“A little flu”: The political analysis of the negationist discourse

Written by: Jorge Osvaldo Romano, Liza Uema, Myriam Martinez dos Santos, Larissa Rodrigues Ferreira, Vanessa Barroso Barreto, Thais Ponciano Bittencourt, Paulo Petersen, Paulo Augusto André Balthazar, Eduardo Brittos Santos, Renan Alfenas de Mattos, Annagesse de Carvalho Feitosa, Juanita Cuellar Benavídez, Ana Carolina Aguiar Simões Castilho, Caroline Boletta de Oliveira Aguiar, Érika Toth Souza[1].

In the second article of the series “The analysis of the discourses on the Covid-19 pandemic”, produced by the Research Group “Discourse, Social Networks and Socio-Political Identities (DISCURSO)”, we present the political analysis of the “negationist” discourse on the pandemic.
Having the Covid-19 pandemic as a reference that accentuates inequalities, but puts hegemony in suspension, opening up opportunities for a political dispute between the “negationist” and “scientific” discourses, in this article, through the methodological assistance of the political analysis of speeches and the approach to interpretative frameworks presented in the previous text, we deepen the characterization of the “negationist” speech. Starting from a succinct identification of its main spokespersons, the analysis brings the diagnosis that this discourse creates of the problem, the predominant tone of its discursive practices, the demands and the groups that articulate in antagonistic political identities - the “they” and the “we” - with antagonisms at the national or international level, that are created or reproduced in the dispute, and the solutions and proposals to face and get out of the pandemic.

Analysing the Covid-19 pandemic as an event[2]- in addition to highlighting the deepening of the inequalities that were already being enhanced by neoliberalism - allows us to identify the opportunities that are created with the suspension of the hegemony, that are manifested in the political dispute between the “negationist” and “scientific” speeches. Indeed, in the discursive field referring to the Covid-19 pandemic that conforms from the discursive practices expressed in speeches, documents, performances and decisions by several political and social actors at national and international level, it is possible to delimit two master speeches in the dispute politics: the “negationist” and the “scientific”, in which two thematic poles are articulated with different emphasis: the sustainability of life and the sustainability of the economy[3].

On the one hand, there is the “negationist” discourse, defended by some authorities, economic and religious leaders, and traditional and social media. This speech minimizes or does not recognize the breadth and importance of the pandemic. Privileging the sustainability of the economy, it encourages a return to presential work and the end of restrictive horizontal quarantine and lockdown measures.

On the other hand, there is the “scientific” discourse, defended by medical doctors and supported by international organizations, media, state governors and many foreign governments. In turn, this discourse privileges health care and the sustainability of life, defending social isolation, horizontal quarantine and even lockdown as the best way to guarantee life and, also, the future success in terms of economic sustainability.

Thus, taking as a reference the analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic as an event and using the methodological assistance of the political analysis of the speeches and the approach to interpretative frameworks[4] presented in the previous work of this series[5], this text will characterize the “negationist” speech . In the upcoming article, we will share the results of the political analysis of the “scientific” discourse.

The main spokespersons of the “negationist” speeches

Among the few spokespersons at the international level of the “negationist” discourse and its variants, we identified presidents and prime ministers from countries such as the USA (Trump) and Great Britain (Johnson before being infected by Covid-19), as well as authoritarian leaders from countries like Belarus (Lukashenko), Tajikistan (Berdymukhamedov), Tanzania (Magufuli) and Nicaragua (Ortega). At the national level, there is the president of Brazil, ministers and members of the second echelon, parliamentarians of the so-called “new center”, businessmen, agribusiness leaders, members of the armed forces, the military police and firefighters (retired and active), leaders of Pentecostal churches, social media bloggers and producers of fake news. From this set of actors in our research, at the international level we will highlight the President of the USA and, at the national level, the President of Brazil and leaders of Pentecostal churches.

Donald Trump (Donald John Trump), a 73-year-old white man, born in New York, a successful businessman with a public life characterized by participation in television programs, films and by the press repercussions of his millionaire divorce deals. In 2016, amid a fierce presidential race with Hillary Clinton and, contrary to the prediction of most analysts, Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States of America by the Republican Party, with 290 votes out of 538 voters in the Electoral College - although his opponent had 300,000 more votes than he did. During an administration characterized by controversial measures - for example, in terms of migration, trade and foreign policy - and supported by a nationalist-protectionist discourse and promises to improve employment indicators, the president faces the challenges of the pandemic in a context of attempted presidential re-election, which should take place in the second half of 2020. Despite the growing severity that has transformed the country into the epicenter of the pandemic, Trump has maintained a tone of optimism, minimizing the serious epidemiological picture, supporting economic opening and encouraging his supporters to confront governors who advocate social isolation. Since the beginning of June 2020, Trump has been facing a great wave of anti-racist mobilizations and against police violence aimed at the black American population. It is seen by its critics as an inexperienced extremist leadership, which attacks democratic representative ideals, international cooperation and tolerance. However, for his supporters, the president is a leader who will put America's founding interests and principles first.

Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a white man, born in Glicério (SP), 65, elected president of Brazil in 2018, with 55.13% of the valid votes in the second round by the Social Liberal Party (PSL), which he left in November 2019. He joined the Army reserve in the late 1980s, served as a city councilor in Rio de Janeiro from 1989 to 1991 and seven parliamentary terms as a Federal Deputy through nine parties. He was elected President of the Republic with a speech that articulated positions against politics, corruption and leftism; the reduction of the age of criminal responsibility, the defense of legal security in police activities; the arming of good citizens; the defense of Christian family values; and an ultra-neoliberal agenda in economic terms. His first year and a half of government has been characterized by an environment of institutional instability, with accusations of corruption against his family clan, ministerial changes, strong conflicts with the Supreme Court and the presidency of the Chamber and Senate, expansion of the number of military personne