Jair Bolsonaro lost the presidential election, but like his idol Trump, his movement is going nowhere

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil—At left, tears of joy and deep relief. On the right, anger and resentment. On Sunday, Brazil elected former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to be president again.

Lula, the leftist figure revered by millions of Brazilians, beat current far-right icon President Jair Bolsonaro by a slim margin of less than 1%.

“We pushed back against fascism, division and hatred, and now it’s time for Brazil to heal, to unite, to work for a fairer society and to protect our beautiful Amazon rainforest,” exclaimed Maxi Quaresma, supporter of Lula, while celebrating in São Salvador Square. in the neighborhood of Laranjeiras in Rio de Janeiro.

São Salvador Square is a favorite spot for left-wing Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro. But curators describe it as a “junkie place for lazy people”.

Evangelical Juana Cuesta makes the sign of the cross when hearing the name of the square. She had been praying for Bolsonaro with dozens of his followers all Saturday night until the early hours and was totally exhausted. But determined not to miss this historic election, she went to vote pro-Bolsonaro. Cuesta is part of a fast-growing evangelical movement that sees Bolsonaro as a protector of their way of life and safeguarding Brazil as a potential superpower.

“‘O Míto’ is the only savior of our country,” she said Sunday morning, alluding to Bolsonaro’s nickname – The Legend – among her staunch supporters.

Cuesta spent Saturday night under the open sky in the makeshift church. Dozens of plastic chairs and a small altar did the trick. She was wrapped in a Brazilian flag, with many others in national football shirts. This is because Bolsonaro has identified his personality and his movement as the core of the Brazilian nation.

“We are the real Brazil. Lulistas just want to run this country to the ground, run away, and Lula is their gang leader. Since the pandemic, they have been crying out for help. And now, with inflation, it’s even worse. But we can’t keep giving them things for free. We will go bankrupt and end up like Venezuela,” Cuesta said.

For weeks, the two political camps clashed. In all the neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, matches of cries between Lulistas and Bolsonarists were exposed. Under the silent gaze of the immense Christ the Redeemer statue, which overlooks Rio perched atop a 2,300ft-high mountain, neighbors harassed each other from their windows and balconies hurling slurs, communist or fascist, until their voices grew hoarse.

“We’ve never had this kind of polarization in Brazil,” said Thomas Traumann, who for four years served as spokesperson for Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president. He thinks the Brazilian right is now following Trump’s book.

Just like Trump, Traumann predicts, Bolsonaro will never accept electoral defeat and will continue to claim that the left stole the vote in a rigged election. “I’m afraid we’re going through our version of January 6, 2021, when Trump’s people stormed the Capitol. The only difference is that our key date is November 15, when Brazil commemorates the founding of its republic.

This year’s politics have consumed the Brazilian psyche. Even football, the pride of the nation, often compared to religion here in Brazil, took second place.

“This is perhaps the very first time that even football cannot relieve the pressure and anxiety of millions of Brazilians,” said Professor Sergio Settani Giglio, who teaches at Campinas State University. Settani Giglio has written extensively about the phenomenon of Brazilian football and its influence on society.

He also borrows from current American politics when he says this election was a battle for the soul of the nation, reminiscent of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign slogan.

Many on the left believed four more years of Bolsonaro would turn the country into a police state dominated by evangelicals and big business.

“I don’t recognize this Brazil. The other day a guy came up to me on Copacabana beach with a gun in his bathing suit just to threaten me,” said a middle-aged man who identified himself as Marcelo. Marcelo is openly gay and was at the bar with his boyfriend at Ipanema Beach.

Right-wing Brazilians despise people like Marcelo, but in conversations they insist the real threat is Lula’s vast government spending and corruption. His government, many believe, will destroy the dream of a truly great Brazil.

“Lula’s ambition is to compete as well as possible with India. But our bar is much higher. We could be there with the United States,” said Juana Cuesta.

Donald Trump comes back in our conversation, especially his slogan “Make America Great Again”.

“Now with Lula in power? We’re more like ‘Make Brazil Great One Day’,” Cuesta concluded after a short break.

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