Populist poison

We can choose to comment with alarmist accents or – as is our custom – to attempt a more rational and reflective approach to an event that is however disturbing. Whichever option is preferred, we will not be able to marvel at the assault by thousands of frantic people on the Brazilian Parliament and other institutional headquarters in the capital Brasilia. Because these are the fruits of years of wicked populism in the largest country in South America. A world power always suspended between modernity and wealth, backwardness and despair. Ideal context for a fanatical and unscrupulous politician like former President Bolsonaro who made populism a banner, to the point of refusing the most elementary gestures of institutional courtesy. After being defeated (albeit narrowly) by Lula, Bolsonaro ‘escaped’ to Florida from his friend and associate Donald Trump, instead of presiding over an orderly transfer of power. Much more than a slight, it is the will not to recognize the legitimacy of the opponent, even before the electoral result.

Today he says “I have nothing to do with it”, but the substance of the signal sent to the extremists remains to try exactly what The Donald failed exactly two years ago with the assault on Chapter Hill and the refusal to recognize Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020. A political tragedy of which the United States of America is still paying the consequences: after those hours of madness, Trump has not become more dangerous than before, if anything he has been recognized as such by larger portions of citizens, previously willing to grant him some credit in order to see one’s ideals affirmed or at least the interests considered closest. What he bequeathed on January 6, 2021 is acid on US democratic institutions, not so much (not only) the fear that the former president could devastate American institutions. A radicalization of extremisms, blatantly overcoming unwritten limits and borders and until then considered untouchable. Democracies are extremely delicate systems and are based fundamentally on the mutual recognition of opponents, even the most heated ones, and on scrupulous respect for the law. The Constitution over everything. Without these cornerstones, even if not all, anything can happen.

Populism rhymes with extremism, poisoning democracies with the rejection of the most elementary concepts of equilibrium, balance between powers and observance of constitutional limits. For the populist, especially in his most fanatical version, there is only what would be done “for” or “against” the “people”. Who this “people” is made up of, nobody knows: generic reference is made to those groups of citizens who would be victims of the machinations of strong powers, multinationals and other ghosts. Agitated with skilful dialectical mastery by the Masaniellos of the third millennium – slogan and images of great impact and immediate understanding – to tickle the fantasies of those who are more willing to confuse their lack of desire to work and engage with alleged abuses to avenge. The populist is above all a woman or a man ready to believe the fairy tales he tells himself. A happy person without responsibility. A childish policy that has found its champions in Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, ready to “officialize” the “alternative realities” in order to consolidate their power. Objectivity no longer exists, only the narration remains and at that point everything is worth it.

It is a mechanism that leads to contempt for the very rules of democracy, reduced to a parody in the words and gestures of leader unscrupulous. A poison, it was said, but a poison that fascinates because it deludes the existence of a shortcut, a magical solution to being kept alive by the state. Mind you, populist claims are almost always embarrassingly small: they boil down to a distribution of gifts and favors, in the form of compensation for hypothetical “wrongs” that one is not even obliged to prove. The rhetoric of sold and hungry power is enough, of “revenge” on those who have studied, are committed, have shown dedication and a spirit of sacrifice in life. Because there’s nothing worse than loser envy.

By Fulvio Giuliani

Populist poison – Reason