Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump stood side by side in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday, promoting the partnership between Brazil and the US and seizing the chance to bash “fake news.”
It was a striking reminder of how quickly the United States has embraced Bolsonaro — and why the far-right populist Brazilian leader has earned the nickname “Trump of the Tropics.”
Bolsonaro’s visit to the White House appeared to cement the friendship between the two leaders, which began in earnest after Bolsonaro’s election in October. The two spent most of the press conference discussing the “new chapter of cooperation” between Brazil and the United States, as Bolsonaro called it.
The Bush administration had somewhat frosty relations with Brazil’s leftist government, and though President Obama sought to build closer ties, the partnership faced setbacks, including the revelation from the Edward Snowden NSA leaks that the US had then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s emails and phone under surveillance.
The election of Bolsonaro — who’s expressed fondness for Brazil’s military dictatorship and has a history of making racist, misogynistic remarks — might have spelled another cooler period in US-Brazil relations, at least rhetorically.
Instead, the two leaders are working closely on Venezuela — where they both oppose current leader Nicolás Maduro — and previewed plans for closer economic and security cooperation. Trump said the US would designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally (a designation that makes it easier for the two to cooperate on defense, including facilitating the purchase of US weapons) and then added that he might consider making Brazil a NATO ally, though he’d “have to talk to a lot of people.”
Speaking next to Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, President Trump says he intends "to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally — or even, possibly, if you start thinking about it, maybe a NATO ally" https://t.co/0yPCMBv4Ca pic.twitter.com/nFdDV06N22— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 19, 2019
But what was perhaps most jarring about Bolsonaro and Trump’s meeting was how closely their worldviews seemed to align. This came across most clearly when Bolsonaro vowed that the US would stand against “fake news.”
“Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator, and stand against gender ideologies and politically incorrect attitudes and against fake news,” Bolsonaro said Tuesday, through a translator.
His statement, made alongside the US president, was striking, and a direct example of how he ran his campaign and his presidency so far. Bolsonaro and the cabinet he appointed often promote so-called traditional values, and Bolsonaro consistently attacks “gender ideology” — a kind of catchall that refers to LGBTQ rights, feminism, and leftist ideals that he sees as undermining the social order.
Bolsonaro also flings the term “fake news” at his critics, including those in media. He stirs fears over “gender ideology” and berates “fake news” to rally his base and distract from scandals in his administration and his increasingly unpopular agenda; in February, his approval rating fell to about 39 percent.
None of what Bolsonaro said about “gender ideology” received endorsement from Trump — but neither did it get any pushback.
But Trump later credited Bolsonaro for bringing up “fake news,” in responding to a question from the right-leaning outlet the Daily Caller about social media companies being liable for the content on their sites. And though Trump didn’t go much further than that in Tuesday’s press conference, it’s a talking point he uses often. Just Tuesday morning, he once again declared “fake news” the “Enemy of the People and Our Country.”
Trump cozying up to authoritarian leaders is nothing new, but Bolsonaro got his “Trump of the Tropics” nickname for a reason: Both men are democratically elected leaders who indulge in undemocratic tendencies and rhetoric. Their appearance together in the Rose Garden was another striking example of the Trump administration’s shift in tone on issues of free speech and human rights — and why Bolsonaro has so often been compared to Trump.