In true Orwellian fashion, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has called upon the country’s military to celebrate the anniversary of the dictatorship it inaugurated against constitutional democracy on March 31, 1964, imposing military rule for over two decades. Contributing to the air of surreality surrounding Bolsonaro’s idea of “celebration” was the lavish praise Bolsonaro received from Donald Trump in a state visit to the White House a week ago. In spite of (or perhaps because of) Bolsonaro’s outrageous positions on the civil rights of women, homosexuals and blacks, Trump boasted that one of Bolsonaro’s monikers is “the Trump of the tropics”.
There is a deeper, darker historical significance to the Bolsonaro-Trump love fest. The military rule imposed on Brazil from 1964 to 1985 reflected currents of authoritarianism not only in Brazil but in the United States. The Brazilian dictatorship would never have lasted and probably would not even have occurred without an American authoritarian foreign policy toward Brazil and many other countries from the 1960s through the 1980s. A Manichean cold war logic intolerant of the electoral success of leftists or democratic socialists overtook the U.S. State Department, equating it with Soviet-style communism. Support for dictatorships, provided they were anti-communist, became the norm. In Bolsonaro and Trump these horrifying ghosts from the past have been resurrected. Vigilance of the highest order is called for in order to assure they do not turn the clock back on self-government.
P.S. The following blog about the Brazilian and Chilean dictatorships is an excerpt from my recently published essay “A Complexity Theory of Power”.