Jair Bolsonaro Had “Nothing” to Say at Davos

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Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 6/18/2018 © Marcelo Chello / Shutterstock

January 24, 2019 10:51 EDT

Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, was the keynote speaker at Davos… who had nothing to say. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary reports. 

In January every year, Davos in Switzerland hosts an assembly of the most high-powered decision-makers in the economic and political world. They converge among the purity of snowy landscapes with a twofold intent: To occupy their place on the international chessboard — as observers know, it’s all really a game — and to tune up their instruments to make the coming year’s economic symphony sound a little less cacophonic to those rare members of the public believed to have a musically-trained ear: the media. Once the instruments are tuned, everyone can go back home and play in the key they prefer.

This year, the World Economic Forum has been graced by the presence of the newly-elected president of Brazil and aspiring dictator, Jair Bolsonaro, who in Davos, as quoted by The Guardian, “painted himself as a global statesman seeking ‘a world of peace, liberty and democracy.’” He claimed to be “committed to changing our history,” without explaining how. Given his extreme right-wing ideology, if he were to succeed it would most likely be in the direction of fascism.

Brian Winter, a political analyst, tweeted what he heard one sympathetic participant say after listening to Bolsonaro’s rhetoric: “Disaster. I wanted to like him but he said nothing. Why did he even come?”

Here is today’s 3D definition: 


What politicians strive to say most of the time but with the skill that makes it sound as if it just may be something

Contextual note

Emulating US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro spoke to his sophisticated international audience as if they were the average ignorant Brazilian voters that make up his base, whose knowledge of the world came mainly through television, with little sense of history and none of economics. Bolsonaro claimed: “We represent a turning point in the eyes of the Brazilian people — a turning point in which ideological bias will no longer take place.” This was presumably on the assumption that the elite capitalists in Davos don’t consider Bolsonaro’s blatant identification with extreme and outdated Milton Friedman-style market economics as an ideology.

He continued with, “Our motto is ‘God above all things.’” If taken literally, this might make any thoughtful listener think that he may be recommending something resembling sharia banking, since even in the West — until only a few centuries ago — the Christian God had a very Islamic habit of castigating those who charged interest or were solely motivated by profit. The crowd at Davos learned long ago to leave God out of their balance sheets and economic planning. That may explain why the sympathizer cited by Winter concluded that Bolsonaro had said “nothing.” 

The New York Times summed it up: “Mr. Bolsonaro is in many ways the very antithesis of a ’Davos Man,’” who always knows how to sound serious and appear to be saying something of great significance and weight.

The nothingness of Bolsonaro’s discourse might have passed without comment if it had not been aggravated by the news that his son and presumably the president himself — who claimed to be “clean” and promised to do away with corruption and crime — had for some time entertained very close relations “with members of a Rio de Janeiro death squad called the Escritório do Crime (The Crime Bureau).”

Historical and cultural note

Politicians such as Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, who have mastered the art of hyperreality, succeed in getting elected by persuading their public to forget the reality of history. They do so by encouraging them to imagine an unrealizable future built on distorted memories of a more tranquil past when things were ordered, relationships were stable because people knew their place, traditions were respected and, most importantly, ideas kept in line, which usually translates as slogans that replace articulated thought.

Strongarm populist political hyperreality typically plays on the idea of going beyond the inefficiency of democracy and getting things done without asking too many questions — as well as refusing to respond to those thinking people ask. If people are dissatisfied with the real world, build along simpler lines a less real but more sharply delineated world for them to believe in.

The hyperreal populists reduce to a simple contest of the strong versus the weak the subtle and often confusing power negotiation games that democracy inevitably generates as a response to the diversity of interests in the community. A democratic regime must respond to the complexity of reality with policies that hew as closely as possible to ethical principles — rules and laws — while balancing a plurality of points of view.

The dictators of democracies denounce such subtlety as “ideology” and a recipe for inefficiency. They fixate on both the visible and the invisible: One day it may be a physical wall and the next, the will of a god — or maybe the devil — with the understanding that their rise to power has given them a special access to the deity. The wall and the will: two absolute barriers to dialogue and exchange. In both cases, the result is the elimination of meaning or, in other words, the achievement of nothing.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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