They’ve both resisted social distancing, lashed out against lockdowns, and compared the coronavirus to the flu. They’ve each played down the severity of their countries’ outbreaks, attacked experts (including within their own government), attended large political events often without wearing masks, and hyped the unproven benefits of hydroxychloroquine. Now that President Donald Trump has, like his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, months earlier, tested positive for COVID-19, a question remains: Will he, too, manage to emerge from this health crisis not simply physically unscathed, but politically empowered?
Well before the coronavirus pandemic, analysts, critics, and journalists had likened Bolsonaro to Trump, dubbing the Brazilian leader the “Trump of the Tropics.” The pair share a nationalist worldview, a willingness to embrace authoritarian tendencies, and a commitment to a strongman persona. Since being elected, Bolsonaro has even adopted Trump’s “fake news” clarion call, and seems to be the only Latin American leader who has a genuinely personal relationship with the American president.
The comparison has crystallized, however, during the pandemic. Much remains unclear about the severity of Trump’s case, and the two countries obviously differ, but the similarities are striking. Brazil’s response to the coronavirus has, like the United States’, been roundly criticized as a failure: The country leads the region in total coronavirus infections and has racked up the third-most confirmed cases globally. With 145,000 confirmed deaths, it trails only the United States, and, like the U.S., it never imposed a national lockdown. Bolsonaro also moved quickly to reopen his country, and downplayed the risk of the disease even as more than 20 members of his circle came down with the virus—after a trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. He’s been called “cavalier” and a “bomb thrower” during the course of the pandemic.