The United States has a long history of exporting its ideology abroad, often through violent means. But in recent years, a disturbing trend has taken shape — the rise of the international far-right led by American influence.
The rise of Trump and so-called ‘Trumpism’ or ‘MAGA-conservatism’ here at home has been echoed by the rise of far-right and nationalist parties and politicians in Europe and Latin America. Among them are Orban in Hungary, Le Pen in France, Meloni in Italy and importantly for this discussion, Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Elected in 2018, Bolsonaro mirrors Trump in a lot of ways. He has been a vocal supporter of anti-immigration and anti-environmental policies, and has been cozying up to authoritarian elements on the far-right. Bolsonaro has often defended the 1964 military coup that resulted in 21 years of brutal authoritarian military rule in Brazil. The Telegraph has gone so far as to describe him as “the Trump of the Tropics.”
Like Trump, Bolsonaro was defeated in the last election. His opponent, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — often called just “Lula” — was propelled to victory by a diverse coalition of urban, indigenous and environmentalist communities.
Unfortunately, the similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro don’t end there. Before the election was even started, Bolsonaro made false accusations of fraud and electoral rigging. These claims continued after the election, culminating with a mob of Bolsonaro supporters attacking the Brazilian capital.
This attack occurred on January 8, 2023, just over two years from the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Armed rioters breached the Congress building, Supreme Court and presidential palace, overwhelming the meager police force defending them.
There is a key difference though — Brazil is actually responding to this attack on democracy. The U.S. Capitol police arrested just 14 people on January 6. In contrast, Brazilian authorities arrested nearly 1,000 rioters in the hours during and after the attack.
The efforts aren’t limited to the insurrectionists themselves, either. Lula’s government has dismissed the army chief, suspended and raided the house of the governor for failing to defend the capital and removed dozens of police and military officials for alleged complicity in the attempted coup.
Compare that to the United States, where members of Congress who were “intimately involved” in the planning of January 6 have suffered no consequences. We’ve shown them that they can foment insurrection without repercussions. What will 2024 look like if this sort of violence isn’t properly deterred?
I’ve written before about how future historians will remember January 6 and the potential for future violence. I stand by this assessment, and I would add that the two case studies of January 6 and January 8 will come to show the very different outcomes of how each country responded.
So, what can we learn from this? First, we need to understand how our politics affect other countries. America has often been a leader in the world, but we need to be cautious in spearheading an international shift to right-wing politics. The way we interact with politics influences how other countries do the same. We have a responsibility to be a leader in democracy and human rights, not authoritarianism and taking those rights away.
We also need to take action. Brazil’s Supreme Court has authorized an investigation into Bolsonaro’s involvement. Meanwhile, the former president relaxes in a Florida suburb while on what should be an invalid diplomatic visa. If charges are brought against Bolsonaro, we must not allow him to evade justice by hiding in Trump’s backyard.
We can’t sit idly and wait for this sort of thing to happen again — in the U.S. or elsewhere. We should be following Brazil’s example and indicting those who had a hand in assaulting our democracy — no matter their position. It doesn’t matter if you’re the average Joe, a congressperson or the President — if you participated or aided and abetted an insurrection, you should get your due.