Over the last 30 years, Brazil has transitioned from dictatorship to shaky democracy, raising hopes that the country would soon be able to economically compete with other developed countries on the world stage. With the presidential election of Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday, the progress of the world's 4th largest democracy seems to have stalled. Bolsonaro is a far-right, pro-gun, pro-torture politician who gained 55.1% of votes after a deeply divisive election cycle.
The new Brazilian president is a 63-year-old former military paratrooper who promised Brazilians he would crush corruption, crime, and a supposed communist threat if elected to the presidency. Bolsonaro was an extremely polarizing candidate who has spoken against women, gay people, Brazilians of color, and even democracy — the New York Times reports that he once said, "Let's go straight to the dictatorship," while serving as a congressman. Given the fascistic nature of his views, he struggled to find a running mate until early August.
But despite early obstacles, Bolsonaro convinced much of Brazil that his extremist views hold merit. After the election results came out, Bolsonaro continued to refer to the democracy of Brazil as a communist state, saying, "We cannot continue flirting with communism … We are going to change the destiny of Brazil."
Bolsonaro's leftist opponent, Fernando Haddad, who gained 44.8% of the vote, urged Brazilians not to give up hope. "We will continue with our heads held high, with determination and with courage," he said. "We have a lifelong commitment to this country and we will not allow this country to go backwards."
But Bolsonaro has international support, as well. The White House confirmed that President Trump called Bolsonaro to congratulate him, and Trump later tweeted, saying,
Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a subs… https://t.co/zq4N2zvF65— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1540816088.0
Many fear that Bolsonaro's election is a symptom of the same world-wide swing to the political right that resulted in Trump's election in the United States, as well as other shifts towards extreme conservative values like those seen in the UK during the Brexit decision. Bolsonaro's election coincides with the former progressive president's failure to stymie an uptick in Brazilian street violence over the last couple of years.
Consequently and effectively, Bolsonaro's campaign strategy was to promise militaristic strength, something that apparently spoke to a frightened Brazil. It becomes difficult not to see the similarities between the events in Brazil and America's 2016 election, wherein voters chose contextless nostalgia and fascist rhetoric over progress. The Brazilian election serves as yet another lesson for champions of democracy and progressivism: fear is a powerful tool that allows politics to default to the mob. If people don't feel safe, all thoughts of equal rights and social justice become second priority.