It’s not an overreaction to say that, instead of being ‘moderated by institutions and markets’, the Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro is costing us the planet. History provides no example of market liberalism successfully arresting the rise of fascism, but just nine months ago the right wing press were supremely confident that Bolsonaro’s fêted privatisations and bonfire of environmental regulations would outweigh the risks of electing a man who once dedicated his Congressional vote to the general who tortured his predecessor.
They were all wrong. The Wall Street Journal was wrong to claim that his election was ‘legitimate’, as leaked conversations and investigations have proved beyond doubt that the much more popular Lula was imprisoned as part of a stich-up by a man who now serves as Bolsonaro’s Minister for Justice. But more wrong was the Financial Times’ John Paul Rathbone, who went further by favourably comparing Bolsonaro to Mexican leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
‘Who though is the bigger threat to liberal democracy?’ Rathbone asks. ‘Almost certainly “peace and love” Mr López Obrador rather than “lock ‘em up” Mr Bolsonaro’. He reasons that Bolsonaro ‘is subject to more market discipline given Brazil’s weak economy, and has appointed heavyweight technocrats to his cabinet’, presumably referring to Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes, who founded the investment bank BTG Pactual. For the Financial Times, the presence of a few finance wonks more than compensates for the various hard-right cranks in the executive, such as the Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, who believes that climate-change is a communist plot and subscribes to the antisemitic Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory.
‘Unlike Mr López Obrador, Bolsonaro’s instincts seem to be to decentralise power’, writes Rathbone of the man who openly models his ideal government on the military junta he served under as a young officer. ‘Mr Bolsonaro has also shown flexibility on his more outrageous campaign pledges’. I shouldn’t need to point out that Bolsonaro rejected G7 aid to deal with Amazon fires as he found it insulting.
Since Rathbone’s piece AMLO has subsequently doubled pensions, doubled the minimum wage, significantly scaled-back the war on drugs, and – in complete contrast to Rathbone’s attack line – cut bureaucracy and decentralised power from Mexico City back to states. Bolsonaro has, on the other hand, cut the education budget by 30%, legalised individual ownership of up to four firearms, appointed a flat-earther creationist adviser, and – I cannot stress this enough – is burning down a rainforest that acts as a sink for over a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
In the age of Trumpism, the British establishment media has become defensive, bordering on self-indulgent, in response to attacks from ‘populists’ questioning its inherent meritocratic structure and transparent nature. The reality is that right-wing figures like Trump and Bolsonaro have thrived under a media environment that is more compliant to powerful figures than scrupulous, where figures like Rathbone continuously fail upwards from column to book deal as the deeply flawed worldview they espouse leaves the world (quite literally) burning.
Any idiot could have anticipated what Oxford-educated former World Bank employee JP Rathbone is paid to deny all costs: that the election of a hard-right free-marketeer spells trouble in a climate of reaction and existentially-threatening capitalist ecological disaster. However, to say this obvious truth out loud denies you a coveted seat at the World Economic Forum and access to exiled Cuban oligarchs like Julio Lobo, whom Rathbone profiles favourably in his work of colonial nostalgia porn Sugar King of Havana.
It doesn’t matter though, the piece has been lost to the dregs of long tail search engine results and bloggers. No-one is actually taking notice of our intellectual elite getting it wrong over and over again at considerable cost to everyone else but themselves. It’s the easiest game in the world.