As Merkelism fades and Brazil moves right, Trumpism is thriving

Brazil has embraced Trumpism --- and then some.Eager to avoid the catastrophic economic meltdown of n...

Posted: Oct 29, 2018 12:17 PM
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 12:17 PM

Brazil has embraced Trumpism --- and then some.

Eager to avoid the catastrophic economic meltdown of neighboring Venezuela -- led by socialist President Nicolas Maduro -- Brazilian voters have thrown their lot overwhelmingly behind a far right-wing candidate. In one stroke, the nation has swung from its once-beloved left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who languishes in prison on corruption charges, to Jair Bolsonaro.

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It is only the latest victory of far-right nationalism that in the past 24 hours has seen the first step toward the end of the moderate conservative leadership of Angela Merkel in Germany and growing fears of the spread of anti-democratic dogmatism.

In the long run, Merkel's decision to relinquish her role as leader of the centrist Christian Democratic Union following the latest in a string of defeats, this time in the Hesse state elections Sunday, and her announcement that she will not stand for re-election in 2021, may have the most sweeping impact on democratic values.

But the most immediate impact will unquestionably be in Brazil.

Sweeping to victory with more than 55% of the vote, Brazil's new leader has pledged to appoint military leaders to top posts, stack the Supreme Court with right-wing judges and threaten political foes.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru have also turned to more conservative leaders, but none remotely as extreme as Bolsonaro.

Globally, Bolsonaro is emblematic of right-wing candidates who have captured the popular imagination of nations eager for change at any cost, often looking to Donald Trump for inspiration and encouragement.

Already, far-right candidates have swept to power or to leading opposition status across Europe. In Italy, two populist parties -- the Five Star Movement and far-right League -- have formed a ruling coalition. Hungary's far-right, anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third term as leader in April. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party is en route to dismantling the nation's judicial system.

In Germany, the long centrist rule of Angela Merkel is being challenged at every turn by right-wing candidates, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which last year won its first seats in the Bundestag and on Sunday swept into the state parliament of Hesse for the first time.

That Merkel has finally throw in the towel and renounced any hope for her continued moderate leadership of Germany is a tribute to what appears to be the growing right-wing tilt of the German electorate.

In India, far-right Hindu nationalist groups, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have rioted to protect Hindu rights and forcibly closed down meat shops outside New Delhi ahead of Navratri, the nine-day festival of fasting when no meat is eaten by the religious.

Many of these right-wing parties and their leaders, but especially Bolsonaro, have paid tribute to Donald Trump as their shining beacon of conservatism. Opponents of Brazil's new leader, and indeed some of his supporters, describe him variously as misogynistic, violent and dictatorial.

Unquestionably, Bolsonaro's roots are deep in Brazil's militant right. For Bolsonaro, this has meant a determined anti-LGBTQ stance, urging parents to beat their gay children.

During his campaign, he accused the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Brazil with an iron fist from 1964 to 1985 of not killing enough dissidents, not using enough lethal force and not coming down hard enough on the nation's free-wheeling media.

All this, he has suggested, will be quickly remedied.

On Sunday evening, Trump became one of the first world leaders to phone Bolsonaro with congratulations on his victory. As White House press secretary Sarah Sanders put it, the two expressed their pleasure in working "side-by-side" as "regional leaders of the Americas."

Even the string of pipe-bombs launched at liberal political figures and the media in the United States by a pro-Trump fanatic and Saturday's massacre by a militant anti-Semite at a Pittsburgh synagogue seem not to have deterred voters from embracing Bolsonaro.

Monday morning, Brazil stocks traded in Tokyo surged 11% in early trading.

It was only the first tribute to the belief that Bolsonaro will allow little to stand in his way of returning Brazil to security and prosperity, at any cost.

With Brazil serving as home to a unique treasure -- the world's largest rain forests -- a climate-change denier at the helm in Brazil could prove even more catastrophic than Donald Trump's withdrawal from the world climate pact agreed in Paris.

The Amazonian jungle, called "the lungs of the world," contains one-third of all animal species on earth.

Now, it may be in desperate danger. As Jonathan Watts, environment editor of London's Guardian newspaper put it: "Bolsonaro has the backing of agribusiness and mining leaders, who are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of an Amazon denuded of its greatest protections. The markets -- which are heavily driven by extractive industries -- also love him."

At the same time, Bolsonaro, during his long and somewhat undistinguished tenure as a back-bench member of Brazil's parliament, has given some dangerous indications of what else may be in store. In 1999, he told an interviewer he would hardly hesitate to dissolve a Congress he described as "useless."

In 2016, he paid tribute to a Brazilian colonel who ran a torture center under the nation's last dictatorship.

It's hard to believe that Donald Trump himself could even consider embracing any such potentially sweeping and utterly dictatorial powers.

That the Brazilian people have done so appears to be an exercise in utter madness. But with each turn of the dial toward the right, further license is being given to extremes in nations that may ultimately, perhaps too late, come to regret their votes.

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