Jair Bolsonaro’s election to the Brazilian presidency represents a four-decade political regression for the nation.
Since the 2016 primaries, many Americans have criticized the toxic nature of contemporary American politics. This criticism usually focuses on President Trump, for obvious reasons. The man has gone beyond dog whistling to stoke his base and is now just peddling blatantly racist and anti-semitic conspiracy theories, specifically one alleging Democratic donor George Soros of connections to the migrant caravan in Mexico. If the violence of last week — the attempted bombings, racist hate crimes and synagogue shooting specifically — teach us anything, it’s that American politics is barreling down a path of violence and hate. However, compared to the last few months in Brazilian politics, ours does not begin to compare.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil, riding a wave of public disdain for the corruption and weakness of the country’s incumbent government. That context has given Bolsonaro cover for taking hardline stances that fly in the face of everything the post-war order has tried to build, such as democratic systems immune to radical insurgencies.
For example, media outlets have labeled Bolsonaro a “populist” or even “outsider,” but those labels dance around the most accurate label for the former congressman: fascist. Bolsonaro has talked candidly about the need to fix Brazil’s crime problem, which became a crisis of catastrophic proportions in 2016. However, his plan to fix the influx of criminality involves arming certain citizens and breaking down a system based on the rule of law.
He has also vowed to label certain kinds of political dissent as criminal acts and has proposed giving police the authority to kill those suspected of being criminals. What the president-elect wants to do would amount to martial law, but all of these plans pale in comparison to the former army captain’s most controversial stance.
Brazil is entering its third decade as a democracy after spending much of the 20th century under the kind of military rule that dominated post-colonial Latin America. Those times have long been seen as disgraceful in the history of a nation that has risen to become the fifth-largest country in the world by population and the economic powerhouse of Latin America.
Bolsonaro represents a belief that the days of dictatorship were better, and that a return to that kind of anti-democratic regime is preferable to the violence of Brazil in 2018. However, Bolsonaro does not just want to take Brazil back to a time when the generals and commanders ruled supreme; he wants things to go even further.
In an interview, he was quoted as saying, “Elections won’t change anything in this country. It will only change on the day that we break out in civil war here and do the job that the military regime didn’t do: killing 30,000. If some innocent people die, that’s fine. In every war, innocent people die.”
This statement could have come from Germany, Italy or Japan in the 1930s, but some still refuse to call Bolsonaro out for what he is: a man hell-bent on asserting autocratic rule long thought impossible in a liberal democracy. Yet Bolsonaro has been keen on making Donald Trump approve of his campaign.
Bolsonaro has emulated and praised the current president of the United States, and little else is required to stay in the good graces of a narcissist. Trump has been making enemies of what should be his closest allied leaders, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Nieto of Canada and Mexico, respectively. With the rise of someone who seems to admire his style, Trump will likely again disgrace the country by aligning us with what our friends in Europe will have no problem labeling a fascist.