Jair Bolsonaro was elected into power to serve as Brazil’s President on January 1, 2019. While the brief amount of time since his Presidency began limits Bolsonaro’s role thus far in forming new policies, it does not limit the global concern about the destruction which his leadership has the capacity to inflict on the nation. There is a legitimate fear that under the leadership of Bolsonaro, the country is at risk of facing democratic erosion.
Bolsonaro falls under the classification of a right-wing Populist leader. As such, a key characterization of his presidential platform is pitting the hardworking upper and middle classes against the “unmotivated” bottom tier of Brazilian society. A tactic common to right-wing Populism is the increasing polarization and discrimination against the society’s minority members portraying them as socio-economic leeches. In the case of Brazil, Bolsonaro has publicly targeted minorities such as the country’s LGBTQ community, being incredibly vocal that “[Bolsonaro] would rather his son die, than come out as a gay man.”
Additionally, Bolsonaro is also targeting the Afro-Brazilian minority. Not only does Bolsonaro’s attacks on the Afro-Brazilian community encourage polarization and discrimination against minorities, it also promotes suppression of civil society. Civil society is instrumental in the sustenance of democracy and basic human rights, however in Brazil, such rights are in jeopardy. Bolsonaro has publicly, and proudly, exposed his racist and discriminatory beliefs. He openly announced that due to the fact that “Africans themselves handed over the slaves,” Brazil is in no way inclined to do their Afro-Brazilian citizens any favors. Building upon this statement, Bolsonaro has also openly expressed his intentions as President to renounce Brazil’s affirmative action policies with the awareness that this would cause the deepening of the racial discrimination and inequality. Such a removal of policy reform would have lasting effects long after Bolsonaro’s presidency concludes. The social and political progress of Brazil thus far as a democracy which harbors basic civil rights for all members of society would be broken indefinitely.
Yet another trait of Bolsonaro which characterizes him as an anti-democratic leader is his anti-pluralist stance. Not only is Bolsonaro’s anti-pluralist nature evident through his denial of Afro-Brazilians as free and equal citizens of Brazil; Bolsonaro has also openly praised and idealized authoritarianism through his fondness for the last Brazilian military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985. There is clear evidence which indicates that during this military dictatorship, the regime was responsible for countless human rights violations such as the killing and torturing of more than 400 individuals, including former President Dilma Rousseff. Bolsonaro’s idealization of such an authoritarian regime is in and of itself inherently anti-democratic.
Citizens of Brazil should be weary of the polarization and political destruction that Bolsonaro’s leadership has the capacity to inflict on the nation. Such damage to the Brazilian democracy would have effects which far outlive the Presidency of Bolsonaro. Such erosion would require decades of democratic policymaking and social regrowth in order to repair the democratic backslide which Bolsonaro has the ability to foster.
Photo by Tamis Souza, “Waving Brazilian Flag” (Pexels), Creative Commons Zero License.
Eugenia Alvares Affonso
Interesting post and well structured argument. As a Brazilian person myself, I have been following very closely Brazilian’s opinions on Bolsonaro and his policies especially through social media and I can assure that, unfortunately, many people didn’t notice back in the electoral campaign period and still haven’t noticed how his election poses a clear threat to Brazilian democracy. While I must recognize that Education rates in Brazil are low, resulting on a lack of critical sense and skepticism on the part of many Brazilians, there are a lot of educated people too who stick with the argument that Brazilian democracy will prevail regardless of Bolsonaro’s actions because of our democratic institutions and the Federal Constitution. However, they fail to understand that there are some unwritten democratic norms that must be respected otherwise neither democratic institutions or the Constitution can prevent democratic backsliding from happening.
You do a great job here of explaining Bolsonaro’s status as a right-wing populist – especially how he has pitted class against class throughout his rise to power. While right-wing populist leaders in so many world nations have been compared to President Trump – it is interesting to see just how well Bolsonaro fits the bill compared to all the others. Like Trump, he has already been embroiled in a national scandal involving members of his immediate family just like President Trump. Separately, you discuss many of Bolsonaro’s controversial statements and proposals – but I argue that his actions in office are already eroding democracy. His appointment of an undeserving, incredibly partisan judge as national Justice Minister will threaten the legitimacy of Bolsonaro’s future opponents and could allow for authoritarian action to be taken against dissidents and opposition to his Social Liberal Party. That judge already jailed a popular politician of a different party before Bolsonaro’s rise to power. With him in office? The Justice Minister is surely empowered to hurt the democratic electoral process on a scale hitherto undreamt of. The erosion of Brazilian democracy is already underway!