Who is Bolsonaro and Why Does He Matter?
On Tuesday, March 19, Donald Trump met with is Brazilian doppelganger, Jair Bolsonaro. This is Bolsonaro’s first foreign state visit since his election last fall, and it is not surprising that he chose the United States for this occasion. Bolsonaro has been called “Little Trump” by Brazilians, not because of his small hands, but because of his seriously scary policies.
Bolsonaro was elected last year amidst a climate of political corruption and economic insecurity in Brazil. His meteoric rise to the highest office will sound familiar to many Americans reading this, who are still dealing with post-traumatic stress resulting from our 2016 election. In 2015, Bolsonaro said in an interview with Zero Hora that women should not receive the same salaries as men because they get pregnant. In that same year, he insulted a congressional candidate, Maria do Rosário, saying she was “not worth raping; she is very ugly.” The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that he potentially incited rape against his fellow deputy, and ordered him to pay a fine, but he was absolved of these charges when he was elected president.
Bolsonaro has also come under fire because of the application of his “evangelical views” toward homosexuality. He has openly called members of the queer community pedophiles. In 2011, he told Playboy that he would be “incapable of loving a gay son” and hoped that any hypothetical gay son of his would die in an accident. He has also indicated that he strongly believes being gay is learned behavior, and that parents should beat their children to prevent them from expressing their homosexuality. When the openly gay American actor and advocate Ellen Page interviewed Bolsonaro for Vice news, she asked him if he thought she should have been beaten as a child, and he replied that he thought she was very pretty and probably would have cat-called her if he saw her on the street, presumably as a compliment.
All of these troubling policies made Bolsonaro a very polarizing figure prior to the 2018 presidential elections, and yet his popularity continued to grow with every scandal. Still, prior to the last run-off election, many polling outlets predicted that he would not win. However, on October 28, 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was elected as president with a 55% majority.
Now, he is rubbing elbows with his American reflection in the white house, and the two presidents seem to be getting along famously, sharing their views on gender politics and fake news. Even more troublingly, they both seem to agree on foreign policy as it regards the country of Venezuela. Right now Venezuela is in a state of crisis following a days-long countrywide power blackout and several years of poverty and starvation caused by the corrupt leadership of Nicolas Maduro.
Donald Trump, who has very limited knowledge of foreign policy, has begun floating the idea of US military intervention in Venezuela, an idea that Bolsonaro supports as well. All of this camaraderie has me worried that Donald Trump may have found in Bolsonaro a willing echo chamber for destructive ideas. For the past two years, Trump has been itching for a conflict that could distract the public from the many corruption scandals of his own administration. I fear that with information from the Muller Probe release impending and a highly contentious presidential election on the horizon, that a desperate and embattled president might do anything to distract the public.