Bolsonaro Gets His Trump Moment

A riot in the halls of power fueled by false claims of election fraud perpetuated by a defeated right-wing populist with autocratic tendencies.

I’m not talking about January 6, 2021, in Washington D.C. Rather, I’m talking about January 8, 2023, in Brasília, where thousands of Jair Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brazil’s Congress and government buildings.

According to various reports and social media posts, protesters set carpets ablaze in Brazil’s lower house, attacked and robbed photographers, broke windows at the Supreme Court, beat police officers with poles and barricaded the presidential offices, in what one excited participant who livestreamed the melee called “a historic moment.”

Bolsonaro, like Donald Trump, spent years casting doubt on Brazil’s electoral processes. And, like Trump, he refused to concede after failing to secure a second term.

In October, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva bested Bolsonaro in a hotly contested runoff. The election capped a wild roundtrip for Lula, a quintessential political known quantity who went from an 80% presidential approval rating to a jail cell back to the presidency in the short span of a dozen years. Lula is synonymous with persecution or corruption, depending on your politics. As with all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Bolsonaro’s tenure was predictable. He wielded power in Brazil much like the would-be dictator that he is, and generally retained his reputation as an unapologetic misogynist, racist and everything-phobe. He was brash, he was divisive and, like Trump, he made a point of being on the “wrong” side of nearly every important debate.

Bolsonaro’s pandemic policies were widely decried as reckless (in July of 2020, after recovering from a bout with the virus, he posted a picture of himself with a box of hydroxychloroquine on social media) and he presided over mass deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, to name two examples from a comically long list of complaints. He has, again and again, demonized academia, castigated the free press, criticized the country’s high court and insisted that left-wing politics poses an existential threat to liberty and traditional values.

But Bolsonaro’s calling card became election conspiracies. In October, The New York Times published an exhaustive account of a yearslong effort to undermine faith in the country’s electoral system. The parallels to Trump are uncanny even if you’re familiar with the tale.

“His proof has centered on apparent abnormalities in the voting process and results, often presented without attribution, and he has framed hypothetical scenarios of fraud as far more probable than they are,” the Times wrote. “As Bolsonaro has gained power and fame, his claims have been amplified by members of Brazil’s Congress, conservative pundits and his adult sons, as well as a broader network of misinformation peddlers.” Bolsonaro also claimed the 2018 election was rigged against him, despite having won. That too should sound familiar to Americans.

Given the Trump facsimile, it’s hardly surprising the end result for Brazil was the same as it was for America.

Lula, in a live address to the nation on Sunday, said he was on his way back to Brasília from São Paulo to survey the damage done by rioters. He blamed Bolsonaro’s rhetoric for the violence and announced an emergency decree as soldiers made their way into the presidential offices and helicopters fired tear-gas at protestors.

Bolsonaro wasn’t present for his Trump moment. He’s in Orlando, renting a house from a professional MMA fighter just down the street from Disney World, and a mere three-hour drive from Mar-a-Lago.


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One thought on “Bolsonaro Gets His Trump Moment

  1. Guess we’ll be able to compare how Brazil does at bringing ringleaders and organizers to justice…two years from now will be a good comparison point…

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