Everyone got upset about the op-ed attributed to President Donald Trump in USA Today, as was no doubt the goal of whoever actually wrote the thing and arranged for its publication. Was it worth getting angry over, though? Sure, it was lies, end to end, one easily disproven falsehood after another, but so is everything from the White House, all day, every day. The only thing that distinguished it was that it was boringly written in a boring medium in a boring outlet that nobody reads.
Any real fear about unchecked presidential propaganda being printed in a major newspaper opinion section was swamped by bafflement: who wanted this listicle of nonsense? How and why was it produced? Obviously Donald Trump didn’t write it; in the other piece everyone got mad at yesterday, Olivia Nuzzi’s under-filtered transcript of Trump’s Oval Office blithering, the president couldn’t even recite his own accomplishments without trying to sneak a peek at the bullet-pointed handout he’d just had someone give her.
At most, the person who typed up the USA Today listicle was transcribing Trump free-association sessions at his rallies: “Venezuela…open-borders socialism…” Wouldn’t the target audience for this have already seen the message, and have enjoyed it more, via Fox News or memes on Facebook?
No, the most terrifying piece of authoritarian propaganda yesterday was something else entirely, something that ostensibly wasn’t even about Trump: it was the Wall Street Journal‘s burbling celebration of Jair Bolsonaro’s first-place finish in the first round of Brazil’s presidential vote, setting him up as the likely winner of the election. The Journal‘s editorial board is thrilled by the outcome, because it owns the libs:
Global progressives are having an anxiety attack over the near-triumph Sunday of Brazil’s conservative presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. After years of corruption and recession, apparently millions of Brazilians think an outsider is exactly what the country needs. Maybe they know more than the world’s scolds.
The editorial is a chopped salad of Trumpwords, to convey that the same good things (as the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board defines good thing) are about to happen for Brazil that have happened for America. Bolsonaro is a “swamp drainer,” the headline says. He is a “conservative populist who promises to make Brazil great for the first time.” And he “often says politically incorrect things about identity politics that inflame his opponents.”
The Journal editors don’t say which politically incorrect statements they find most pleasingly provocative, but Bolsonaro’s position on gay identity politics reportedly includes saying “I won’t fight against it nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up” and that he “would be incapable of loving a homosexual son.” He has a record of saying vile things about women and black people, as well, in cruder terms even than Trump has.
Jon Lee Anderson, in the New Yorker, described some of the other things the scolds are upset about, including the resemblance between Bolsonaro and another self-amused politician out there in the lands of Not Here, Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines:
Most distressing of all, Bolsonaro frequently praises the country’s former military dictatorship, which ruled from 1964 to 1985, and has called for its restoration. He has said that, if anything, the dictatorship had been too soft, noting that its “error was that it tortured but didn’t kill.” (In fact, the dictatorship killed hundreds of people, including leftist trade unionists, students, professors, and also a small number of guerrillas.) Bolsonaro has described torture as a legitimate practice, going so far as to offer his vote in the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff in honor of one of the dictatorship’s most notorious torturers.
Indeed, Bolsonaro’s policies would likely result in the killing of more Brazilians. He advocates relaxing gun-ownership laws, and has said that, as President, he would work to restore the death penalty, which was abolished in 1889, when Brazil became a republic. In some speeches, he has made Duterte-like statements, seeming to endorse the summary execution of criminals by the police. In a country where violence and public insecurity are at an all-time high—there were nearly sixty-four thousand homicides last year, giving Brazil one of the highest murder rates in the world—such Dirty Harry sentiments are popular. Bolsonaro’s trademark is a trigger-pulling gesture; some of his followers wear shirts emblazoned with his name and the silhouette of an automatic rifle.
Is the talk about extrajudicial violence a joke? Is it not a joke? This is the space in which Duterte has overseen the slaughter of thousands, cracking wise and taunting his critics while the bodies keep being dumped in the streets. Now the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board is chuckling along with Bolsonaro’s shameless boldness. So what if he turns out to really mean it? It’s just Brazil!