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Brazil upheaval spark deja vu? It already happened in US

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Supporters of far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro stormed Congress in Brasilia./AFP
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Jan 10, 2023 - 09:50 AM

WASHINGTON — A charismatic right-wing leader refuses to concede an election, boycotts his successor’s inauguration, then sits back as supporters storm the seat of government. As in so many aspects of its politics, Brazil is following the US example down to a T.

While in power, Jair Bolsonaro openly copied Donald Trump, embracing the nickname “Trump of the Tropics.”

Like the US president, the Brazilian leader built a right-wing Christian brand celebrating gun ownership, scorn for sexual minorities, flag waving, disdain for conventional political speech and journalists, and love of big crowds.

So it was less of a surprise that in defeat to leftist challenger Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro reached for the Trump playbook after his defeat to Joe Biden in 2020.

  1. Refuse to graciously concede after months of spreading false rumors about election rigging.
  2. Refuse to attend the inauguration of the winner.
  3. Watch supporters rampage for hours through the halls of government before issuing a grudging call to order.

Even the dates of the attacks were almost the same — January 6 in Washington, January 8 in Brasilia, although in the Brazilian case Bolsonaro had already been replaced, while Trump was still president.

It used to be that the two biggest countries in the Americas were more known for sharing similar federal constitutions.

As in the United States, Brazil has a Supreme Court, Senate and House, a strong presidency, state governors, and a separate, rather sleepy federal capital.

Now, add coup-minded mobs to the list.

“We’ve gone from America, shining city on a hill, exporter of freedom and democracy, to America providing blueprints and exporting insurrection,” conservative US political commentator Charlie Sykes said.

“This is not theoretical. The role that the Trump world has played in all of this is right out front,” Sykes, who runs the Bulwark news site and has long opposed Trump, told MSNBC.

To Florida and back 

The deja vu from the Trump crowd’s assault against the Capitol two years ago was startling on Sunday.

Again, sheer numbers in Brasilia made resistance by police futile. Again, the crowd came draped in national flags — and, in the Brazilian case, national football team shirts. Again, gangs of men gleefully trashed the furniture and symbols inside the legislature, showing off for cameras.

But the roots go far deeper than even those eerie side-by-side riot comparisons suggest.

When they were both in power, Bolsonaro visited the White House and also, more tellingly, Trump’s unofficial headquarters in Florida, the Mar-a-Lago golf resort.

Trump, who called his southern acolyte a “great leader,” identifies strongly with the big money, warm weather vibe of Florida, which also happens to be one of the top destinations for Brazilian tourists.

Bolsonaro went straight there after his reelection loss, again visiting Mar-a-Lago according to unconfirmed media reports, and he is believed to be in the state at present.

The two leaders also share heavy reliance on family to project a youthful version of the brand.

Donald Trump Jr, who revels in a macho, provocative image, spearheads that role for his father. In Brazil it’s Eduardo Bolsonaro, who appears at ultra-conservative gatherings in the United States and, according to The Washington Post, met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago after his father’s defeat.

Other important conduits between the two clans are the operatives who masterminded Trump’s rise and, even as he fell, remain committed to the right-wing populist cause.

Steve Bannon, sentenced to four months prison for disobeying a subpoena to testify on the January 6 Capitol attack, was closely involved with the Bolsonaro team’s spread of misinformation before the election and challenging of the result.

Saying there is “no better man on this globe” than Eduardo Bolsonaro or his father, Bannon told an audience in November that electronic voting machines were used in Brazil “to steal elections.” On Sunday, Bannon praised the Brazilian rioters on social media.

Another Trump world insider, advisor Jason Miller, was briefly detained at Brasilia’s airport in 2021 after visiting Bolsonaro and attending the Conservative Political Action Conference Brasil — an offshoot of the established conservative CPAC in the United States.

“What’s happening in Brazil is a world event,” Bannon told The Post after Bolsonaro lost.

The movement is “beyond the Bolsonaros,” he said, and “beyond Trump.”

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