Rise of Populism in the United States and Brazil
Populist leaders tend to claim that they represent the common people, and, as Mueller explains, populists tend to pin themselves against a common enemy. The two populist uprisings– Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil– are not any different from typical populist leaders. The former continuously preaches that he is going to “Make America Great Again”, thus rallying people on a sort of nationalism and old age ideology that America would once again become the industrial powerhouse that it once was. Furthermore, he harps on the media claiming their illegitimacy. In doing so, Trump attempts to portray himself as above these “fake news” medias and enhance his image by claiming that their discrediting calls are incorrect. Bolsonaro represents a far right-winged government that echoes the past military dictatorship in Brazil as his cabinet has the largest number of military members since the military regime. The enemy or ‘outlaws’ as Bolsonaro has proposed are his political foes represented by the PT party– Lula and Haddad’s party. Bolsonaro used gun reform as a major policy objective in an attempt to lower the crime rate and boost the support for his party. Here, he was able to call out to the people and promise an attempt to make them feel safer.
Unpresidential Diction Choices…
These victories have shocked most of the international community due to the racist, sexist, and homophobic statements by both leaders. This shock comes from the seemingly unpresidential diction of both men. Rarely, in modern American history, has a president outwardly spoke against minority groups in the United States or called out political enemies using ad hominem attacks. However, Trump attacked the intelligence of congresswoman Maxine Waters and downplayed the murder carried out by Neo-Nazi sympathizers in Charlottesville. Trump also campaigned on simple diction choices such as “Fake News”, “Huge”, and “Believe Me”. Yet, as evident by the turnout of the election, the public tended to prefer this simplified rhetoric to that of a ‘more’ flowery rhetorician, Hillary Clinton.
In a similar but more extreme manner, Bolsonaro’s past is littered with racist, sexist, and homophobic comments that made his success quite shocking. Bolsonaro has declared black activists “animals”, signaled that a fellow congresswomen was not worthy of being raped by him, and wished that his son be dead before he came out as gay. To multiple Americans and Brazilians alike, the words of both Bolsonaro and Trump are both unpresidential and unrepresentative of the common people because they call out against massive groups of people and tend to usher in a form of dislike for these certain groups. Yet, some may question: how then, did these presidents rise to power. It was possible because of the subjectiveness of the constituency’s opinion of presidential diction choices that exists in every democracy. In turn, this lead to the candidates’ ability to coerce the constituency that they were the right choice.
Evaluating Electoral Voting Maps and The Appeals Used to Bolster Support
The electoral voting maps of both Trump and Bolsonaro were heavily divided based on geographical region. Bolsonaro’s constituency was throughout much of the northwestern, central, and southeastern regions of Brazil, but the Northeast was predominantly in favor of the PT party of Haddad. If one was to venture to northeastern cities of Brazil such as Recife, Maceio, and Natal, the support for the PT party is prevalent as the streets are littered with Lula and Haddad propaganda. Yet, the feelings of the people in this large geographical area ended up representing a minority of the community. Similarly, Trump dominated in certain geographical regions namely middle American states and the south. However, he was opposed in the pacific northwest and northern eastern Atlantic states.
By looking at the electoral maps of these two candidates, it becomes easier to see why they were able to dominate. For Bolsonaro, most of the northeast was opposed because of the heavy poverty rates that make up this region. Bolsonaro was adamantly opposed to Lula’s party, which granted massive benefits to areas such as northeastern Brazil. Yet, he was able to bolster support for his party in wealthier areas by vowing for a tax cut on corporations throughout Brazil. This plan allows the elites in Brazil to pay less taxes on their companies’ income. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign harvested support via nationalism in many states. It is unsurprising that Middle America yielded to this idea as Trump was able to appeal to a population of middle class Americans who had begun to feel marginalized. He did so by expressing the return to typical American values and industry. Furthermore, Trump’s tax plan that was carried out via the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” provided companies with massive tax cuts, which helped give Trump the support of many wealthy Americans.
Are Populism and Democratic Erosion Here to Stay?
Trump and Bolsonaro’s unique diction and ad hominem attacks on groups or individuals make their campaign success surprising. Whether a similar brand of politics will continue in both Brazil and the United States is unclear. If so, the already evident encroachment on checks and balances and lack of political tolerance could lend itself to a form of democratic erosion. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: both candidates followed populist approaches, thus they were enabled by their ability to reach mass groups of people who had begun to feel marginalized or were tired of the old system that previously existed.
.Mueller, Jan-Werner. What is Populism? 2017.
 Gonzalez, Elizabeth & Leme Luisa. 2019. Tracking the First 100 Days of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Americas Society/Council of Americans.
 Phillips, Tom. 2018. Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro threatens purge of leftwing ‘outlaws’. The Guardian.
 Jair Bolsonaro: Far-right candidate wins first round of Brazil election. 2018. British Broadcasting Company.
 2016 Election Results. 2017.
 Taylor, Ed. 2018. Brazil’s President Elect Pledges Hefty Corporate Tax Cut. Bloomberg BNA.
 How did the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act change business taxes? Tax Policy Center.
Photo By: Doug Mills. “President Trump held a joint news conference with President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, a controversial nationalist, at the White House on Tuesday. ” Creative Commons Zero License.