It's not a “smokescreen”

The term “smokescreen” has been used as an explanation for everything president Bolsonaro does for quite a while now. Let's hypothesize that in some future moment he shoots a child in the head in front of television cameras. Newspapers and internet analysts would probably say something like:  “See! This is nothing more than a strategy to divert attention from his sons embezzlement charges.” It may not seem like it, but that's almost the same thing as saying that the most damaging barbarisms committed by Bolsonaro are merely part of a smokescreen strategy. I'll explain.

Vlad III, a 1499 German engraving

I'm not saying that such a strategy doesn't exist, nor I am saying that Bolsonaro doesn't use it from time to time inadvertently, and that it does help shifting the focus from the crimes committed by his children, who are also in politics. But I think that those who put too much emphasis on explaining everything the president does as being a diversion are people who have read a couple of articles on political philosophy and ended up believing that Bolsonaro is a kind of incompetent Machiavelli. According to these shallow analysis, the president is a strategist who follows his instincts, since we all know that he never read a line written by Machiavelli or his commentators.

In their eagerness to show a somewhat superficial knowledge, many people on the left commit the sin of believing that everything revolves around purely material issues that have to do with accumulation and production. Such aspects of reality are important, yes. They relate to everything we do, of course. But there is an analytical exaggeration that prevents proponents of the “smokescreen” thesis from seeing some obvious things.

From the outset, Bolsonaro encouraged conspiracy theories about covid-19. He encouraged large gatherings and general disregard for precautions, something that directly contributed to Brazil having 180,000 deaths in nine months of covid-19 pandemic—and here I'm referring to official numbers, every sane person in the country knows there are way more deaths. For some time now, more and more the president has been actively spreading theories from the anti-vaccine movement, which we know will influence tens of millions of his followers not to want to be vaccinated against covid-19. That is, when the vaccine finally arrives in Brazil, something Bolsonaro is fighting against. Many say that he can actually be punished by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but he doesn't have to: contributing to the spread of a dangerous pathogen is a crime under Brazilian legislation. He is the head of state, and he's encouraging people to be contaminated, something that has contributed to Brazil being one of the countries most affected by covid-19.

And yes, we still have the accusations against Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court, which is in fact being considered by the judges. In other words: according to the logic of those who defend the smokescreen thesis, Bolsonaro commits crimes against humanity everyday in order to shift the media focus from his sons corruption charges. Not only that, but he's unsuccessful, since the media continues to talk about his sons. We have almost 200,000 dead and a growing number of people saying that they will not get the vaccine—and all of that is being minimized by the president every single day. However, according to many, this is nothing more than a smokescreen tactic, a way to change the media focus.

What these weak analysis don't realize is that this would be equivalent to saying that if Bolsonaro went out on the street with an M61 Vulcan and shot a crowd of people, he would be just trying to shift the focus from his children's corruption. He would be committing an even greater crime, several times more grotesque, only to deflect the attention of the media from the less severe crimes committed by his children. By now, I hope the reader understands how this thesis makes absolutely no sense at all.

It doesn't make any sense because the president could be shifting the focus from his children's crimes by doing the exact opposite: he could have taken the opportunity given by the pandemic to increase his popularity by actually leading the efforts against covid-19. However, he preferred to sabotage any serious effort since the beginning. There was no need, not even terms of political strategy, for him to contribute to the deaths of more than 180,000 Brazilians just to cover up the corruption of his children. But people are actually peddling the theory that he committed crimes against humanity... to shift the focus from corruption charges. What?

Right now Bolsonaro could saying: “I'm the president who protected the country from covid-19.” But no. Why didn't he do it? The answer is obvious. He didn't protect the country because he really believes in the obscurantist anti-science and anti-vaccine movements espoused by lunatics such as Olavo de Carvalho (his ideological guru) and Ernesto Araújo (his foreign affairs minister). Bolsonaro spent his entire life, even before politics, fighting for the most reactionary ideas. People seem to forget, but he planned to explode bombs in the early 1980's and blame the communists in a bid to prevent the end of the military dictatorship, which resulted in his expulsion from the military. He's not just and opportunist. Yes, he and his children embezzled money. But they are also fanatics willing to kill and die for their beliefs.

If the president wanted to steal and accumulate assets illegally, if he just wanted wanted to cover up the crimes committed by his sons, he could have simply stayed where he was in Congress with his mouth shut. He and his sons had already accumulated a wealth that is incompatible with their political activity, and all of this only came to light now that he and his family gained national prominence. If the goal was just to hide his corruption, all he had to do was not to run for the presidency in the first place. No, a smokescreen strategy doesn't explain the president's behavior. He's really sick in the head. This guy believes in the anti-vaccine movement and other things just as bizarre. We are in the hands of a lunatic.