While reading chapter nine of Hochschild’sStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right , I couldn’t help but think about how the “Deep Story” she proposes to explain the current divide in American politics could be adapted to analyze what Brazil has been experiencing for a while now. Just like the Lake Charles Tea Party members Hochschild interviewed, the Brazilian elite has believed on the deep story and the harm the Workers’ Party (PT) has caused on them by allowing minorities to “cut the line” towards progress through the public policies they created.
The whole world watched the anti-PT campaign ran especially by the Brazilian elite during the 2018 presidential elections, which led Jair Messias Bolsonaro to power. While the elite’s resentment towards PT increased significantly after the party’s involvement on corruption scandals was uncovered, their contempt towards PT was no novelty. According to Brazilian journalist Cynara Menezes, affluent Brazilian people had never accepted well the non-conventional trajectory of PT’s founder and former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had worked as a bootblack and an office boy before taking office for the first time in 2002. Similarly to what Hochschild states regarding how Tea Party members felt towards former president Barack Obama, Lula was never recognized by the Brazilian elite as their president. Besides the fact that he was an “outsider,” he also helped his fellow “outsiders” (minorities) “cut the line” and try to blend into layers of society they originally did not belong to. Just like Obama in Hochschild’s example, Lula and, later on, his successor Dilma Rousseff (governed Brazil from 2011 until 2016, when she was impeached) were responsible for implementing measures that aimed to disrupt the stratified way Brazilian society is structured.
According to data published by the UN in 2018, Brazil is one of the five countries with the highest rates of social inequality in the world. As theologist Leonardo Boff states, such scenario dates back to the Brazilian colonial period, when indigenous, black and immigrant people were exploited on behalf of the elite’s economic growth. Brazilian society, thus, has been built as a reflection of the colonial structure, having the idea of legacy as essential to defining social roles. In the case of the Tea Party members’ deep story, they felt betrayed by federal government since they perceived themselves as the ones who worked to “make the nation great” and were now being left behind at the end of the line. In the case of Brazil, elite’s resentment towards PT can be explained by their refusal to “share” with minorities the privileges they were grantedas a consequence of the colonial period. Generation after generation, Brazilian elite has sustained a separatist mentality, endorsing a clear divide between themselves and the rest. A clear example of this is an article titled “To Be Special,” written by journalist and socialite Danuza Leão and published in 2012 by Folha de São Paulo, one of the most influential newspapers in Brazil. In her article, Leão states that “there is no charm in going all the way to Paris or New York City if now you can easily run into your building’s doorman,” in a reference to minorities’ economic rise in Brazil.
Some of the public policies created by PT throughout its 14 years in office to try to equal the playing field for minorities include affirmative action programs, such as ProUni, which provides low income students with scholarships for private universities, welfare programs such as Bolsa Família, which provides financial aid to poor families and Fome Zero, which aims to eradicate hunger. According to Boff, the elite’s “hate towards PT is only weaker than their hate towards poor people, who, because of PT and its social policies that focus on inclusion, were removed from the hell of poverty and hunger and are going towards occupying places previously seen as exclusive of the wealthy elite.” Despite of their different motivations to believe on the deep story, one argument used by the Brazilian elite to mask their reasons to oppose this is the fact that, just like one of the Tea Party members told Hochschild, there is no way to ensure that minorities are “trying to better themselves” and not simply relying on the government for everything they are conquering.
In the face of PT’s corruption scandals previously mentioned, elites were able to not only “justify” their long-lasting opposition towards PT, but also get support from other people that were not necessarily a part of the elite spectrum, like middle class people, for an example. This played a key role on the election of Bolsonaro, who, in his opening speech in January of 2019, delighted Brazilian elite by saying that “now the minorities will ‘bow down’ to the majority.” It remains to be seen in what ways the new President will listen to “the Brazilian version of the deep story” and attempt to change the course of inclusive policies that were, at least gradually, reversing stratification.
Photo by Rovena Rosa, “Manifestação em São Paulo contra corrupção e o governo Dilma” (Agência Brasil), Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil License.