Curtain Raiser

Politics & Citizen Responsibility, Colltalers

There’s a common notion that all politics is dirty; every politician then can’t help it but being it too. Given what we read daily on the news, it’s a fair enough assumption. To understand it a bit beyond that, though, requires a great deal of soul searching and honesty.
It’s not always clear the connection between what elected representatives and people in power do, supposedly on our behalf, and how we conduct our personal business. It’s actually quite surprising to find out that often one world accurately reflects the other.
The issue is relevant as ever now that there are only five months until a new U.S. president takes the oath of office, and Americans seem deeply divided about what the two contenders, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, stand for. Or not.
It’s also an issue not restricted to the U.S. In fact, this link between what goes on in inner circles of power and in kitchens of citizens the world over can be easily traced elsewhere. And most readers of this column won’t mind that we pick Brazil, as a parallel.
A newly released research by Paris-based consultancy firm Ipsos, conducted in Brazil between April and May, showed that the traditional, and despicable, ‘jeitinho,’ – a way many Brazilians use to get around rules and regulations – is on the increase.
Of the 1,200 people interviewed in 72 cities, 62% admitted that they resorted to illegal practices to get their business done, in the past year, a jump from the 49% percent who did the same in 2014. That, despite another Ipsos study having indicated that 72% of a similar universe of interviewees believed that the operation Lava Jato, or Car Wash as it’s been called abroad, would help ‘clean up’ Brazil.
The Car Wash probe, started in 2014, when under-impeachment President Dilma Rousseff was still in office, went from investigating money laundering by officials to mismanagement at state-run oil giant Petrobras at a time when Rousseff was a member of its board.
The Ipsos findings are disturbing since for, two years now, Brazil’s been through political turmoil, allegedly because citizens got fed up with corruption at the higher echelons of power. That it wound up allowing a group of particularly corruption-tainted politicians

to take charge of the country is a separate matter. What the research shows is that most people don’t see the personal-social connection.
To a few social scientists in Brazil, a more nuanced approach is to take the findings in the context of a failed economy, and the desperate need of citizens for services that the state no longer has been capable of providing on an equitable, and timely, manner.
So the jeitinho reflects the lack of options or simply the impossibility of getting anything done without it. To an already depleted medical and social structure, the turmoil couldn’t have come at worst time, specially to those at the bottom of the social ladder.
Others, defining jeitinho as a grey area where personal favor intersects with rule bending, are not so sympathetic. They noted that people interviewed belong to all social strata, including members of the upper classes, and professionals with cushy jobs and college degrees.
Be it as it may, it’s unfair to assign blame for the mess in Brasilia on hard working citizens, who need the state to do its part. On the other hand, they must take a harder look at that office equipment they’re taking home for the kids, or that overcharged bill they’re including in their income tax report, if they really don’t want to be perceived as doing exactly what the politicians they despise are doing.
Back to the U.S., is hard to find anyone who openly, and outside their familiar grounds, would call themselves racist, xenophobic, or intolerant. But given the right cues, many would rant at will about how we need to ‘take back’ this country (implying, from the black president), how Mexicans ‘steal’ American jobs, and why terror attacks ‘seem’ to be driven by devotion to the ‘wrong’ kind of god.
The worse part of this slippery slope of diatribe disguised as ‘straight talk,’ is the completely disregard to proven facts and scientific evidence that make each one of such assumptions not just false, but code words to justify violent action and the embrace of fascism.
Americans and Brazilians are deeply dissatisfied with the way politics is being conducted by those in power, who seem to be getting richer, and more oblivious to their plight, while the great majority sees their basic standards of living quickly deteriorating.
But they’re also both being manipulated by powerful elites, not necessarily of politicians, that are capitalizing on their rage to advance a self-serving, discriminatory agenda. Many wonder whether isn’t time already for a reawakening and a resetting of priorities.
It may not be easy to many to walk back on actions that still feel legitimate and morally sound. Or take personal responsibility for the moment, lost in the streets, when rallies ceased to be about principles, and became mere extensions of old political ideologies.
But such moment of reckoning must happen both in the U.S. and Brazil, and preferably very soon. This time, though, it may take place not in the streets, or not only there, but in the intimacy of our kitchens, which is where so many important decisions are made.
It may be implicit to politics to be dirty and amoral and pragmatic. But it’s an imperfect world and we all have choices to make. For a change, we should make sure to conduct our personal business with propriety, one that we certainly don’t expect from politicians.
That’s what gives voters the right to demand decency in exchange for their support. And what may turn the political process into a moral learning curve to every citizen. We’re mourning (again) in America so our thoughts go to those massacred by a gunman in Orlando, Fl. WC

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