Jair Bolsonaro’s election to the presidency of Brazil last year provoked a media meltdown similar to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. Just as in the U.S., journalists in Brazil and abroad predicted the “Trump of the Tropics” was akin to the second coming of Hitler, ushering in the end of democracy, revoking gay rights, and sending women back to the kitchen.
Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, bombastic statements, and lack of political polish have fueled the hysteria among his opponents, but the reality is that none of these apocalyptic predictions made by the chattering class has come to pass.
The broader context of Bolsonaro’s election is the key to understanding his rise. He took office from a left-wing party that had mired the country in the worst corruption scandal in its history. That, combined with the overheated doomsaying of his opponents, has set the bar for his performance in voters’ minds extraordinarily low.
Many of Bolsonaro’s voters will readily admit he was not their first choice, but they were desperate for change. Bolsonaro looked attractive when the only real alternative was another president from the democratic socialist Workers’ Party (PT).
“I’m neither disappointed nor pleased,” Bolsonaro voter Hendrika Vasconcelos said in an interview. “I wasn’t expecting much from him. I just knew that everything would go downhill...