Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Brazil on Wednesday to take part in the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as that country’s 42nd president. And while Nikki Haley may no longer be Trump’s mouthpiece at the United Nations, she’s still hurrying to proclaim her support for the new far-right ruler, tweeting that “it’s great to have another US-friendly leader” in South America.
But what Pompeo and Haley are celebrating isn’t a new birth of democracy in Brazil: It’s democracy’s decline at the hands of someone who isn’t U.S.-friendly but is very definitely Trump-friendly. As The Guardian reports, Bolsonaro’s inaugural address included promises to liberate his country from “socialism, inverted values, the bloated state, and political correctness.” Bolsonaro enters office on a platform of not-at-all disguised fascism, promising to provide guns to “good citizens,” to reverse improvements in women’s rights and end laws against racism, and to slash environmental regulations—and the rainforest—while removing protections for indigenous peoples. Bolsonaro has not only pointed to Donald Trump as a role model but extolled the kind of vigilante “justice” practiced under Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte.
Like all would-be dictators, Bolsonaro needs a scapegoat for his country’s failings—and he’s found them. In addition to attacks on people of color, as PinkNews reports, the new president says he is “homophobic and proud of it,” going so far as to say that if he found out his son was gay, he would be unable to love him and would rather he died. Throughout his campaign, Bolsonaro threatened gay people, comparing them to pedophiles. The idea that he will not only remove any protection for LGBT citizens but encourage persecution isn’t a secret. It’s a central theme.
Protections for Brazil’s indigenous population, along with LGBT rights, aren’t secured by law, but protected by regulations through the ministry of human rights. Bolsonaro has promised not to simply roll back those regulations, but to abolish the entire ministry. As The Guardian reports, Bolsonaro is replacing the ministry with a newly created “family values” ministry headed by an evangelical preacher who openly declared that “It is time for the church to govern.”
Bolsonaro is launching a government founded on hatred for LGBT people and people of color, repression of women, destruction of the environment, open praise for military dictatorships, and jailing of political opponents. It’s no wonder that he and Trump share a mutual love. And it’s no wonder that the Huffington Post considers Bolsonaro the test case for how modern democracies fall to fascist dictators.
While he has pitched his surge to power as the result of a “populist” revolt, his base of support mirrors that of the old coup masters: wealthy financial elites, segments of the population willing to trade the rights and lives of the poor and marginalized for their own safety and economic prosperity, and traditional parties and politicians who refuse to acknowledge their own roles in creating the monster before folding themselves into his arms.
Bolsonaro has declared that he will “cleanse” Brazil of his political opponents. As one of his first actions, he has canceled an environmental conference that was to be hosted by Brazil. It’s a safe bet that Donald Trump will soon have company in defying the Paris agreement, as Bolsonaro has said he won’t let the environment stand in the way of Brazil’s economy and that he will open previously protected regions to mining, logging, and agriculture. He will “value” Indians by taking away their lands and forcing them into the cities.
“More than 15% of the national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and Quilombolas. Fewer than 1 million people live in these isolated places of real Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. We will together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.” — Jair Bolsonaro
In a cluster of nationalist leaders riding into office on a wave of economic and environmental unrest, Bolsonaro represents the greatest threat. Brazil isn’t some small state: it’s the fourth-largest democracy in the world, one that was hard-won after struggles against military dictatorships. And the institutions in Brazil leave more power in the hands of the president than in the United States, opening Bolsonaro to indulge his hatred and enact revenge against opponents in ways that make Trump’s mouth water.
Bolsonaro is a proud racist. A proud misogynist. A proud homophobe. A proud anti-environmentalist. A proud supporter of holding power through violence.
And a proud friend of Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, and Nikki Haley.