Jair Bolsonaro: The Next Donald Trump?

After a predictable turn of events, it’s become quite clear that Lula 2018 is no longer a viable option for Brazil. And, in another predictable turn of events, its become quite clear that, lest some ghastly skeleton drops from his closet, Jair Bolsonaro will become president of Brazil.  

A so-called “firebrand” coming from the radical right wing of Brazil’s lower-house, where he has held post since 1991, Bolsonaro is known for his casual deployment of homophobic, racist, sexist, and violent calls to arms against the country’s so-called enemies. In public, he daydreams of the promise that the return of the dictatorship would bring to Brazil.

His ability to ruffle and upset the somewhat contested common sense that defines a democratic and progressive Brazil that had been under the leadership of the Workers’ Party for more than a decade has caused some to compare him to president Donald Trump. If he’s so blatant, if he’s so sincere about his hatred, and if he’s an “outsider,” then, by ability of addition, he must be Trump.

But, while Bolsonaro has the same ability to upset the norms of an established public rhetoric, he is no Donald Trump.

That is, over the course of his almost two years in office, president Trump has shown a surprisingly strong ability of losing allies within his own party and the community he hails from. President Trump, while certainly celebrated by the Republican party and the business community for sweeping tax reforms that would have made Reagan blush, is no darling of the world of finance and capital. No. Whether by forcing the installment of tariffs, by making impossible promises to finance a border via the Mexican state, or by threatening to drop out of free trade deal after free trade deal, president Trump has garnered quite the ire from Wall Street. It is his very volatility that makes him such a bane to a part of society that really likes the terms “business as usual.”

While Bolsonaro certainly enjoys the comparisons to president Trump, he is doing everything in his power to send signals to the business community that the role of government is not to intercede against its wishes, but at its wishes.

While the patrons of the Brazilian economy certainly don’t want to step in the tainted limelight that surrounds Mr. Bolsonaro, they have no problem applauding quietly just beyond the light’s shine.

Indeed, in a recent article published by Bloomberg, Brazil’s financial powerhouse, BTG Pactual, held its annual conference and received Bolsonaro to great fanfare. Unlike president Trump, Bolsonaro has not fallen under the influence of personalities like Steve Bannon that want to install “national capitalism” against the “globalist” order. No, Mr. Bolsonro’s economics guru is Paulo Guedes, a classically trained neoliberal economist out of the University of Chicago. While Mr. Bolsonaro has made off-the-cuff comments about the economy that certainly can make a good ol’ Chicago boy cringe, it’s unlikely that with the support he’s received behind closed doors so many investors would be willing to back a crazed horse in such a volatile environment.

Whether it’s in the financial centers of São Paulo, or on the farm fields of Mato Grosso, Bolsonaro enjoys the support of large sectors of the business community – big and small. In order to get the support of the financial community, Bolsonaro has promised to privatize large sectors of the government and to reform pensions. To win agroindustry, he’s promised to put a stop to land invasion, robberies, and relax environmental controls. And it’s the promise of a full return to law and order that unites big and small business alike as the annual murder rate of 60,000 deaths a year has pushed large parts of the country to an edge that flirts dangerously with the complete suspension of civil rights.

All of this is within the range of normal in the globalized market. Civil rights are not necessary to the functioning of contemporary, globalized capitalism. Ask China, Singapore, Chile under Pinochet, etc. And this is precisely what separates him from Donald Trump: the promise to keep things (more or less) normal.

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