Between insulting immigrants, disparaging women and questioning climate science, experts say 'comparisons with Trump are, if anything, 'under-blown'
UNITED NATIONS — Brazilian voters hung their hopes on a populist savior in closely-watched weekend elections, sweeping firebrand personality Jair Bolsonaro into the presidential office in a move that has human rights activists and those fearful of a return to authoritarianism on edge.
“In my opinion, the comparison to Trump is under-blown,” Cesar Zucco Jr., an associate professor at the Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration, said.
Bolsonaro, a legislator and former military officer, campaigned on his own version of Trump’s “America First” slogan and eagerly embraces the term “fake news” to describe critical press coverage.
The comparisons with Trump don’t end there. Bolsonaro has publicly mocked women and their appearance — once telling a female lawmaker that, “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it” — mocked minority groups, threatened to jail his political opponents and warned that immigrants are eroding Brazilian culture.
And like Trump, Bolsonaro nevertheless won support from Brazil’s religious right, earning the endorsements of prominent evangelical leaders in the run up to a first round of elections in early October.
But to many, Bolsonaro’s most concerning trait is a lack of concern about Brazil’s nascent political checks and balances, implemented in the late 1980’s as the country tried to shake off two decades of military rule.
“He’s declared before many times that there was no authoritarian regime — that this was a movement, not a coup, in 1964 — that there was no torture and that there were no political prisoners,” Daniela Campello, a professor of politics at the Fundação Getulio Vargas think tank, said.
In addition to the president-elect downplaying Brazil’s past military rule, observers worry Brazil is taking another authoritarian turn: More incoming legislators will be former military officers or former federal police than at any point since the end of military rule.
“If you add up the importance of the state, his very radical discourse and the fact that he is from the military and surrounded by military people, I would say that we have a lot of things to worry about, maybe even more than Americans have to worry about Trump,” Zucco Jr. said.
As in the U.S., where Trump’s detractors fear an erosion of democratic norms and institutions more than his supporters, Campello said backers of Bolsonaro seem less phased by his potentially authoritarian tendencies:
“Support for democracy in Brazil goes hand in hand with economic performance. So to me, it seems like there’s a big, big danger that not only you see the elites accepting some kind of authoritarian discourse, but also the fact that people are supporting this because they’re so fed up with politics.”