Opinion – José Manuel Diogo: Insults in politics have become a resource for those who want visibility at any cost

Opinion – José Manuel Diogo: Insults in politics have become a resource for those who want visibility at any cost

The insult in politics is something relatively common, used many times by public men and women —and even with remarkable literary quality. It is part of political art and, when used with irony and intelligence, it came to produce beautiful phrases that have endured in history.

Once, the Portuguese writer and diplomat Eça de Queiroz, addressing the president of the Portuguese government, deliciously accused: “Your Excellency’s government will not fall, because it is not a building. It has to go out with benzine —because it is a stain!”.

In English, further north, another politician and also a writer —who even won the Nobel Prize for Literature—, the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, once answered accurately in Parliament to a deputy who accused him of being drunk in the session: ” It’s true, but you’re ugly, and tomorrow I’ll be sober.”

Pearls of intelligence, able to simultaneously stay in time and hurt the opponent’s integrity. They are far more effective than any of those basic swear words, the only thing today’s politicians seem to be able to say.

The insult was simplified. It has become impoverished, generalized and is everywhere —on the internet, on social media, on cell phone conversation apps—, but it is little more than loose garbage thrown by those who want to have a response and gain public visibility at any cost.

As most politicians have lost the elegance of the past, the modesty of the present and the shame of the future, this is all they are capable of producing. Unaccustomed to reading, they act as if an idea were not the seed of something yet to begin, but itself already its defunct fruit.

Today, a parliamentary exchange of arguments takes up half a dozen words. It is made of small titles, smaller than tweets. Immediate and close words, capable of producing an effect in the next moment. It is heartbreaking to watch many deputies, senators and other tribunes insult each other using childish monosyllables.

Last week, a new generation Portuguese politician, who happens to be from the ultra-right —opportunism doesn’t choose sides, it’s luck that determines it—, wanted to become internationally famous by taking advantage of the condemnation that Parliament made to the attacks in Brasília: he called “bandit” to the president of Brazil.

It is true that, in democracy, the position that this deputy occupies in the Portuguese Legislative, representing the Portuguese people, gives him this opportunity. But, as they say in Portuguese lands, it is also the opportunity that makes the villain.

As the meaning of the insult is not the object of this text, but rather highlights the Franciscan poverty of those who produce it, the author is condemned to the worst punishment he can have: leaving him anonymous.

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