A man who makes Donald Trump look like a bleeding-heart liberal will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president. Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the Brazilian presidential election, with twelve other candidates running. Fernando Haddad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 percent.
Haddad, who leads the socialist Workers’ Party, will pick up most of the voters whose first-choice candidates have fallen by the wayside, but Bolsonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the second round. Game over, in more ways than one.
Trump and Bolsonaro are populists cut from the same cloth. They both depend heavily on social media and on the support of evangelical Christians. They both oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for minorities, and drug liberalisation. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his political advantage – he once supported most of those policies – whereas Bolsonaro has always belonged to the hard right.
Trump is an instinctive authoritarian who chafes at the restrictions of the US constitution, but does not attack it directly. Bolsonaro praises the “glorious” period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which he served as an army officer, and claims that its only error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.” (It did, actually. At least 434 leftists were killed after being tortured.)
Trump is a racist, but he talks to his overwhelmingly white ‘base’ in dog-whistle code. Last year Bolsonaro said that the members of black rural settlements founded by the descendants of slaves “don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more.” No dog whistle there.
Trump pulled the US out of the climate change treaty, and Bolsonaro wants Brazil to do the same. But Bolsonaro also wants to privatise and ‘develop’ the entire Amazon: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves.”
Trump, like Bolsonaro, backs loose gun ownership laws. Both men want to bring the death penalty back (it never went away in some US states). Both men consider torture to be, as Bolsonaro puts it, a “legitimate practice.” But Bolsonaro also says that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”
Trump is a sexist who was once caught boasting on tape about “grabbing pussy”, but mostly avoids such language in public. Bolsonaro told a woman member of Congress that “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men because they get pregnant, and said that he had a daughter in “a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.
Trump is an undisciplined narcissist who claims to be a tough negotiator, but will generally roll over if you throw him a few concessions and let him declare a ‘victory’. (Consider the new North American free trade agreement, for example.) His famously short attention span disqualifies him as an aspiring dictator even if he were that way inclined.
Bolsonaro, however, is a serious man. He has made a former general, Hamilton Mourão, his running mate, and promises to fill his cabinet with other generals. In a recent video produced by Haddad, he can be seen arguing: “You won’t change anything in this country through voting…You’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000….If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”
Bolsonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for obvious reasons, but there is no reason to believe that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 million people may be in for some nasty surprises – and beyond the country’s borders Bolsonaro’s presidency will encourage neo-fascists and would-be military dictators in other Latin American countries.
That’s the real concern, and it extends to other continents too. The wave of non-violent revolutions that spread democracy to every part of the world (including Brazil) in the past few decades seems to have gone into reverse.
In some countries, like Thailand and Egypt, the generals are openly back in power. In others, like Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines, ‘illiberal democracies’ run by strongmen have replaced the genuine article. Even in long established democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy the nationalists and populists dominate the political scene.
There are some counter-currents, of course. Mexico, the other Latin American giant, is getting its first ever left-wing government this year. Hard right challenges to the established democratic order have been fended off in France, Germany and the Netherlands. But the tide is running strongly in the other direction.
How bad will it get, and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one suspects. The world is not yet heading back towards big great-power war, but we are entering the last critical decade before climate change overwhelms us with a growing number of governments that are not only potentially violent but militantly ignorant.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“Trump…policeman”; and “There are…direction”)