Another Trumpist in trouble

If the polls are to believed, Australians remain remarkably complacent about the performance of their Trumpist federal government, which will come up for re-election sometime in the next twelve months. One explanation is that, despite its doctrinaire incompetence, the consequences for Australia’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic have been – whether due to geography or good luck – much less dire than in other countries.

We have seen how bad things can get from recent coverage of India. But an equally graphic example is Brazil, whose ultra-Trumpist president finally seems to have exhausted his electorate’s patience.

Brazi’s experience of the virus was bad from the start. The president, Jair Bolsonaro, was a denialist about its seriousness, and the country’s death toll climbed quickly. As I put it a year ago, he had “all of Trump’s blustering ignorance, but with a greater willingness to put it into practice.” He continued to oppose face masks and other preventative measures, even after testing positive for the disease himself in the middle of last year.

Like Australia, Brazil has a federal system, so state governments were able to fill some of the gaps. The death toll started to ease off last Spring, but this year things deteriorated further, with the country recording 4,000 deaths a day by April. There has been some improvement since then, but there are still more than a million active cases.

In the meantime, Bolsonaro had other problems. His appointment of a new and more pliable defence minister in March led to the resignation of the three leaders of the armed forces. The following month, the Brazilian congress launched an investigation into his government’s handling of the pandemic, with a view to possible impeachment charges. And in March the supreme court overturned the conviction of his leftist rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, restoring his political rights and setting up a likely run for the presidency.

Lula’s period in office, which ran from 2003 to 2011, is seen – particularly with the assistance of nostalgia – as a time of progress and economic success. Although he was sometimes associated with the “pink tide” that brought such leaders as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa to power, unlike them he governed largely from the centre: which does not, of course, stop Bolsonaro and his allies from trying to paint him as a Communist.

The election is due in October of next year and at this stage Bolsonaro looks to be in a lot of trouble. Unlike Donald Trump, his approval rating started fairly high (around 60% when he took office) but fell steadily to the point where it was about equal to his disapproval. From there it stabilised until the advent of the coronavirus, at which point it fell into negative territory before stabilising again. (Wikipedia has nice tables and graphs.) In the last couple of months, however, his support has been in free fall. A poll last week found 57% in favor of his impeachment, up eleven points in three months.

Lula has also edged closer to an explicit declaration that he will be a candidate next year. That doesn’t mean it will be easy; the ex-president turns 76 this year, and he has been less than comprehensively vindicated by the courts – his conviction was quashed on jurisdictional grounds rather than by any finding that the corruption charges were unfounded. But many who would not normally be his allies will flock to his standard as the best chance of unseating Bolsonaro.

We may regret that our own worthless leaders have been granted more indulgence than Brazil’s, but we can only be grateful that we have not had to endure the carnage that has opened the eyes of Brazilian voters.

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