With Jair Bolsonaro’s electoral victory in Sunday’s runoff election for president of Brazil, a global resurgence of the radical right is indisputable. Mr. Bolsonaro is a particularly ugly representative of this movement, both politically repressive and culturally intolerant. The question being asked in the bourgeois press is: what psychological malady is taking hold that could persuade voters to elect such a person?
The framing poses the resurgence as inexplicable, as the result of the fundamental flaw of democracy: the voters. A litany of failures is redistributed downward. Because Mr. Bolsonaro is politically repressive and culturally intolerant, the electorate must want political repression and cultural intolerance. Because Mr. Bolsonaro is a gender bully and homophobic, voters must be gender bullies and homophobic.
Missing from explanations of the rise of Mr. Bolsonaro is that for the last decade Brazil has experienced the worst economic recession in the country’s history (graph below). Fourteen million formerly employed, working age Brazilians are now unemployed. As was true in the U.S. and peripheral Europe from 2008 forward, the liberal response has been austerity as the Brazilian ruling class was made richer and more politically powerful.