Searching For a Hero Like Trump The Parallels of Right-Wing Politics in Brazil and the United States
The arrest of Brazil’s former president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. As a result of his twelve-year sentence for taking part in one of the biggest corruption scandals in Brazil’s history, Lula’s arrest opened the window for the opposing political party to rise to the occasion. The Social Liberal Party’s (PSL) candidate Jair Bolsonaro has done just that: garnering support for his far-right policies and winning the presidential election with a huge margin of victory. His election is the first election of a candidate with far-right views since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985. Bolsonaro’s rise parallels that of U.S. President Donald Trump. Both candidates campaigned on fixing a broken political system and gained support around general dissatisfaction with the political status quo. In fact, pundits often refer to Bolsonaro as the “Trump of the Tropics”. With Trump in the White House and Bolsonaro at the helm in Brasilia, there exists the possibility of even stronger relations between the United States and Brazil on many fronts. However, with a right-wing president in charge of the world’s 8th largest economy, it should be questioned how the international community should respond to his ideas and the policies he wishes to advance. The international community should also be aware of how these election results will affect other nations whose elections are fast approaching especially in Latin America.
Despite Bolsonaro’s clear win over his competitor Fernando Haddad, his support base was not always so widespread. The left-wing Workers Party (PT) - of which Lula and his successor, the impeached President Dilma Rousseff were members - was highly supported amongst Brazilians until the revelation of rampant government corruption under the so-called Operation Car Wash: a string of scandals involving the state-owned oil company Petrobras accepting bribes from contracting firms in exchanged for inflated prices as well as the left-wing Workers Party using funds in order to pay for the votes of politicians in order to strengthen their political campaign. Despite the numerous arrests, Lula’s charismatic personality, charm, and past political accomplishments and promises placed the corruption accusations on the back burner. When Lula entered office in 2002, it marked a turning point for a country where the political elite was controlled by upper-class white people despite more than half of the population being comprised of minorities and people below the poverty line. As a self-proclaimed “leader for the people,” he proclaimed “hope has finally defeated fear and the people have decided it [was] time to pave new roads,” in his inaugural speech. Similarly, Barack Obama’s election in the United States marked a turning point in a country that had only seen white presidents. He proclaimed that “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Both leaders marked the possibility of change for marginalized communities.
The Workers’ Party, both during Lula’s and his successor’s, made accomplishments that cannot go unnoticed. According to the left-leaning magazine The New Republic, some of the Worker’s Party greatest accomplishments include the establishment of different programs such as affirmative action policies which increased the attendance and retention rate of students at national universities, as well as the largest cash transfer program which gives families living under the poverty line a stable income as long as parents invest in their children’s education and health by ensuring attendance at school and regular visit respectively. Programs such as these elevated about forty million Brazilians above the poverty line. Brazil’s selection as the host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and Rio de Janeiro’s selection as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a first for South America, signaled a dramatic improvement in the economic and political stature of the county. However, this boom was constructed on the shaky ground. Many large-scale development projects suffered significant pitfalls from pollution, crumbling infrastructure, and protests against government spending. These problems began to shed light on the poor practices and corruption within the Worker’s Party and its leaders.
Until recently, Jair Bolsonaro remained on the sidelines, waiting for the right opportunity to appear. As a Congressman for the State of Rio De Janeiro, Bolsonaro made his political opinions clear in different interviews across Brazilian media. He once told a fellow female politician “I would not rape you because you are not worthy of it;” another controversial comment he made is “the lightest Afro-descendent there weighed seven ‘arrobas’. They don’t do anything. They are not even good for procreation.” Despite these, his most controversial opinions lie on how he believes Brazil should be run. In a 1999 TV interview when asked about what changes he make if he was elected president, he responded with ideas such as “closing Congress” and bringing about change through a “civil war.” His consistent voice in politics allowed him to create a ground of support before announcing his candidacy.
Bolsonaro’s current policies are parallel to Trump’s policies in the United States. Bolsonaro’s most important policy (and most unique compared to other candidates) is ‘law and order.’ Being an ex-army captain, he believes in order to combat the rising violence is to decrease restrictions on gun laws and give police officers bonuses for the more criminals they kill. This policy platform has been the driving force behind Brazilian’s support for Bolsonaro.
Another policy reform he wishes to implement are environmental policies specifically within the Amazon. Bolsonaro has the desire to build a highway through the Amazon rainforest, which is vital for the filtration of carbon dioxide for the earth’s atmosphere. With the intention as well to pull out of the Paris Climate agreement, this leads to the second parallel made between US and Brazil politics. Both candidates take on a moral position in the political reformation and use hot topics such as environmental regulations and law order as the basis for their campaigns. In times where many people craved change, Bolsonaro and Trump rose to the political sphere by being outspoken candidates making promises and statements the electorate wanted to hear from their political leaders who felt out by recent liberal administrations. Many Brazilians, especially the elite, have greatly supported this change of political figure in Brazil.
Bolsonaro represents hope for a Brazil that has been suffering numerous problems. At a rally for Bolsonaro supporters, individuals such as mother Cibley Lopes believe Bolsonaro is “the future of this country...He represents hope.” Brazil has undergone so much turmoil that some individuals are willing to support any candidate that is not of the Workers Party. Many individuals like Lopes are among the group of white elite who are rallying behind Bolsonaro for a new Brazil; these individuals are also of the belief that Bolsonaro is a leader for all people, marginalized or not. In some ways similar to Bolsonaro, the supporters of Trump are primarily either one of two groups of people: educated or uneducated white individuals. Both groups of citizens are unhappy with the political status quo and wish for a hero to emerge from the ashes of despair and turmoil. Since Bolsonaro has such similar policies with President Trump in the United States, the established relationship between Brazil and the United States will most likely only strengthen. While it may seem beneficial for both of these countries to engage in even more bilateral deals, it is important to recognize and address the response from the international community.
Before Bolsonaro was elected and The Working Party was primarily in office beforehand and the United States and Brazil already had a strong and stable relationship. According to the United States’ State Department, Brazil is US’s second largest trading partner. Besides economic trade benefits such as these, the United States has invested in Brazil through educational, technological, and their space program which had yielded positive results. All of the investments the United States has made in Brazil simply proves that Brazil needs the United States more than the United States needs Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s election is yet another wake-up call for the international community with regards to the rise of right-wing politics. The parallels between Brazil and the United States shows the rising right-wing politics specifically in Latin America. If more countries such as Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia follow the path of Brazil it would not only affect the relationships of developed countries but will change the identity of Latin America politics.