On women: “I would not rape you because you are not worthy of it.”
On black people: “They don’t do anything. They’re not even good for procreation.”
On being gay: “I’d rather have my son die in an accident.”
These are the words of Jair Bolsonaro, the newly elected president of Brazil as of Oct. 28, 2017. A former captain who served under the Brazilian military dictatorship as well as a former congressman for Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro entered the presidential race campaigning predominantly on a promise of restoring order and political transparency to a crime-ridden and corrupt nation. At a quick glance, some of his policies may seem reasonable. Indeed, the majority of the nation’s voters seemed to agree with him, validating his rhetoric by securing him over 55 percent of the votes. However, in addition to his more universally-agreed upon policies, such as a tougher stance on crime, the nation of Brazil has also given Bolsonaro their approval in much less favorable areas.
During a confrontation with a fellow female congressperson prior to his election, the president-elect, in addition to calling her “a whore” and “immoral” on camera, vehemently exclaimed that she didn’t deserve to be raped by him. In a similar misogynistic vein, he also credits the increased number of women in the workplace to the decline of traditional family values, which he claims has caused the increased presence of homosexuality in Brazil. In addition to demonstrating his lack of understanding of homosexuality in general, he also advocates violence towards the LGBTQ+ community, admitting in an interview several years ago, “I will not fight nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing in the street, I’ll hit them.” He claims there is a conspiracy to groom children on an international scale to become gay, and urges beating your child should they exhibit so-called “homosexual behavior” in order to make them straight.
Given the derogatory language he uses to describe minority groups, it seems ironic that he at least seems to be inclusive in one aspect: he has insulted almost every distinct demographic in Brazil. When asked if how he would feel about his sons dating a black woman, he responded with, “There’s no risk of that because my sons were well raised.” He also helps to reinforce the stereotype of black people as lazy, saying that when visiting a traditional Afro-Brazilian settlement, he observed that “they don’t do anything! I don’t think they’re even good for procreating anymore” and compared the presence of indigenous people in the Amazon to a disease, calling the rainforest “like a child with chickenpox.” Immigrants and refugees he has referred to as “the scum of the earth.”
As if his stance on sexual and racial minorities wasn’t bad enough, his attitudes toward crime takes a darker tone. Bolsonaro has repeatedly called for more uses of deadly force when apprehending criminals, saying that policemen who kill criminals should be honored, not prosecuted. Unfortunately, his hard-line take on criminal activity has received a warm welcome from many Brazilians. In a country where an estimated 63,880 people were murdered in 2017, the homicide rate 36 times that of the United States, many agree with his demand for more a more deadly enforcement of the law. In a YouTube video by Vox Media, it appears the common sentiment on the street in Brazil is the desire for a reduction in crime, with many citizens seeing Bolsonaro as the answer. “There’s too much violence and I think he’s the only one who can fight it,” says a woman stopped on the street in the city of Rio de Janeiro. “We’re afraid of everything. We go out and don’t know if we’ll come back alive.” While I agree that the fears of the Brazilian population is legitimate and very real, Bolsonaro, like all populists, has taken advantage of it, so far with successful results.
His startlingly authoritarian position on police and the use of deadly force extends into democracy itself. In fact, in his willingness to enforce order, Bolsonaro has openly advocated for a return to the military dictatorship he was once part of. “I am in favor of a dictatorship,” he stated in a 1992 interview. “We will never resolve serious national problems with this irresponsible democracy.” Despite these alarming statements, the people of Brazil have placed the fate of their nation in a self-described advocate of martial law. His defense of the Brazilian dictatorship, a fascist regime that operated from 1964-1984, extends to his endorsement of the brutal methods used to suppress voices of dissent, which included censorship of media, banishment and torture, which Bolsonaro has also advocated for, literally saying in a televised interview, “I’m in favor of torture, you know that.”
While his political and personal views are alarming, they are reflective of a larger conservative movement which we are currently a part of. Throughout the Western world, countries are currently wrestling with ideas of identity, nationalism, exacerbated by the ever-pressing question of immigration. As seen in the staunchly anti-immigrant platform that is pedaled by the United States’ President Donald J. Trump’s administration, including the anti-Europe rhetoric that led to the British Parliament’s still fermenting Brexit, and now in the openly misogynistic, homophobic and racist platform of Jair Bolsonaro, there is a disturbing international trend towards xenophobia, extreme nationalism and far-right conservatism in general. This is largely due to the changing cultural landscape of many of these Western countries and Europe, related to the displacement of millions of people from the Syrian refugee crisis to more stable regions has created a divided political atmosphere. Similar to the United States, they face the issue of whether to allow vast numbers of foreigners to enter their countries, creating debates over national security, economic stability and, most importantly, cultural identity. Bolsonaro’s explicitly stated preference to Brazil’s brutal military regime, however violent, based on traditional, conservative values, is emblematic of this. Like Trump, Britain’s Brexit-touting Boris Johnson, and other right-leaning leaders across the Western world, Bolsonaro represents another politician’s success that can be credited to right-wing populism.
On a personal level, I have a hard time coming to terms with the most recent development on the stage of international democracy. Not that it’s not easy to believe, because nationalist and jingoist rhetoric has been building throughout the world so much lately, but it also makes me reconsider my position against the current United States administration. Like Brazil, we are subject to a loud-mouthed leader who flirts with the idea of pushing back the recent, hard-fought liberties we are currently sitting with. Donald Trump, who is openly endorsed by David Duke, leader of the pathetic white nationalist group the Klu Klux Klan, calls women dogs, and bullies, harrasses and tries to intimidate any voices of criticism and dissent, is the more preferable choice stood up against the likes of Jair Bolsonaro. While Trump maintains plausible deniability (“they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”), his outrageous statements having become normalized, while Bolsonaro is unapologetically, unabashedly, unambiguously, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and aside from that publicly toys with the idea of re-establishing a fascist regime. While American democracy has withstood hundreds of years of turmoil, both outside and in, Brazil has had a much less firm track-record of democracy. Barely 30 years away from what was a military dictatorship, Brazil is only still getting its feet, and it may be that it slips back into autocracy. What I’m trying to say is that I’m personally very grateful for being a citizen of a country that, despite its bigoted, dictator-praising, misogynist of a president, has so far remained intact. And all my sympathy goes out to Brazil, who, while having previously suffered the demagoguery being spouted from Bolsonaro, will now have to see how his legitimately frightening words translate into actions.
Altogether, Jair Bolsonaro’s election is reflective of a larger trend in international politics. The world continues to demonstrate its preference for leaders that not only reject civility in their personal statements, but that threaten individual freedoms and democracy as a whole.