‘Donald Trump of Brazil’ Runs for President
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s bombastic, homophobic, sexist, and dictatorship-defending presidential candidate is rising in the polls. Mike Fox reports from Brazil
MICHAEL FOX: This is Jair Bolsonaro. He has been called the Donald Trump of Brazil. He is one of the country’s most controversial political figures, and he’s rising in the polls for the 2018 elections.
JAIR BOLSONARO: You’re going to face an army captain, an extremely strong presidential candidate in 2018. You can be sure of that.
MICHAEL FOX: Under the dictatorship, he served as a captain in the Brazilian military, and he’s been a congressional representative for the state of Rio de Janeiro since the early ‘90s. But mostly, he’s been known for his bombastic homophobic, xenophobic, racist and sexist rhetoric.
TALITA TANSCHEIT: He is in the extreme of the right-wing in Brazil. He belongs to a family that was in favor of the dictatorship and even now they are in favor of military intervention in Brazil, and stuff like that, they are in favor of torture. They are against the rights of women, LGBT people, Black people. All of these things together, you put this in a bag and you have Bolsonaro.
MICHAEL FOX: The Intercept published an article about him in 2014 titled “The most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world.” It highlighted a laundry list of his most egregious remarks, including telling a fellow lawmaker that “she didn’t deserve to be raped.” And that he would rather have his son die in a car accident than be gay.
He’s been fined for his comments. He’s defended the dictatorship, applauded the killing of landless workers, and carries a gun. He’s promised to fight violence with violence.
And his support is growing amid the country’s worst financial recession ever and a massive on-going corruption investigation that has already taken down dozens of top political figures.
PROF. CELI PINTO: The Bolsonaro phenomenon isn’t that different from the Trump phenomenon or the Emmanuel Macron phenomenon. You have a crisis in the political system, a rejection of the political system, of the political parties, of the political elites — The Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton — and the appearance of an outsider. And the outsider is someone that doesn’t respect the politics. Trump disrespected every possible rule of the political norm in the United States.
MICHAEL FOX: Of course, Bolsonaro is no real estate tycoon. He’s also not new to Brazilian politics. But for most of his career he’s been on the fringe far-right, vehemently defending the military, security, and so-called ‘family values.’
JAIR BOLSONARO: We’re tired of the politically correct. We’re tired of disastrous human rights policies.”
MICHAEL FOX: He’s admitted to knowing little about the economy, although he supports a neoliberal agenda of lower taxes and free trade.
Over the last 26 years, he’s been a member of 7 different minor political parties. The latest, the Social Christian Party, controls less than 3% of the seats in the lower house. But he also belongs to the country’s powerful “bullets, beef and bible” caucus, uniting large landowners with evangelicals, and a growing gun lobby.
And he’s the favorite of the far-right Tea Party-style Brazilian movement that has been organizing over social media and which hit the streets against president Dilma Rousseff in 2015.
TALITA TANSCHEIT: Bolsonaro is dangerous, because he could be elected, not because Brazil has become a fascist country. It could turn into an extremely conservative country, but people’s attraction with Bolsonaro is that he is anti-political, anti-party, anti-corruption, and chauvinistic. He tries to be macho and violent. Bolsonaro is very dangerous, because he could become a very popular leader, particularly if Brazil’s only other popular leader, Lula, can’t run.
MICHAEL FOX: His supporters are fanatical, already calling him a legend.
He’s popular for the same reasons Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. election: He says what he wants to, has backed the use of violence, and he’s not afraid to stick it to the traditional political class, or anyone else.
This resonates with a reactionary population that is both fed up with the on-going corruption and disgusted with a decade of Workers Party policies that sought to lift millions out of poverty and fight discrimination of traditionally marginalized communities. Bolsonaro is most popular among the rich.
Former Workers Party president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is leading in the polls for next year’s elections, but he was recently convicted of corruption. If it is not overturned, he could be barred from running for office. That could open the door for Brazil’s Donald Trump, who is both loved and despised for the same reasons: His complete disregard for ethics, respect for others, and the status quo.
Could Bolsonaro win the 2018 elections if Lula is forced out?
Many analysts believe so. The question is if Brazil’s elites, financial sector, and corporate media would allow it. And if grassroots movements on the Left can stop it.