News and Commentary

Brazil Surges Toward American Conservatism

On Sunday, Brazilians elected their new president in an election unlike any other in Brazilian history due to a controversial right-wing candidate defeating the socialist candidate who was representing the party in power.

Jair Bolsonaro, a self-described conservative Congressman of the Social Liberal Party, is a 63-year-old retired captain in the Brazilian Army, and a Catholic who is married to an evangelical Christian.

Throughout the campaign, Bolsonaro was extremely popular in Brazil — and became more so after being stabbed in September at a campaign event — even polling ahead of his opponent, Fernando Haddad, by as much as 20 points up until election day. Bolsonaro defeated Haddad by more than 10 points with 55.1% compared to Haddad’s 44.9%. Haddad was the replacement for former president Luiz Inácio Lula De Silva, who’s serving a 12-year jail term for corruption. The electoral college ruled De Silva could not run for the presidency from prison.

As the world’s fifth largest country, the Brazilian election was closely watched on the world stage. Following Bolsonaro’s win, he was congratulated by several world leaders, including President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he had a “very good conversation” with Bolsonaro and that they “agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else!”

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu also tweeted that he spoke with Bolsonaro, adding, “I told him I’m certain his election will lead to a great friendship between our peoples and a strengthening of Brazil-Israel ties. We are waiting for his visit to Israel!”

Many raised concerns about Bolsonaro’s victory by citing past controversial remarks of his about the LGBT community, women, and his support for the former Brazilian military dictatorship. However, Bolsonaro remained popular in Brazil with supporters from all backgrounds

In a October 17 poll, Bolsonaro polled ahead of Haddad among almost every group including men (58% to 33%), women (46% to 40%), white voters (60% to 29%), black and mixed voters (47% to 41%), people of other races (52% to 39%), Evangelicals (66% to 24%), and Catholics (48% to 42%). Haddad beat out Bolsonaro in only three categories, including being the favorite in the Northern Region (57% to 33%), people with up to a fourth-grade education (52% to 41%), and people with a minimum wage income (53% to 38%).

When interviewing Brazilian Bolsonaro supporters, they unanimously compared Bolsonaro — who is frequently called ‘Trump of the Tropics’ — to President Donald Trump, and also mentioned how American conservative values and commentators influence the conservative movement in Brazil.

Politics and Elections

In an interview, Raquel Robaert, a 31-year-old journalist who also works in the tech industry, told me she considers herself a Bolsonaro supporter.

“I believe in what he believes,” she said. “I believe that the family is the base of society, of our society, and of a western society.”

Robaert noted the Workers’ Party’s corruption, which she believes Bolsonaro will put an end to with his dedication to truth. “Truth must be a value that we all as a society hold because if we don’t pursue the truth, the whole society pays a price,” she said. “Bolsonaro is a big example of pursuing the truth and what is right, the law, and applying the law. I think that Bolsonaro believes that and believes in truth.”

Bolsonaro has been a long-time critic of the Workers’ Party and Robaert said she believes that “history has proved him right” in that aspect.

Prior to the corruption charges against the former president, Robaert said most Brazilians were politically apathetic, but now many Brazilians are out in the streets for Bolsonaro because “we are in chaos right now because of this criminal narco-government … We were terrified of even thinking that they may win the election.”

David Faiguenboim, 40, a Brazilian Jewish businessman, said he supports Bolsoanaro and agreed that this election has been historic.

“You walk in the streets and go to the popular areas and you see poorer people buying Bolsonaro shirts,” Faiguenboim said. “This never existed in Brazil, so fraud can happen, but it will not be enough to make him lose the election.”

Faiguenboim said there are two types of people voting for Bolsonaro. “You have people that are for Bolsonaro because they like him and his character and believe that he is honest and that he will be a good president. Then you have a lot of voters who reject the Workers’ Party.”

As a Jew, Faiguenboim said he likes Bolsonaro for his support of Israel that includes a plan to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and closing the Palestinian embassy in Brazil. “He is a Catholic and he understands that Israel is our ally in terms of culture and the economy for the Brazilian new Right.”

American-style Conservatism

American politics has influenced the people closest to Bolsonaro. His son, Eduardo, who is also a congressman, displays Ronald Reagan and Trump statues in his office along with a framed Second Amendment.

Eduardo has also been pictured with the Gadsden Flag, which was frequently used during the American Tea Party movement. (see below)

Bolsonaro has also said he plans to relax gun laws in Brazil. “Every honest citizen, man or woman, if they want to have a weapon in their homes – depending on certain criteria – should be able to have one,” he said according to BBC.

Mario Balaban, a Brazilian Bolsonaro supporter living in New York City, said that he sees a lot of similarities between Brazilian and American conservatism.

“American conservatism is the same as Brazilian conservatism in that both stem from Judeo-Christian values and looks to the recent history of Western Civilization as a model to be followed,” Balaban said. “Not only do both American and Brazilian conservatives support free markets and individual liberty, but they also believe in the importance of family, societal moral standards, national identity, and law & order.”

“Conservatism means holding values that are stronger than time,” Robaert said when asked what conservatism means to her. “Being able to discern from what is right from wrong and having the Judeo-Christian worldview because, without that, it is really difficult to have absolutes and strong values that are proven through time and culture. Conservatism doesn’t change because of the culture. I am a conservative and it doesn’t matter if the culture says I am wrong about abortion being murder. I am holding to truth no matter what culture says.

Robaert added that Brazilian conservatives are against abortion, which is illegal in Brazil.

Faiguenboim said conservatives were previously ashamed to discuss their political beliefs in public. “Talking about working hard and having a conservative culture was like a sin and right now we can see and expect Bolsonaro to have 60% of the vote and we see a very big stake of our population and we see that socialism is very bad for the country.

“I think that Brazilian conservatives are in a good moment,” Faiguenboim added. “We have been governed by the left-wing for the last 30 years and we reached the situation we are in right now — a deep economic crisis and a moral crisis. The Brazilians who are conservative are stronger than ever.”

Balaban, who considers himself a dedicated Bolsonaro supporter, says that American-style conservatism is influential on Brazilians, but believes there are some differences.

“I believe that in Brazil there is a greater emphasis on family values as a core component of political viability compared to the U.S.” Balaban said. “Bolsonaro has made his campaign centered around family values: opposing sexual material for children in schools, against gender ideological propaganda, and harsh on the media for promoting such agendas. Although you see that here in the U.S to some degree, it’s more prevalent in Brazil.”

Balaban also added that he believes Bolsonaro loves the American Constitution and subscribes to American constitutional conservatism.

American Influence

Robaert says she pays close attention to American conservatives. She says she enjoys reading the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and The Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan.

“We must look up to the U.S. and other countries with free markets that make it possible for entrepreneurs to do good for society and create jobs,” Robaert said. “Brazil overall envies the U.S.. They would like to be as prosperous and rich as the U.S. Conservatives see the U.S. as the city on the hill. People want to live there or they want to copy. Here in Brazil, we imitate American culture. … The U.S. is the only place virtue is actually something that you hold as something special. Here in Brazil, its culturally, virtue is not celebrated.”

While Faiguenboim doesn’t believe in having political idols, he said he frequently listens to popular American thinkers including The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. “I’m not attached to people I like,” he said, “I like policies.”

“The U.S., of course, is our role model because we are both big countries and democracies and so we have a lot to learn from the conservatives in the U.S.,” Faiguenboim added.

Balaban said that he believes American conservatives have influenced Brazilians.

“Brazilian conservatives have held their values for a long time, but American conservatives certainly serve as an example to Brazilians as a source of information and as guides to make convincing arguments,” Balaban said. “Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Tucker Carlson, and several other Republican politicians’ videos have been subtitled in Portuguese and circulate across Brazilian social media.”

The popular Brazilian Youtube Channel “Tradutores De Direita” subtitles political videos — many of which feature Americans — in Portuguese including videos featuring Shapiro, Trump, Dinesh D’Souza, Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and many more. The channel currently has 166,692 subscribers and millions of views. The videos also appear on a Facebook page with more than 242,000 likes.

President Donald Trump

Bolsonaro and Trump are most frequently compared for their unfiltered rhetoric, disdain for political correctness, going against the establishment, and the way the media treats them. In the past, Bolsonaro said he welcomes being compared to President Trump. “I’m not richer than him,” he told TIME, “That’s all I do not admire.”

“If you speak with millennials or with people that are more on the Left, they won’t like him, but if they are conservatives, they will like him,” Robaert said. “They will applaud him and say that he speaks his mind. Although he may not be the perfect president that people had in mind or what a politician should be like, I think that he resonates with people. I think that Brazilians see the way he stands for his people, and we think ‘Wow, we want someone who stands for us as a people.’”

Faiguenboim noted the similarities as well. “Bolsonaro, we have to recognize, is like Donald Trump,” he said. “They are guys who say what they think. They are not classical politicians who are trying to play a role. You are buying them for their face value, this is really good in my vision.”

“We expect Donald Trump to be a very close ally of Bolsonaro and we are really expecting to be partners of the U.S. like we never were,” Faiguenboim added. “Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, we wanted to be on both sides and not align with anyone and now we are paying the price of that and we need to align with some countries and I think the Americans can help us align with the right guys. So I think Donald Trump can be a very important piece of this puzzle and Bolsonaro already made some gestures showing that he wanted to be close with the U.S.”

While Balaban also acknowledges the comparison, he argues Trump’s voter base was not as energized or as large as Bolsonaro’s. “Ideological supporters see similarities, but Bolsonaro has two times as many voters as Trump,” Balaban said.

The Media

All interviewees pointed out that media bias is a problem in Brazil and that there are no mainstream right-leaning media outlets in Brazil, like Fox News in the United States and several other online outlets.

“This is very terrifying to me as a journalist,” Robaert said. “I see that my colleagues don’t hold truth as a value. They diminish Bolsonaro and they mock him. They mocked him until very recently and did not treat him as a real candidate. He is the next president, and the media hates him, just like the media hates Donald Trump.”

All interviewees drew comparisons to the way Trump and Bolsonaro are treated by the media.

“Brazilians feel very negative about Trump, he is seen as rude and ignorant. What the media is doing to Bolsonaro is the same as they did to Trump,” Faiguenboim said.

Similar to President Trump, Bolsonaro has relied on social media to connect with his voters. On Facebook he has 8.2 million likes while his opponent only has 1.7 million.

In an interview with The Daily Wire, Eduardo said his father is treated similarly to Trump by the media because of “how [the media] handles us, how they work with us, they call us racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. All of these attacks are the same kind of attacks that Trump received.”

Division & Bolsonaro

All interviewees claimed that the political discourse is still tense and acknowledged the controversies surrounding Bolsonaro, including praising the Brazilian authoritarian military dictatorship lasting from 1964 to 1985, claiming “There was decency and respect for the family. Things today are disgraceful,” according to The New York Times. Despite this, Bolsonaro later said he is “totally committed” to democracy.

Bolsonaro has also made several remarks on his view of the LGBT community and women, including 2011, when he told Playboy he would be “incapable of loving a gay son.” In 2014, Bolsonaro reminded a congresswoman who accused him of being a rapist many years earlier that he would never rape her because “she doesn’t deserve it.”

Eduardo told The Daily Wire that he believes many of the comments that are attributed to his father were taken out of context or were never said in the first place.

For Robaert, she looks past Bolsonaro’s past remarks because she believes he is an improvement from the Workers’ Party.

“It is very hard to talk to dialogue with people who call him a fascist or homophobic because they are not up for dialogue— they mock and are aggressive,” Robaert said. “It is not about liking him or not. We are fighting a criminal organization that has power in Brazil and wants to keep that power.”

Robaert also said she doesn’t pay much attention to the accusations of sexism directed at Bolsonaro.

“Bolsonaro will do good as president for the whole society, doing good to men and women,” she said. “I don’t see humanity separated by gender; I see individuals working together to the advance of individual freedoms and prosperity. Bolsonaro has helped to elect the two most voted women in two houses, one in Sao Paulo and another in Brasilia. He can’t be a sexist; something is wrong with this narrative.”

Faiguenboim called leftists who are not interested in dialogue “brainwashed” and said he believes that people “are following and repeating speech that has nothing behind it — it is empty speech — if you take one of these guys who call him a fascist and ask him what fascism is, they don’t know.”

“In all previous elections, Workers’ Party candidates called their counterpart fascists,” Faiguenboim said in defense of Bolsonaro. “Even social democrats got labeled Nazi or fascist.”

“He has almost single-handedly given millions of Brazilians hope that there is a way to fight back against socialism and wide-scale corruption.”

Moving Forward

Moving forward, the interviewees believe that when taking office, Bolsonaro must focus on improving the economy and curbing the crime that plagues Brazil, including the rampant murder rate that reached 63,880 deaths in 2017.

“Yesterday’s victory marks a new beginning for Brazil and for the majority of the Brazilian people, but most and foremost for Brazilian young democracy,” Robaert said. “After decades of the most vile enslavement of minds in all sectors of our society, we finally got liberated from the tyranny of Marxist indoctrination. At least that’s the feeling. That’s how many Brazilians are feeling right now, relieved.”

Robaert said that she is relieved that Haddad did not win because she believed he would have freed Lula.

“The most important thing we accomplished through the election of Jair Bolsonaro was the certainty that President Lula will be kept in prison and the pursuit of justice for all and the equal treatment for every single citizen under the law, it’s now secure.”

Balaban believes that Bolsonaro must focus on unifying the Brazilian people.

“Bolsonaro’s focus going into his first term is to pacify the country, calming down the tensions of the election,” Balaban said. “He wants to unite Brazilians of all social groups together in a fight for liberty and prosperity.”

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