By Artur Martins, Class of 2020
I believe that Bolsonaro's rise has less to do with people connecting to his ideas and more to do with a hatred that many Brazilians developed for PT (the leftist party that kept power in Brazil for 14 years) and a general lack of belief in traditional politicians.
A majority of Brazilians (with some exceptions in the North and Northeast states) believe that PT did a great damage to the country - myself included. Although there are many areas they have damaged - the economy, institutionalized corruption, etc - one area that was particularly relevant for this election is rhetoric. The PT has always adopted speech that divides the country in good and evil. Working class as good, "bosses" as evil; poor as good, rich as evil; one part of the media as good, the other as evil; and so it goes. This hatred-filled environment developed in a way that reasonable opinions have lost their effect on average people. In this election, it was clear that polarization increased substantially. The "center", which was always very strong in Brazil, lost a lot of relevance. Far right and far left are dominant now. That is one of the reasons Bolsonaro’s rhetoric attracted so many people. It fed on the hatred people have felt for some time due to PT's way of doing politics. The center’s rhetoric, typically viewed as reasonable, is now seen as weak and insufficient. Extremism and radicalism is seen as necessary. It's a pity.
Also, despite the fact that Bolsonaro has been in politics for more than 20 years, he is seen as an outsider. His speech is completely unlike traditional political speeches, because he says what he thinks and has no problem with offending other people. I think that supported his image as an outsider, someone that can change the corrupt status quo in Brazil. Moreover, with PT in power for so long, it became politically incorrect to express almost any conservative opinion. There are many conservative people in Brazil, and they couldn't say what they were thinking without being labeled as fascists or other extreme stereotypes. Suddenly, Bolsonaro comes and says openly everything they would like to say. By creating this good versus evil environment and labeling as "fascism" any opinions that didn't match theirs, the PT and Brazilian leftists pushed many reasonable people to radicalism. Polarization is the result of their actions.
What he will do after being elected is an enigma. His speech became more and more liberal in the past months, but his behavior for the past 20 years is not liberal at all. It's hard to know what is true. He seems to have some totalitarian tendencies, but I really don't believe he would be able to do anything in that direction in Brazil. Our institutions are strong enough for this to be avoided, limiting his capacity for real radicalism. It is very likely is that he will end up in constant disagreement with congress, and Brazil will be a bit lost, with no clear direction. What remains an unknown for me is the possibility of him actually doing a good job regarding the economy. It's unlikely, but possible. But how will the population react if he tries to do something radical and our institutions stop him? If he gets the people on his side, we might have a problem. But I also think it is unlikely that the people of Brazil would go along with a return to dictatorship.