The Republican Party Has Been Bolsonarofied
Brazil’s presidential election has been marred with a flood of hate speech and a certain kind of “misinformation” being perpetrated by the fascist backers of Jair Bolsonaro. His opponents are being accused of planning to close churches and are being branded “cannibals,” and “pedophiles.” Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that “Misinformation has become more radical— and organized— since the 2018 presidential campaign, when far-right groups were accused of spreading mass disinformation in support of Bolsonaro. ‘In 2018 it was a kind of playground thing. It was more honest, in the sense that they ideologically believed in what was happening and simply created channels as a way to be part of the conversation,’ said Guilherme Felitti, founder of Novelo Data, which monitors more than 500 conservative YouTube channels. Some of those have since turned their online activism into businesses, relying on ad revenues and donations from their growing audience. Some ran for office themselves this year… A local treasurer in da Silva’s Workers’ Party was fatally shot in July. Since then, there have been near-weekly reports by Brazilian authorities of politically motivated attacks.”
In the October 2 first round, Lula bested Bolsonaro 57,259,504 (48.4%) to 51,072,345 (43.2%) and the runoff is in 4 days— Sunday. The most current polling shows Lula ahead 52.0% to 46.2% (Lula’s lead up about a point from two weeks ago). Since then, a former far right congressmen and Bolsonaro supporter, Roberto Jefferson, threw hand grenades at and shot and wounded two policemen.
People talk a lot about how Brazilian politics have been Trumpfied. A serious question Americans need to ask is if American politics— or at least the Republican Party— has been Bolsonarofied. The NY Times’ Lisa Lerer describes a de-evolution of the GOP that certainly sounds like it has. “Trumpism,” she wrote, “is embedded in the DNA of the party. Most of those who refused to pledge fealty to the former president lost their primaries or retired to avoid defeat. With only a handful of exceptions, the Republicans running for office are strongly in Trump’s camp, embracing some version of his denials of his 2020 election loss. Candidates from Arizona to Pennsylvania have adopted his views, bombastic style and anti-establishment attitude and made them their own.”
Lerer highlights three American fascists who are all versions of Trump, two of whom are all probably about to win their current races and one of whom already has— Kari Lake (AZ), Ron DeSantis (FL) and Glenn Youngkin (VA). Lake, she wrote “is the Trumpism queen of the midterms… a former news anchor who had never run for office, transformed from a nonpartisan presence on a Fox affiliate in Phoenix into an anti-establishment Republican insurgent. Lake is running as a political outside, bashing the media and
promising to be ‘the fake news’s worst nightmare.’ She has called the 2020 election ‘stolen’ and ‘corrupt,’ and said she would not have certified President Biden’s victory. Last week, in an interview with CNN, she refused to say that she would accept the results of her election if she lost.” Kathie Hobbs has turned out to be a weak opponent, running a bad campaign and the most current polls show her losing the Lake by a couple of points.
DeSantis is probably going to pulverize weak “Democrat” Charlie Crist who doesn’t know what he is and is probably the most inauthentic candidate running for office anywhere in America. Here wrote that DeSantis “has tried to out-Trump Trump, adopting inflammatory stances that excite core conservative supporters and that position him as a 2024 front-runner. In March, he signed legislation prohibiting classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades, a law that opponents derided as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. It also placed DeSantis squarely in the culture-war debate over transgender rights, a theme he has continued to address. In a debate last night against his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist [a pathetic closet case], DeSantis gave a graphic and inaccurate description of gender-affirming care for transgender children, suggesting falsely that doctors were ‘mutilating’ minors.”
She wrote that “Youngkin presents what some strategists think is the most politically viable national model for Republicans in a post-Trump era. He does not share Trump’s fiery style, packaging himself as a fleece-vest-wearing suburbanite who can keep Trump’s coalition intact while picking up a significant share of the suburban voters that determine elections in his home state… But on policy, he has embraced many of the issues that rally the base. He has called for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, prohibited the teaching of critical race theory, restricted transgender students’ rights and expressed anger over pandemic lockdowns. He acknowledges that Biden won the 2020 election, but has campaigned for election deniers, including Lake.”
Writing for the New Yorker yesterday, Peter Slevin noted that there’s an old Republican gambit: “when in doubt, scare people, particularly white people. At the heart of Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy was his effort to brand himself as the ‘law and order’ candidate, a title that Trump later adopted for himself. Alongside images of urban riots and protests against the Vietnam War, Nixon declared, in the voice-over to a 1968 campaign ad, that freedom from violence is ‘the first civil right of every American.’ Twenty years later, George H. W. Bush accused Michael Dukakis of being soft on crime, spotlighting the case of Willie Horton, a Black inmate who raped a white woman and stabbed her boyfriend while on furlough. The Bush campaign strategist Lee Atwater said that he would ‘strip the bark off the little bastard’— meaning Dukakis— and ‘make Willie Horton his running mate.’ Three years later, as Atwater was dying of cancer, at thirty-nine, he apologized to Dukakis for the ‘naked cruelty’ of his remark.
Across the country, Democratic candidates have been demonized on crime this campaign cycle. In a contest for the House seat anchored in Grand Rapids, Michigan, John Gibbs, a candidate endorsed by Trump, called his Democratic opponent, Hillary Scholten— a church deacon and a former Justice Department attorney— “terrifying” and “pro-crime.” In North Carolina, voters received a mailer that photoshopped “Defund the Police” onto an ordinary T-shirt that Rep. Ricky Hurtado was wearing. In Pennsylvania, a video ad, sponsored by the super pac Make America Great Again, Inc., says that the Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman “wants ruthless killers, muggers, and rapists back on our streets, and he wants them back now.”
A Wisconsin ad, produced by the National Republican Senate Committee, on behalf of Senator Ron Johnson, is especially stark. In a scene evidently designed to suggest danger to the suburban voters who may decide the election, viewers see Johnson’s Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes, the state’s current lieutenant governor, in what seems to be a grimy alleyway covered in graffiti. Barnes, who is Black, appears alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. A voice-over declares, “Mandela Barnes, a dangerous Democrat.” The implication is clear: this is what life is like under Democrats in the big city. (On Thursday, Johnson sent out a fund-raising e-mail with the subject line “Coming soon: Criminals loose in your neighborhood.”)
This line of attack— that crime soars under Democrats— suggests to voters that Republicans would swiftly clean it up. Since 2016, Trump has often told one of his “sir” stories about Chicago’s crime, in which a police officer, “a tough guy,” tells him that law enforcement could stop hundreds of murders each year, if only officers were given the chance. “How long do you think it would take you to fix this killing problem in Chicago?” Trump claims to have asked the unidentified man. “He looked at me and said, ‘One day, sir. These cops are great, they know all the bad guys, sir, they know exactly what to do. We could straighten it out so quickly that your head would spin.’”
…Democrats, perennially on the defensive regarding crime, often struggle to respond to Republican efforts to blame them. As the political adage goes, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. While campaigning this month in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Pritzker told me,“Effective lies usually are ten-per-cent true, and then everybody points to the ten-per-cent truth to give credibility to the entire lie. That’s what they’re doing about Chicago. Is crime high? Yeah, but so is crime across the country. Not to suggest to you that we don’t want much lower crime, but let’s recognize what we’re fighting against.” The key, Pritzker said, is to call a lie a lie: “You can’t just sit around and be frustrated by it. You’ve got to message back.”
Hitler, Mussolini and Franco used the exact same tactics-- even without the reach and amplification potential of social media-- and those tactics worked very well. By the time voters woke up to the fact that they'd been duped... it was too late. Weaken democracy had been replaced in Germany, Italy and Spain.