Polls from Brazil show that President Jair Bolsonaro, the Donald Trump–like authoritarian who has run the country disastrously since his election in 2018, is trailing far behind his leftist challenger, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in the run-up to the first round of voting on Sunday. But Bolsonaro is claiming that if he doesn’t win by a landslide, it will be because “something abnormal” happened with the voting process—echoing Trump’s false narrative from before he lost the 2020 election in the United States.
“Only God will remove me [from power],” said Bolsonaro, who launched his reelection bid with an announcement that, “The army is on our side. It’s an army that doesn’t accept corruption, doesn’t accept fraud.”
That’s an ominous signal for a country that has experienced military coups in the past. So, too, is the rallying behind Bolsonaro by international right-wing forces that have shown disdain for democracy. Notably, Trump has given his “complete and total endorsement” to the Brazilian president who the former US president celebrates as the “Tropical Trump.”
Bolsonaro’s record of attacking democratic institutions, and his incendiary language during the current campaign, has members of Congress who actually care about democracy justifiably concerned. They know that response of Bolsonaro and his allies to an election defeat could be even more dangerous and destructive than the deadly January 6, 2021, insurrection that Trump initiated.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been raising the alarm for months, arguing that the Senate should pass a resolution that would take a stand for democracy and “make it absolutely clear that [the US government] will not support any government that comes to power in Brazil through undemocratic means.”
Reuters reported recently that US diplomats have assured Lula that Washington will quickly recognize the winner of the election, “seeking to avert any attempt to contest a legitimate result or sow chaos after the vote.” But Sanders and a number of other Democrats in the Senate and House want Congress to back that up with a strong message in advance of the election. That’s the point of the resolution, says Sanders, who argues, “It would be unacceptable for the United States to recognize a government that came to power undemocratically, and it would send a horrific message to the entire world.”
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee who currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, agrees. Said Kaine, “The United States and Brazil are two of the largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere. At a time when democracy is under attack in Brazil, America, and in countries around the world, we have a duty to stand up for peoples’ fundamental right to shape their futures by having a voice in their government, without fear of political violence or retribution. This resolution sends a powerful message that Congress is committed to linking arms with the people of Brazil in [defense of democracy] and that we will not be silent in the face of any attempts to undermine Brazil’s electoral system.”
A number of prominent Democrats have also rallied behind the resolution, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), as well as Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, and Hank Johnson of Georgia. That’s not surprising, as the resolution is anything but radical. It simply calls on the US government to “speak out against efforts to incite political violence and undermine the electoral process in Brazil”; “to immediately recognize the outcome of the election in Brazil, if that election is determined by international observers and organizations to have been free and fair”; and “to make unequivocally clear that the United States considers bilateral United States assistance to Brazil to be predicated on the historic and ongoing commitment of the government and people of Brazil to democratic principles and human rights.”
Unfortunately, Republicans are erecting roadblocks to the measure. “We’ve not been able to get one Republican member of the Senate to make it clear that there must be free and fair elections in Brazil,” said Sanders, who told The Washington Post last week that he suspected “my Republican colleagues do not want to antagonize Trump.”
Sanders added, “That tells us a little bit about the state of democracy in this country and the Republican Party.”
Republicans used to make a big deal about political differences ending at the nation’s borders. But this is no longer the Republican Party of the past, which for better or worse embraced bipartisan diplomacy. It is the Republican Party of Donald Trump. And Trump champions Bolsonaro as “a wonderful man” who, the former US president says, called him more than any other world leader when both men were in office.
That’s what Trump says.
But the leader of the House team that prosecuted the former president for his coup attempt says Congress needs to take a stand on the side of democracy in Brazil.
“As the people of Brazil prepare to vote this fall, right-wing forces are trying to undermine the integrity of the electoral system and poison the process with authoritarian rhetoric that echoes the violent incitement we heard in America before January 6,” says Raskin. “This bicameral resolution insists that the upcoming elections in Brazil be free and fair, transparent and peaceful. Democracy is under attack around the world, and we must vigorously defend it everywhere against autocracy, insurrection and disinformation.”