John Oliver looked ahead to a concerning election for Brazil next week, in which President Jair Bolsonaro seeks a second term. Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who, among other things, told a female member of congress he wouldn’t rape her because “you’re not worth it,” said he’d rather his son died in an accident than was gay, and frequently makes finger gun gestures, campaigned in 2018 “as a misogynistic homophobe who gestures like he runs a tech startup”, the Last Week Tonight host explained.
Now, polls show Bolsonaro’s rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leading the race by a wide margin. But there are concerns that if Bolsonaro loses, he will refuse to give up his office and follow Donald Trump’s example by encouraging supporters to back a “tropical version” of the Capitol riot. “Which isn’t great although, for the record, you really don’t have to use the word ‘tropical’ to describe an insurrection just because you’re talking about Latin America,” Oliver said. “Especially because ‘tropical riot’ sounds like a Mountain Dew flavor that was recalled for blinding several children.”
Bolsonaro’s version of January 6 could be “a lot more destructive than Trump’s”, Oliver warned, because he has successfully courted support among his military. “All of which makes it more than a little concerning” when Bolsonaro tells supporters, as he did at a recent rally: “there are only three alternatives for me: to be arrested, to be killed, or to be victorious. And I tell those scumbags, I will never go to jail.”
“No one says that before doing something pleasant,” Oliver noted. “No one says their options are ‘victory, prison or death’ before they, say, march into the Great British Bake-Off tent for biscuit week.”
As “one of the world’s biggest democracies seems like it might be barreling towards a cliff”, Oliver examined Bolsonaro, “the man with his foot planted firmly on the gas”, whose first term as president has roiled Brazil.
Bolsonaro, whom Last Week Tonight covered back in 2018, has “governed pretty much exactly how he said he was going to”. He loosened guns laws to the point that the number of weapons in private hands doubled during his time in office, despite polls showing that the majority of Brazilians are against lax restrictions. “He’s giving people what they didn’t ask for and don’t want, which I believe is also the job description for the head of original programming at Netflix,” Oliver quipped.
Bolsonaro has also devastated the Amazon by loosening regulations, expanding logging and mining and scaling back enforcement; deforestation is now at its highest point in a decade, destroying the homes of Indigenous people and increasing Brazil’s emissions by 9.5%.
But the “defining catastrophe” of Bolsonaro’s presidency has been his handling of the Covid pandemic, which has infected 34 million Brazilians and killed more than 685,000. “Right from the start, he refused to take it seriously,” Oliver explained. Bolsonaro dismissed the virus as “a little flu” and shrugged off responsibility in “the most dickish possible way”.
“I’m sorry for the dead, I’m sorry, but we’re all going to die one day,” Bolsonaro said in a speech. “We have to stop being a country of sissies.”
“That is just monumentally shitty,” said Oliver. “America’s response left a lot to be desired, but at least the CDC slogan was never ‘what are you complaining about, death comes for all of us, man up and die in a hole.’”
As president, Bolsonaro “actively made it [Covid] worse” by punishing governors and other officials who instituted shutdowns or social distancing policies, and delayed ordering doses of the vaccine.
Bolsonaro, whose inner circle is now engulfed in a series of legal and criminal investigations, has also worked to sow doubt in Brazil’s election system. “I don’t want to spend too much time knocking down every one of Bolsonaro’s complaints,” said Oliver, “because it’s pretty clear that in raising these objections in the run-up to the election, his intention isn’t to maximize the security of the vote, but to maximize the amount of distrust that people have in it.
“And his support have been very much listening to his bullshit,” he added before footage of interviews with Brazilians who believe the election would only be fair and legitimate if Bolsonaro won in the first round by a large margin.
Things are tense in Brazil, Oliver summarized, even before getting to Bolsonaro’s deep ties to the military – the president, who is ex-military and openly admiring of the country’s former military dictatorship, has several ex-military members on staff; numerous military officials have sown similar doubts about the election process.
A January 6-style coup attempt in Brazil could be “much worse” than in the US, Oliver explained, because “luckily for us, Trump’s allies were generally limited to a shirtless man in a fur hat, a perpetually hoarse pillow baron, and some of his dumber children.
“But Bolsonaro has significant military support,” he continued. “Generally, when someone threatens democracy, it’s a lot easier to say, ‘You and what army?’ when you’re absolutely certain that that person doesn’t have an actual army behind them.
“For Brazil, there is a lot on the line here,” he concluded. “The weeks ahead could be extremely nerve-racking. And the fact is, if Bolsonaro eventually loses and chooses to fight the results, it is going to test the strength of Brazil’s relatively young democracy.”