A House Divided, Two Nations at Stake

David Jiang - Brazil


October 26, 2018

A House Divided, Two Nations at Stake

In a flash, two months of my bridge-year odyssey has passed. This period
will forever be remembered as a significant milestone, a time when I
succeeded in the enormous task of settling myself into this new life
abroad. Being an American living in Brazil, an individual invested in two
distinct societies, this month has been especially tumultuous regarding two
events that have dominated the news networks as well as community
conversation. With political polarization, media sensationalism, and
cynicism aside, these two particular events have affected me extremely
deeply, compelling me to write this article to emphasize a specific
component that these two events share, a component that endangers our
respective democracies. I further reiterate the crucial role we all have as
citizens to protect and defend the integrity of the institutions that
govern our livelihood.

THE FACTS:

BRETT KAVANAUGH AND CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD

For the past month, American politics and people were intensely split over
the Senate confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court,
to replace Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. Initially, President Trump’s
selection to the highest court in the land seemed guaranteed: Kavanaugh had
an impeccable education at Yale Law School, a prestigious career at the
D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and was rated “well qualified”
by the American Bar Association, their highest rating for Supreme Court
aptitude. Yet, what seemed like a certain confirmation took a sharp turn
when three women came forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault
during their high school and college years. The first woman, Christine
Blasey Ford, was called to testify before the U.S. Senate.

The nation watched as Ford gave her calm yet powerful recount of what
Kavanaugh did to her on that night in 1982. The nation watched as Kavanaugh
gave his fiery and passionate defense, accusing the Democratic Party of a
partisan conspiracy to ruin his reputation. Ultimately, the nation watched
the Senate confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in the second narrowest
margin in U.S. history (50-48, split predominantly along party lines). His
accession to the highest court in the land has created one of, if not the,
most conservative Supreme Court in American history, defining precedent for
years to come.

JAIR BOLSONARO AND FERNANDO HADDAD

Meanwhile, political tensions in Brazil have been amounting in the past
four years, exacerbated by (but not limited to): the largest economic
recession (with thirteen million people out of work), the largest
corruption scandal (Operation Car Wash, with over R$3.6 billion [~$1
billion USD] in misappropriated funds), and the most violent year (with
2017 a record year, with over 63,000 homicides nationwide), in their entire
history. The nation is desperate for an alternative to the notoriously
corrupt left-leaning political establishment, one that has ruled the nation
for decades. And many citizens believe they have found their answer for the
2018 general election: Jair Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper and congressman
who has promised to lead Brazil under his nationalistic right-wing ideology.

Bolsonaro has promised to purify the corruption in Brasilia through a
crackdown of left-wing economic policies as well as to combat the
escalating crime through strict police reform. Yet, he is notorious and
controversial throughout the country for his views on same-sex
unions/marriages, the equality of women, and civil rights. He has mentioned
being “incapable of loving a gay son”, stated that his daughter was
produced “out of a moment of weakness”, as well as stoked hatred of
refugees by calling them “the scum of the earth.” Most of all, Bolsonaro is
a proponent of returning Brazil to a military dictatorship, which ruled the
nation two decades prior and was infamous for its egregious use of torture.
Despite an entire nationwide movement uniting against his presidential
campaign, #EleNao (hashtag “not him”), Bolsonaro has led the polls for most
of the race.

Bolsonaro carried 46% of the vote during the election on October 7.
Although it was significantly higher than his competitors, it was not
enough to break majority and win the presidency outright, prompting a
second-round runoff election. Bolsonaro will face against Fernando Haddad,
the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, on October 28, in one of the
most precarious elections in Brazilian history.

THE ANALYSIS:

My aim in writing this article is not to impress my political leanings to
those who read it. Whatever “side” you think I am should not be important
to you and should not affect how you see the issue I am addressing in this
piece, one which requires a multiparty solution.

A diversity of views is the crucial basis of a functioning democracy.
Politics, at its root, is the discourse of varying beliefs relating to how
the government should be run to best benefit its constituents. Simply put,
it is where numerous ideologies/beliefs/opinions clash in deciding what
would be best in making people’s lives better. Political discourse is an
essential part of maintaining the integrity of the democratic system that
both America and Brazil share. This is not what I am contending with.

Yet, the reality is that politics is never so pure-intentioned, clear-cut,
and idealistic. Politics is complicated, dirty, and corrupt everywhere; it
only varies to relative degrees between differing nations and bureaucratic
levels. In spite of this, as civilians in a democracy, we have the power of
the vote. It is this power of the vote that places a check on politicians
and government that can so easily become misconstrued. It is this vote that
we must use wisely, as it is all that most of us will ever have.

The issue I am trying to address in this piece is to reaffirm our
commitment in working together in deciding the direction that is best for
the nation to go. In that obligation, we all, whether you are left, right,
or center, have a crucial role in protecting our democracies from those who
use hatred and fear as a platform for power. We all have a superordinate
goal to form a “more perfect Union” through civil dialogue and critical
thinking, to make our countries better for ourselves and the generations
that follow.

However, a platform of hatred and fear promotes tribalism, where we ignore
those that challenge our beliefs, only associating with those that affirm
our beliefs in antagonizing those on the other side. Tribalism makes an
easy situation for demagogues to rise to power, as it permits scapegoating
of the opposition as a guise for the leader’s true motives. A diversity of
beliefs in a democracy only works when the opposing parties listen and
construct, rather than turn away and accuse. This is the fact that many of
us have neglected when we allowed Kavanaugh and Bolsonaro, and many others,
to rise to power.

In our obligations as active and engaged citizens, we must, at the very
least, be skeptical of those who use hatred and fear as a promotional
platform. Regardless of the side one is on, when discussing the policies
that govern our lives, it is crucial that we assess them in an pragmatic
sustainable manner, rather than getting swept up in fleeting emotion. In
the best interests of our country and its future, we must be extremely
careful of what kind of alternatives we select for power, especially those
that proliferate on a basis of tribalism. We have to remind ourselves, even
in the most desperate times, to truly think rationally about the choices we
make, as the most popular alternative may not be the right alternative.
Most of all, we must reconcile and settle our grievances, paving a new of
path of collaboration towards a goal higher than our differences. The means
that numerous politicians have used to divide us and create chaos advances
their ends, not ours.

A house divided cannot stand. Especially during times like these.
Especially in the system we have.

Sources:

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “Kavanaugh Is Sworn In After Close Confirmation Vote
in Senate.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Oct. 2018,
www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/us/politics/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur
.

Watts, Jonathan. “Operation Car Wash: The Biggest Corruption Scandal Ever?” The
Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 June 2017,
www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/01/brazil-operation-car-wash-is-this-the-biggest-corruption-scandal-in-history
.

Phillips, Tom. “Brazil’s Election Explained: the Top Candidates, Key Issues
and Stakes.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 Oct. 2018,
www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/04/brazil-election-explained-key-issues-candidates-bolsonaro-haddad-presidential-latest
.

PHOTOS:

KAVANAUGH AND FORD:
suntimesmedia.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/kavanaugh-ford-combo-e1538101807784.jpg?w=763
FERNANDO AND HADDAD:
abrilveja.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/brasil-bolsonaro-haddad.jpg?quality=70&strip=info&resize=680,453

David Jiang