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Lucas Freire, pro­fessor of political science and eco­nomics at Mackenzie Pres­by­terian Uni­versity.
Danielle Lee | Col­legian

People are dis­il­lu­sioned with the political process, Lucas Freire said in a talk at Hillsdale College.

Freire, pro­fessor of political science and eco­nomics at Mackenzie Pres­by­terian Uni­versity in São Paulo, Brazil, led a dis­cussion on Brazil’s 2018 Pres­i­dential Elec­tions and pop­ulism in South America. The event, hosted by The Alexander Hamilton Society on Nov. 9, also fea­tured John Elliot, director of the Alcuin Fellows Program at the Charle­magne Institute.

Freire said his focus was on vic­tories and chal­lenges of Jair Bol­sonaro, Brazil’s newly elected pres­ident. He focused on three main topics: the 2018 pres­i­dential elec­tions show that the country is going through a crisis; voters believe Bol­sonaro will bring actual change; and many people voted for him because he speaks to cul­tural and eco­nomic fears about the future.

One problem observers of main­stream and social media will pick up is the decline in dia­logue. This issue resulted from a long process of decline in low-quality public debate in Brazil, according to Freire. He empha­sized truth, beauty, and goodness as three values that should be upheld in public dis­cussion.

“There was little truth — fake news was wide­spread, people don’t know how to judge the quality of the source they use, and there was little beauty,” Freire said. “Name-calling became actual rea­soned argu­ments, with premises and sound con­clu­sions. And there was very little charity as well, where people did not try to under­stand what others, across dif­ferent political spec­trums, were trying to say.”

Freire said if pol­itics becomes too per­sonal, people will start wor­rying about charis­matic politi­cians as celebrities. He explained that this is what has hap­pened in Brazil.

“Sup­porters and detractors of Bol­sonaro treated him like a celebrity and focused con­sid­erably on what he says and does, more than on his platform,” Freire said. “He has said some pretty hor­rible things, but he talks about policies.”

As a con­gressman, Bol­sonaro con­sis­tently voted for nation­alists, pro­tec­tionists, inter­ven­tionists, and the increase in salaries for the political class, said Freire. He added that in light of the Workers’ party cor­ruption scandals and eco­nomic crisis, the change of power was inevitable.

“Bol­sonaro has a clean criminal record, and isn’t sus­pected of any involvement in cor­ruption scandals,” he said. “He’s a former mil­itary; he speaks of order; he speaks against crime. So when Bol­sonaro sig­naled that, sud­denly, he had also turned into a friend of the free market economy, despite his vast votes in con­gress, the voters had an easy choice.”

He added that Brazil must decide whether to keep a more par­tisan stance inter­na­tionally, as it did under the Workers’ party, or to allow more autonomy in their foreign department, which was the case 16 years ago, Freire said.

“I would suggest a prudent, non-nation­al­istic, non-mil­i­taristic policy of free inter­na­tional trade, mul­ti­lat­er­alism and avoidance of any mil­i­taristic ven­tures,” Freire said. “This talk of inter­vening Venezuela because of the crisis there, for example: to me, that’s non­sense.”

During the question and answer segment, a student asked Freire if he thinks Bol­sonaro will enact these pro­posed policies. Freire said he hopes so, but Brazil’s gov­ernment will have to shrink its size and, in a short-term, borrow a lot of money from the market for funds.

“I think his free-market ori­ented people under­stand that,” Freire said. “There will be a period of slow eco­nomic recovery, maybe things might get a bit worse in the first few months before they start to get better— so that will hurt. Whether Bol­sonaro will want to pursue that or not will be if he wants to feel popular in the beginning.”

Callahan Stoub, sophomore and vice pres­ident of the Alexander Hamilton society, said South America is gen­erally over­looked in global political dis­cus­sions, and said she hopes Pres­ident Bolsonaro’s election will attract more attention to these important issues.

“I was glad to hear how hopeful Dr. Freire felt about the election results,” Stoub said. “Major European news sources claim Bol­sonaro will make a ‘dis­as­trous pres­ident’ since he breaks the mold of increas­ingly socialist world leaders, but Dr. Freire said Bol­sonaro plans to strengthen rela­tions with the U.S., so that makes me hopeful.”

Juan Her­nandez, a sophomore at Hillsdale College, said he thought it was amazing that Freire expe­ri­enced the entire election.

“The fact that he came from Brazil and expe­ri­enced the whole election was just a remarkable thing, because living the election is com­pletely dif­ferent than seeing it from the outside,” Her­nandez said.

For those who inter­ested in global pol­itics but know very little, Her­nandez rec­om­mended that they branch out from local and national news.

Most people in the U.S. stick with local news and pol­itics, and they only know about big inter­na­tional issues, things that have to do with Syria or Russia. If you’re inter­ested in learning about global con­flicts, go online and you’ll find dif­ferent website and per­spec­tives, you’ll learn about dif­ferent things,” Her­nandez said.