On October 7th, Brazil joined the list of countries that have elected representatives with authoritarian tendencies. The newest sensation among global extremist right-wing groups is Jair Bolsonaro — also known infamously as “Brazil’s Trump.” At the beginning of Bolsonaro’s campaign, any notion of his victory was used as a punch line. Despite that, a series of scandals propelled him into the Presidential seat with 55.2 percent of the popular vote. Bolsonaro relied on a populist platform garnished with xenophobic, misogynistic, autocratic and homophobic comments. A corruption scandal that resulted in the imprisonment of Brazil’s previous beloved president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Bolsonaro’s stabbing at one of his own rallies allowed the candidate to gain traction. Beyond his polarizing campaign, Bolsonaro is a real threat to the institution of democracy. Throughout his political career, the former army captain has praised, countless times, Brazil’s former brutal military dictatorship.
The victory of another candidate with totalitarian proclivities is not an isolated event. He resembles Trump in more ways than in his controversial comments — Bolsonaro also shares a disregard for basic human rights. He has not supported policies that lock toddlers in cages, but Bolsonaro is not opposed to the idea of executing citizens who oppose his government. His violent disposition is frighteningly similar to the brutality of the president of the Phillippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Contrary to Trump, Duterte has had free reign over the island through his infamous “War on Drugs.” Duterte vowed to end the drug trade, but his carnage seems to be primarily targeted at his critics, opponents of his policies and also minority groups. Duterte has openly stated that he has no regard for human rights and this is evidenced by the ever-growing number of killings made under his command. Duterte was also elected on a populist platform and deeply troubling opinions that ranged from vowing to kill his own son, to blaming beautiful women for the predominance of rapes in the Phillippines.
The disgusting rhetoric that these three individuals prefer is not bounded to rallies and TV appearances. Duterte serves as an example of the bloodshed that someone in power can unleash without a proper system of checks and balances. Unlike the United States, these two nations are new to democracy after decades of totalitarian governments. For them, the Constitution has not enjoyed the status of the Supreme Law of the Land for more than two centuries. Therefore, the strength of Brazil’s judicial and legislative branches will be tested by Bolsonaro’s policies and, for the sake of the population, I hope they will persevere.
Brazil’s election should be taken as a symptom of a developing global disease. During the past decades, we have witnessed the propagation of autocratic ideology disguised as populism. Even the United States, the oldest democracy in history, has fallen prey to its enticing rhetoric. The protection of freedom and human rights should remain as a main priority around the world, especially as vulnerable democracies such as the Phillippines and Brazil elect individuals who have blatantly demonstrated their tyrannical nature throughout the campaign trail. Democracy cannot be taken for granted and certain rhetoric is rooted in a very dangerous ideology that pursues power above the well-being of a population. It is vital for voters to distinguish what is truly being said by politicians, rather than dismiss it as “hyperbolic language.” History has proven that lies and inflammatory rhetoric are warning signs of a brewing dictatorship.