the Brazilian Democratic Movement (pmdb), which took over after the regime established in 1964 (misleadingly called the military regime) gave away power peacefully in 1985. Originally a moderate left-wing opposition to the regime (although with some far-left infiltration), pmdb took the reins of government, wrote a new constitution, and became a broad front for the old oligarchy under a more modern, urban, social-oriented guise. That group mastered the art of political favors and bureaucracy, establishing itself as the foundation of the system. The extent to which the bureaucracy is able to allocate resources in the Brazilian economy—choosing winners and losers—has always been astounding, and during this period it became a full-fledged system of governance that completely stifled the economy.
The 1990s saw the ascendance of the Social-Democratic Party (psdb), an offshoot of pmdb with roots on the left but better groomed, which started to cater to voters eager for economic stability after a decade and a half of mismanagement and hyperinflation. psdb refashioned itself as the free market party, more or less hiding its true colors and its cultural-liberal agenda, and surfed on sound macroeconomic policies to become the dominant force from 1994 to 2002, always retaining its links to the traditional political-bureaucratic cabals represented by pmdb.
The third branch of the system emerged in the early 2000s, in the shape of the Workers’ Party (PT),an Orwellian name, by the way, since real workers are rarely spotted in this party ruled by Marxist intellectuals, former left-wing guerrillas, and members of the trade-union bureaucracy. After the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known universally as Lula) in 2002, PT—which had been preparing for this for years—quickly captured and co-opted the pmdb–psdb power scheme, retaining the old tit-for-tat machinery run by pmdb and the stability policies represented by psdb and establishing a much firmer grip on power than its predecessors. pmdb became the junior party in PT’s coalition, while psdb took the role of tamed opposition, participating in presidential elections every four years in which its role was to lose nobly to PT.
PT acquired control of all the levers of bureaucratic power, dominating the economy through public investment banks and state companies, and created a complete mechanism of crime and corruption. Almost every business, along with every local politician, every cultural, sports, and educational institution, and indeed almost everyone in Brazil, depended on the central government for its survival and had to pay its share in bribes, political support, or both. The model was so successful that PT started to export it to other Latin American countries, trying to create and consolidate a network of corrupt leftist regimes across the region.
At the same time, a left-wing agenda quickly took over Brazilian society. The promotion of gender ideology; the artificial stoking of race tensions; the displacement of parents by the government as the provider of “values” to children; the infiltration of the media; the dislocation of the “center” of public debate very far to the left; the humiliation of Christians and the taking over of the Catholic Church by Marxist ideology (with its attendant promotion of birth control); the misdirection of the arts through the allocation of public cultural financing; and so on—these were the results of the new government’s policies.
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