Bolsonaro is neither a fascist nor a nationalist – he's just a neoliberal


 Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro is sometimes described as a fascist or an ultra-nationalist. He is neither. However, After Culture Secretary Roberto Alvim's recent speech echoing Goebbels, many concerned people are now convinced this is a Nazi government. 

Some experts have pointed out how Bolsonaro and his officials employ American alt-right tatics, such as trolling and memes. Offensive and incendiary remarks are also employed to distract attention from corruption scandals and other matters. For example, when a journalist asked the president about his son's (Flávio Bolsonaro) possible involvement with organised crime “militias” (clandestine groups made up of corrupt cops that engage in extortion), the president replied that things are not always as they seem: for instance, he (the journalist) looked like a homosexual (in Bolsonaro's words), but that does not mean that he is. A great controversy ensued, and the country started debating homophobia. The President of course claimed that he was misinterpreted. Meanwhile, an explosive story involving the president's son was forgotten (Bolsonaro's family to those “militas” go way back, but that's another story).
Alvim's act, in the same manner, is just barely ambiguous and counts on cynical plausible deniability: Lohengrin playing in the background? It is classical music, what is the problem? Those parts of his speech that so closely resemble Goebbels? Just a coincidence, nothing to worry about. Bolsonaro supporters will then ask what was wrong with the content of the speech itself and suggest that critics might be against the very idea of promoting a national culture or funding operas, music and the like (Brazil of course has a long tradition of classical music and some important composers, such as Carlos Gomes and Villa-Lobos, even though Alvim seems to prefer Wagner).
Stanley G. Payne, Roger Griffin and many other scholars have tried to define fascism. Fascismo was of course the movement led by Benito Mussolini in Italy, but the term “fascism” has come to be used to reffer to other similar movements. They have some common features, which include ultra-nationalism, anti-liberalism and an ideology of totalitarian corporatism as the key to “harmony” among social classes. Corporatism here referes to corporate groups, such as unions, guilds, professional associations etc. In the Fascist corporate state (in theory at least), the economy would be collectively managed by workers and their employers, under the supervision of a strongly interventionist state. Workers would be represented politically by their trade unions or corporations. If in practice fascist regimes often served the interests of big business, there was at least in theory and in its rhethorics a “populist” pro-worker stance (albeit in terms of “class conciliation” and not class warfare).
Amazingly, Bolsonaro has not promised a single thing to Brazilian workers. He got ellected mostly because of his supposedly tough stance on crime and corruption. 
On several occasions, when inquired about what he would for workers, even during the presidential campaign, he simply replied that “this would be up to the employers” or “to the market”. He even declared that workers should chose between lower salaries or unemployment. Bolsonaro has also defended the Brazilian 2017 Labour Reform (to which he was formerly opposed), a reform which basically nullifiess (in practice) most of the Brazilian Consolidation of Labour Laws. That is the decree which has governed labour relations in Brazil since 1943 (issued by then dictator Getúlio Vargas after his nationalist revolution). Ironically, Bolsonaro's Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes has argued that this revolutionary piece of legislation should be abandoned because it is “fascist” (supposedly having drawn its inspiration from Mussolini's Carta del Lavoro – that is partially true at best: it was actually more influenced by Catholic social doctrine). 
In Europe, in its turn, many of the so called “populists” of today are often accused of having “hijacked the Left” in the sense that in some countries part of the working class feels that the traditional socialist parties have abandoned workers and their traditional agenda. Some of the “populists” (also accused of having fascist backgrounds) have adopted at least partially pro-worker rhetorics and programs, such as Marine Le Pen's protecionism or her defence of a lower retirement age and increased welfare spending, for example. Bolsonaro has nothing to do with any of this. On the contrary: on October 2019, he stated that workers need “less rights” and also need to “work more”.
This is neither populism nor nationalism. Not fascism either. This is the idiom of radical neoliberalism pure and simple.
What about Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's supposed nationalism? Of course, in Latin America, nationalism has often been the idiom of revolution also (in terms of national liberation). It was Che Guevara who shouted “¡Patria o Muerte!” (“Fatherland or death!”) in his historic speech at the United Nations. In Latin America, things get really complicated and part of the (nationalist) legacy of leaders such as Argentine's Juan Perón and Brazil's Getúlio Vargas – sometimes considered to be fascists by historians – is today appropriated by the labourist left.
 The thing is, trolling and Goebbels paraphrases apart, one could in fact say that Bolsonaro's Culture Secretary Roberto Alvim's national arts prize plan was so far the only attempt at a nationalist policy (good or bad) in the current administration. Bolsonaro did defend some (economic) nationalist positions throughout his career. However, he has not done so at all either as presidential candidate nor as president. For example, he plans to privatise state-controlled oil company Petrobras, which is anathema to both right-wing and left-wing nationalists as well as many other companies. This has brought thousands to rally against what they perceive as attacks on Brazilian national sovereignty and national interests.
Bolsonaro famously claimed (in 2018) that the Amazon forest “is not ours” – also anathema to Brazilian nationalists, and gave a military salute to the US flag during a speech in Miami in 2017 – another (unprecedented) move that was heavily criticised. Former president Lula even claimed: "I've never seen a president salute the American flag. I've never seen a president go around saying, 'I love the United States, I love it!' You should love your mother, you should love your country. What's all this about loving the United States?"
When Brazil's National Museum was consumed by fire in 2018, while the country lamented the incident, Bolsonaro merely stated: “it has burned already. What can I do?”. This is therefore not a ufanist leader that praises his national culture and History. His vice-president, General Mourão, in his turn, famously claimed that Brazilian culture is retrograde because Brazilians inherited a culture of “privilege and bureaucracy” from the Portuguese colonisers, “indolence” from the native peoples and “trickery” from the African slaves. This is an administration that truly despises Brazil and looks up to the United States as a model for everything – culturally and otherwise. The same applies to the economy and foreign policy.
Bolsonaro has in fact been pro-Israel and pro-US like no other previous president – to the extent of potentially harming Brazilian interests: his move to relocate the Brazilian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, for instance, caused a turmoil amongst generals and diplomats (it could harm Brazilian historical relationship and trade with its Arab allies) and so he had to backtrack, talking of a “business office” instead. His premature support to Trump amid US-Iran tensions (in the aftermath of Soleimani's murder by an US attack) made diplomats and the military even more concerned. Again and again, Bolsonaro gives too much to the US and Israel, and gets nothing in return. Another example: he recently exempted US citizens from having to apply for a Brazilian visa (Brazilians will still be required to do so to travel to the US). 
Bolsonaro has made (and makes) very controversial – not to say offensive and nasty – remarks. He has appointed as officials in his administration several unqualified, unexperienced and frankly inept people (Alvim himself was considered by some to be mentally unstable even before his Goebbel's scandal). Bolsonaro is wrong on several issues: the environment, economic policy (too neoliberal precisely when neoliberalism is dead), his foreign policy... But “fascism” or even “nationalism” is not the key to understanding his administration. If you mix Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and add a little bit of Pinochet nostalgia, you get an idea of what Bolsonaro's ideology really is (Pinochet, by the way, was a very good friend of both Reagan and Thatcher). It is basically right-wing neoliberalism, in a quite ruthless and crude version, as Latin America has seen before – only this time, more domesticated. 
Fascism is of course a mistaken totalitarian ideology. So is neoliberalism, which also has its shares of crimes in recent History. The ideology of the current Brazilian leader finds it home in the latter (neoliberal is totalitarian in that it reduces all human relations to the market).
So, Bolsonaro does makes offensive and preposterous remarks about the Brazilian native indigenous tribes – but all previous government were engaged in war against those populations to some extent. The Brazilian state, after all, normally aligns with the interests of mining companies and agrobusiness against the natives – Bolsonaro is only more brutally honest about it in his statements. The same goes for his open support of paramilitary death-squad and cops “militias”, an old Brazilian tradition. He is just more frank about it. “A good thief is a dead thief” (literally) is a popular saying in Brazil.
Finally, Jair Bolsonaro's relationship to Brazilian Integralists (a tiny fascist group) is similar to Trump's own relationship to the American alt-right: sometimes he nods to them and that gives them hopes and makes them feel important. It is in this vein that he adopted (for the new political party he is now launching) the old Integralist slogan: God, Fatherland and Family. It is a kind of twisted joke – to shock leftists and progressives (and to fool true conservatives and patriots). 
Jair Bolsonaro does not believe in the “glory of the Fatherland” nor does he takes seriously matters of public morality or religion (this is a troll-president who has posted a “golden shower” video in his Twitter account). He does take very seriously big business interests, however, as he takes seriously American interests and plans to de-stabilise and invade Venezuela. He is more about making the rules for use of pesticides more flexibile (for profit) than about promoting any sort of jingoism.
To sum it up, Bolsonaro employs a little bit of nationalist aesthetics and mottos, but that's about it. In Brazil the fight is not against an imaginary fascism – it is against cynical troll-neoliberalism.