“How about? Will there be a coup or not? It is the recurring question from North to South of Brazil. When it becomes common to talk about the possibility of a coup, it is because the coup is already happening or, to a large extent, has already happened. More than a year ago I wrote that the Bolsonaro coup was underway. It began before he assumed power in Brazil and it is made and deepened every day of Government. The Brazilian case is the most explicit, but the current formulation of coups can be seen everywhere, from Donald Trump to Viktor Orbán. It is important to realize that if we don’t, we won’t be able to stop them.
We already know how democracies die, it is a subject that has been exhaustively analyzed in recent years. But we have to better understand how dictatorships are born. The death of one and the birth of the other are part of the same gestation. The blows no longer occur as in the twentieth century, or not just as in the twentieth century. When analyzing the Brazilian case, it is clearly seen that the corrosion of language is a fundamental part of the method. It is not a chapter in the manual, but runs through it entirely.
In the case of the United States, it is true that, at the last moment, the institutions, much more solid than in any other country in America, managed to stop Trump’s coup attempt. But it is also true that Trumpism has achieved the goal of producing its image, forever corrupting the language of democracy by doing the unthinkable on the Capitol scene. Even with Joe Biden in power, the door remains open.
In Brazil, the corrosion of language predates the elections that put the extreme right in power. Years before there were at least three decisive moments for the impeachment by Dilma Rousseff, pointed out by much of the left as a “soft” or “non-classical” hit. When the president was called a “whore” in the football stadiums, at the 2014 World Cup; when, in 2015, they put a sticker with his image with his legs spread in the tanks of the cars so that the hose could penetrate it, simulating a violation; and, finally, in 2016, during the vote to approve the impeachment. Jair Bolsonaro, then a deputy, dedicated his vote to the torturer Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, “the dread of Dilma Rousseff”, torturing again the president tortured during the military dictatorship by apologizing for her torture.
This is what I call the corrosion of language. To prepare the coup, first, one invests in subjectivities. Due to the ability of the speeches to go viral on social networks and because of the speed with which images are produced and reproduced on the internet, society “accepts” the unacceptable. Then you start assimilating it and finally normalizing it. When the blow is formally produced, it is already internalized.
Through the same process of language corrosion, Bolsonaro made possible the return of the military to power in a country still traumatized and the rearticulation of the right that supported the military dictatorship in the past. Also corroding the language, he prepares for 2022 by attacking the electoral system, to challenge, in the line of Trump, the elections that he may lose. When the elections come, the repetition of the fraud speech will have already corrupted reality. In this operation on collective subjectivity, fraud is committed first in the imaginary, making what actually happens in the elections, the vote, does not matter. The main role of figures like Bolsonaro is to pronounce the unpronounceable, opening a subjective way to carry out the assault on the democratic system.
What remains of democracy in a country when the main issue is whether or not there will be a coup, approached with the same naturalness as the price of bread or the latest Netflix series? The blow has already been struck. The doubt is only how far he will be able to go.
Translation of Meritxell Almarza.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.