With Jair Bolsonaro's victory in Brazil's presidential election at the weekend, the doom-mongers among western elites are out in force once again. His success, like Donald Trump's, has confirmed a long-held prejudice: that the people cannot be trusted; that, when empowered, they behave like a mob driven by primitive urges; that the unwashed masses now threaten to bring down the carefully constructed walls of civilization.
The guardians of the status quo refused to learn the lesson of Trump's election, and so it will be with Bolsonaro. Rather than engaging the intellectual faculties they claim as their exclusive preserve, western "analysts" and "experts" are again averting their gaze from anything that might help them understand what has driven our supposed democracies into the dark places inhabited by the new demagogues. Instead, as ever, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of social media.
Social media and fake news are apparently the reasons Bolsonaro won at the ballot box. Without the gatekeepers in place to limit access to the "free press" -- itself the plaything of billionaires and global corporations, with brands and a bottom line to protect -- the rabble has supposedly been freed to give expression to their innate bigotry.
Here is Simon Jenkins, a veteran British gatekeeper -- a former editor of the Times of London who now writes a column in the Guardian -- pontificating on Bolsonaro:
The lesson for champions of open democracy is glaring. Its values cannot be taken for granted. When debate is no longer through regulated media, courts and institutions, politics will default to the mob. Social media -- once hailed as an agent of global concord -- has become the purveyor of falsity, anger and hatred. Its algorithms polarise opinion. Its pseudo-information drives argument to the extremes.
This is now the default consensus of the corporate media, whether in its rightwing incarnations or of the variety posing on the liberal-left end of the spectrum like the Guardian. The people are stupid, and we need to be protected from their base instincts. Social media, it is claimed, has unleashed humanity's id.
There is a kind of truth in Jenkins' argument, even if it is not the one he intended. Social media did indeed liberate ordinary people. For the first time in modern history, they were not simply the recipients of official, sanctioned information. They were not only spoken down to by their betters, they could answer back -- and not always as deferentially as the media class expected.
Clinging to their old privileges, Jenkins and his ilk are rightly unnerved. They have much to lose.
Observers of the current political scene. They are deeply invested in the status quo, in the existing power structures that have kept them well-paid courtiers of the corporations that dominate the planet.
Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.
The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power. Until now they preferred the slickest salespeople, ones who could sell wars as humanitarian intervention rather than profit-driven exercises in death and destruction; the unsustainable plunder of natural resources as economic growth; the massive accumulation of wealth, stashed in offshore tax havens, as the fair outcome of a free market; the bailouts funded by ordinary taxpayers to stem economic crises they had engineered as necessary austerity; and so on.
A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favored salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on color or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment. The polarization now bewailed by Jenkins was in truth stoked and rationalized by the very corporate media he so faithfully serves.
Fear of the Domino Effect
Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fueled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite's power.