Editorial: Bolsonaro threatens democracy


Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons

Then-deputy Jair Bolsonaro argued with Maria do Rosario during a general commission in the Chamber of Deputies while discussing violence against women.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

The latest democratically elected president has been accused of belittling women and minorities, has a strong social media presence and wants to make his country “great” — and he isn’t President Donald Trump.

Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected president of Brazil on Oct. 28., was a military officer and a congressman before he rode a wave of far-right populism to become the country’s most conservative politician since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985. His election follows the recent rise to power of right-wing nationalists in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary and the United States, among others — a threat to democracy that can only be fixed by engaging in our democracies.

A fear of many in and outside of Brazil is that Bolsonaro is an elected dictator — that he’s a danger to the democracy that allowed him to rise to power in the first place. He was a loud supporter of the military dictatorship that ruled between 1964 and 1985, and he outright dismissed the idea of democracy at the same time he called for the assassination of then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

“Through voting, nothing will change in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing,” Bolsonaro said in a 1999 interview. “It will only change, unfortunately, on the day a civil war breaks out here and does the job that the military regime didn’t do … Innocent people will die, OK, but in every war, innocents die.”

This complete lack of concern or respect for human lives is also evident in his politics. Regarding congresswoman Maria do Rosario of Brazil’s lower house, Bolsonaro claimed he wouldn’t sexually assault her because “she is very ugly.” He has degraded the descendants of runaway slaves and he has called immigrants the “scum of the earth.”

The British media has taken to calling him the “Trump of the Tropics.”

Brazil — like the United States — is one of many countries worldwide that have elected far-right, xenophobic leaders in the past few years. Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia have all experienced surges in support for populist parties, along with a decrease in public support for democracies. This trend should be cause for alarm.

Far-right Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has managed to gain a firm, authoritarian influence over his party, the judiciary and the media. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used xenophobic fears to win the vote and has gotten rid of almost all checks on his power. And the Law and Justice party in Poland has worked to gain control of all levels of the country’s independent judiciary.

All of these politicians have two commonalities — they all pander the same far-right, nationalistic visions of their countries, and they all used fear of outsiders and minorities to win their elections. Now, their citizens are paying for their choices in the form of decreased civil liberties and democracies that look more and more like dictatorships.

Leaders and parties that exercise dictator-like control over the governments to which they were elected pose an intense, immediate threat to democracy worldwide. Civil liberties, freedom of the press and global security are at stake. But there is something we can do to stop this trend.

We need to vote against those who would try and use fears to gain power. Because the only way to save democracy is to participate in democracy and vote those who would destroy it out of office.