Tom Hennigan writes: On October 28th, 2018 almost 58 million Brazilians voted to make Jair Bolsonaro their president. It was a lamentable choice then, and nothing that has happened since would bring a minimally rational person to a different conclusion. What passes as his record speaks for itself.
Below is a chronological list of quotes from Bolsonaro and members of his family and administration during his first two years in power. Similar but worse lists were made before he was elected. Bolsonaro never hid who he was. So there can be no real surprise that power has not changed him. There are many ways of studying the Bolsonaro phenomenon. But a short cut to grasping its political thuggishness, illiberalism and religious obscurantism is to just listen to it speak. There are resonances with other right-wing populists who have come to prominence in recent years and there is also the anxious machismo, homophobia and general boorishness of a closed provincial mind that sadly leaves many Brazilians thinking their president is something of an authentic figure. This is obviously a far from exhaustive list, but it hopes to capture the coarseness of bolsonarismo and how the constant use of what might be termed traditional reactionary vulgarities, lies and crackpot nonsense lowers the level of public discourse to the point where more sinister statements are normalised. It is easy to laugh at the farcical quality of much of the discourse and hard to know how much of the carry-on is Bolsonaro the populist playing to Brazil’s raucous anti-elitist pit, or the result of the limited intellectual capabilities that his own vice-president feels forced to make excuses for, or if indeed it springs from where the two overlap. But we should never lose sight of the sinister element.
Bolsonarismo is less an ideology than a reactionary attitude. It has fused itself with evangelical Christianity and some misborrowed ideas imported from the political right in the US, an obvious template for its leader, who sees in Trump a model to be followed. Thus Bolsonaro talks of liberty and freeing citizens from the threat the state poses to their freedoms, when it is the institutions of the state that guarantee the liberty he claims to be so attached to. His liberty is cover for something far darker, a world without protections in which the weak and defenceless must never be allowed to stand in the way of those who would do as they wish. The new cycle of environmental destruction in the Amazon unleashed by Bolsonaro’s arrival in power is the window into his vision for society, a land freed of the nannying state’s protections, freed for violent pillage.
Nothing better reveals the fact that Bolsonaro’s liberalism is a con than his closeness to the obscurantist politicians of evangelical Protestantism, a key component of his political coalition. The theological underpinning for his politics of primitive accumulation comes from the gospel of prosperity preached by Brazil’s neo-Pentecostal churches, which are otherwise highly illiberal. Bolsonaro’s traditional machismo and homophobia is now being institutionalised by the army of evangelicals recruited into government. Their illiberalism complements that of the military men who also sit around the cabinet table. Still full of resentment at anyone who would dare discuss the crimes of the armed forces during the last dictatorship these generals would rather threaten other institutions which are attempting to hold Bolsonaro to account than admit the error of throwing their lot in with a troublemaker who was drummed out of the army in the 1980s for indiscipline. What unites these various elements is how third-rate they all are. Even the military, which spent decades rebuilding its reputation after the dictatorship, is seeing its institutional pride in its abilities undermined by the officers seconded to oversee the government’s disastrous response to the pandemic.
In many respects the whole Bolsonaro phenomenon is a fraud. He profited handsomely from his promise to purify Brazilian public life despite as a federal deputy practising one of its most traditional scams (pocketing his staff’s tax-payer-funded salaries), a scheme he appears to have trained his sons in once he had them ensconced in the political system. This, though, would actually place him well inside the Brazilian political mainstream that he claims to despise. His incompetence and shady authoritarianism ‑ he interfered in institutions to stymie probes into his family ‑ looked to have him on course to face impeachment earlier this year. That forced him into an alliance of convenience with some of the most corrupt operators in Brazil’s congress. The survival of his new politics is now dependent on observing the rules of the old politics he promised to do away with. There is a suspicion that some of his more outrageous or violent statements are timed to obscure this reality or distract from developments in the investigations into his family. Whatever the reason, Brazil is paying a terrible price in the sudden assimilation of a coarse, at times violent, typically facile discourse at the highest echelons of power. And there are at least two years still to go before it can make a change for the better.
Bolsanarismo in its own words
We are going to unite the people, enhance the family, respect religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat gender ideolog, preserving our values. Brazil will go back to being a country free of ideological restraints.
President Bolsonaro in his inaugural address, January 1st, 2019
Attention! Attention! There is a new era in Brazil. Boys wear blue and girls wear pink.
Evangelical pastor Damares Alves speaking to supporters after being sworn in as minister for women, the family and human rights, January 2nd, 2019
A Brazilian travelling is a cannibal. He robs things from hotels, robs life vests from planes; he thinks he can leave home and carry off everything. This is the type of thing that has to be reversed in school.
Education minister Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez lays out his case for moral and civic instruction, February 1st, 2020
What is a golden shower?
President Bolsonaro on Twitter after sharing a video in which one man urinates on another during a carnival celebration, March 6th, 2019
In the period of Pinochet, Chile had to have a bloodbath. Sad. Blood washed the streets of Chile, but the macroeconomic foundations implemented during that government … there have already been eight governments of the left and no one has messed with the economic foundations put in place in Chile.
Cabinet chief Onyx Lorenzoni sees the upside of Pinochet’s murder of over three thousand people on the occasion of Bolsonaro’s first visit to Chile, March 21st, 2019
When you reach a point like this, you see we really are at the bottom of the well. We have to look for a way to get up from the bottom of the well, helping these people, making them aware, really showing them what they have to do, what is good for them, for their future, and avoid arriving at this ridiculous point, so sad, this quantity of amputations we have each year.
President Bolsonaro after learning that one thousand penises are amputated in Brazil annually due to problems caused by a lack of hygiene, April 25th, 2019
If someone wants to come here to have sex with a woman, feel free … Brazil cannot be a country of the gay world, of gay tourism. We have families.
President Bolsonaro at a breakfast meeting with reporters, April 25th, 2019
All really small there?
President Bolsonaro, holding this thumb and index finger close together, to an Asian man who asked him for a selfie in Manaus airport, May 15th, 2019
Come here, Paulo Câmara, give me a hetero hug.
President Bolsonaro to the governor of Pernambuco when asked by journalists about his relationship with governors of the left-leaning northeast region, May 24th, 2019
Brazil is a virgin that every pervert from abroad wants. With apologies to the women here.
President Bolsonaro commenting on pressure from EU leaders and Pope Francis over the rise in deforestation in the Amazon, July 6th, 2019
Many try to sideline us by saying the state is secular. The state is secular, but we are Christians. To plagiarise my dear Damares, we are terribly Christian. And this spirit should be present in all the powers.
President Bolsonaro after attending a religious ceremony in congress, July 10th, 2019
One day if the president of the OAB wants to know how it is that his father disappeared during the military period I will tell him. He will not want to know the truth. I will tell him.
President Bolsonaro when criticising the OAB ‑ Brazil’s bar association ‑ offers to tell its president, Felipe Santa Cruz, about his father’s disappearance during the last military dictatorship, July 29th, 2019
I don’t believe in global warming. Look, I went to Rome in May and it was having a huge cold snap. This shows the theories are wrong.
Foreign minister Ernesto Araújo responds to a presentation by his own officials on global warming, August 2nd, 2019
You just have to eat a little less. When talking about environmental pollution, you just poo one day yes one day no, which will improve our lives quite a bit.
President Bolsonaro to a reporter who asked if environmentally sustainable economic growth is possible, August 9th, 2019
You see that people who have more culture have less children. I am an exception to the rule, I have five, okay? But as a rule that is how it is.
President Bolsonaro defending the adoption of a family planning policy, August 9th, 2019
She is defending the human rights of scumbags. Ms Michelle Bachelet, if it wasn’t for Pinochet’s people defeating the left in 1973, among them your father, today Chile would be a Cuba. I don’t think I have anything more to say to her. When people have nothing to do, they go there to the human rights role in the UN.
President Bolsonaro responding to the UN human rights commissioner and former president of Chile, whose father was tortured and murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship, after she expressed concern about an increase in attacks against Brazilian environmental and human rights activists, September 4th, 2019
The president did say it and it is true, the woman really is ugly.
Finance minister Paulo Guedes wades into the dispute between French president Emmanuel Macron and Jair Bolsonaro over deforestation in the Amazon in which the Brazilian president insulted President Macron’s wife, September 5th, 2019
By democratic means the transformation which Brazil wants will not happen at the speed we yearn for …
Rio city councillor and the president’s second-eldest son, Carlos Bolsonaro, on Twitter, September 9th, 2019
I am here twenty-four hours and nobody has yet offered me a marijuana joint and no girl has introduced a crucifix in her vagina.
Evangelical pastor Damares Alves, minister for women, the family and human rights, in her speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Brazil, October 12th, 2019
I am not defending that we go back to the monarchy but … What devils we are commemorating today? One hundred and thirty years ago an infamy was committed against a patriot, honest, enlightened, considered one of the best managers and governors in history (I am not restricting that affirmation to Brazil.)
Education minister Abraham Weintraub on Republic Day, when Brazil celebrates the military overthrow of Emperor Dom Pedro II, November 15th, 2019
What is the name of that girl there? There abroad? Greta. Greta has already said Indians died because they were defending Amazonia. It is striking the press give space to a brat like that. A brat.
President Bolsonaro on Greta Thunberg, October 12th, 2019
You have a terribly homosexual face, but it is not because of that I accuse you of being a homosexual.
President Bolsonaro to a reporter who asked him a question about the corruption investigation into his senator son Flávio, one of several probes into the Bolsonaro clan’s murky financial arrangements, December 20th, 2019
Here kid, ask your mother for proof she put out for your father, okay?
President Bolsonaro to another reporter who asked another question about the investigation into his family’s corruption, December 20th, 2019
The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and it will be national. It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement and will be equally imperative, deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing.
Culture secretary Roberto Alvim plagiarising Joseph Goebbels in a speech announcing the National Award for the Arts, January 16th, 2020
Who is the only fatso in Venezuela?
President Bolsonaro when asked by a comedian if he knows Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, March 4th, 2020
What is this filth called Greenpeace?
President Bolsonaro reacting to criticism of his policies by the environmental organisation, February 13th, 2020
He took ten months to be born. He got a bit burnt in there, Hélio, otherwise he would look like me.
President Bolsonaro about his friend and federal deputy Hélio Lopes, who is black, February 20th, 2020
I think we won’t reach that point. Not least because the Brazilian needs to be studied. You see some guy there jumping into sewage, he gets out, dives in, right? And nothing happens to him.
President Bolsonaro explains why he does not think the coronavirus pandemic will hit Brazil as hard as it did the United States, March 23rd, 2020
This is the reality, the virus is here. We have to face it, but face it like men, damn it, not children. We are going to face the virus with reality. It’s life. We are all going to die one day.
President Bolsonaro, March 29th, 2020
Let’s clear up the following, medical science is as or more imprecise than economic science.
Rubens Noavaes, president of state bank Banco do Brasil, opposing coronavirus lockdown measures, March 31st, 2020
It seems it is starting to go away this question of the virus, but what is arriving and hitting hard is the question of unemployment.
President Bolsonaro when Brazil’s coronavirus death toll stood at 1,223. It has since passed 170,000, April 12th, 2020
Count on your president to do everything that is necessary so we can maintain our democracy and guarantee that which is most sacred in us, which is our liberty. Everyone in Brazil has to understand that they are submissive to the will of the people.
President Bolsonaro addresses supporters at a rally calling for a military intervention against the congress and supreme court, April 19th, 2020
I want everyone armed. An armed people will never be enslaved.
President Bolsonaro defends his policy of weakening gun controls at cabinet, April 22nd, 2020
If it was up to me I would put all these scumbags in jail. Starting with the supreme court.
Education minister Abraham Weintraub to cabinet, April 22nd, 2020
I read Keynes three times in the original before I reached Chicago. So for me there is no music, no dogma, no blah blah blah.
Finance minister Paulo Guedes presents his credentials to cabinet, April 22nd, 2020
So what? I’m sorry about it. What do you want me to do? I am Messiah, but I cannot do miracles.
President Bolsonaro jokes about his middle name (Messias) when asked to comment on Brazil’s coronavirus death-toll passing five thousand, April 28th, 2020
I don’t have to support Black Consciousness Day. Here we are not going to have it. Zero, here there will be zero for black consciousness.
Sérgio Camargo, president of the Fundação Palmares, the federal body responsible for preserving and promoting black culture, April 30th, 2020
Today was a day of infamy, NATIONAL SHAME, and will be remembered as the Brazilian Kristallnacht. They profaned our homes and are suffocating us. Know what the oligarchical/socialist mainstream media will say? SIEG HEIL!
Education minister Abraham Weintraub reacting to raids by police investigating the spread of fake news by supporters of the president, May 27th, 2020
I didn’t realise pigs could get coronavirus as well …
Federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro reacts on Twitter to news that colleague and former ally federal deputy Joice Hasselmann tested positive for coronavirus, June 17th, 2020
I have nothing against anyone who uses the wrinkled orifice of their lower back for sex.
Gilson Machado, president of the Brazilian Tourist Board, when criticising a play in which Jesus appears as a trans woman, June 24th, 2020
What? Fifa cancelled the world clubs? Man, just because Palmeiras [the very successful São Paulo club] were going to be champions, but whatever.
President Bolsonaro on being told Fifa cancelled the tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic, June 25th, 2020
Those were the words of a great statesman. May the legacy and the values of the Founders of this great nation endure and be kept from the evil intentions of radicals.
President Bolsonaro uses Twitter to praise a speech by Donald Trump, July 24th, 2020
He finished his career as captain, which is much more physical than intellectual. He did not experience the moment in the military career when you move from the physical part to the intellectual.
Vice-president General Hamilton Mourão offers Bolsonaro’s undistinguished military career as an explanation for his limited intellectual capabilities, July 14th, 2020
Our government is of the centre-right because we have people who are of the centre and people who are of the right so it is the sum of these two, this is the reality.
Vice president General Hamilton Mourão, July 31st, 2020
President Bolsonaro, the vice-president, the minister of defence. Their training is to go to the forest and stay for three, four, five years. They love the jungle. We are not like General Custer who went to remove the Indians from the Black Hills and was killed at Little Bighorn. That didn’t happen here. This is a gentle people. The great histories about how we killed our Indians are false.
Finance minister Paulo Guedes speaking to the Aspen security forum in the US, August 6th, 2020
I want to fill your mouth with punches.
President Bolsonaro to a reporter who asked him about the latest revelations from the investigation into his family’s corruption, August 23rd, 2020
I received this video, Amazonia is not burning.
Environment minister Ricardo Salles on Twitter sharing a video produced by farmers in the Amazon claiming the region was not on fire. The video shows footage from the Atlantic rainforest in the southeast of Brazil, September 9th, 2020
We cannot allow and encourage foreign nations, entities and personalities, without a past that gives them the moral authority to criticise us, to succeed in their principal objective, obviously hidden but evident, which is to harm Brazil and topple the Bolsonaro government.
Institutional security minister General Augusto Heleno accuses foreign governments of using concern about the environment as cover for attempting to overthrow the country’s government, September 21st, 2020
I make an appeal to all the international community for religious freedom and to combat Cristophobia.
President Bolsonaro in his virtual speech opening the UN’s General Assembly, September 22nd, 2020
I felt a huge pride in belonging to this team! Brazil above everything, God above everyone!
General Luiz Ramos, minister of the government secretariat, on Twitter reacting to Bolsonaro’s UN speech, September 22nd, 2020
I think an adolescent who many times opts to walk the path of homosexualism has a very close family context, you just have to do research. These are maladjusted families, some of them. There is a lack of the attention by the father, a lack of attention by the mother. I see boys of twelve, thirteen years opting to be gay without ever having known a real woman, a real man and it goes from there. They are questions of values and principles.
Evangelical pastor Milton Ribeiro, Bolsonaro’s third minister of education, September 24th, 2020
What can I say about Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who was my commander at the end of the ’70s? He was a man of honour and a man who respected the human rights of his subordinates.
Vice-president General Hamilton Mourão on the first official in Brazil’s last military dictatorship to be declared a kidnapper and torturer by a court, October 9th, 2020
Strategic themes must be accompanied by qualified officials, most of all when they involve sordid and deceitful international campaigns, supported by bad Brazilians, with the objective of harming Brazil.
Institutional security minister General Augusto Heleno defending spying by Brazil’s intelligence agency on participants at the COP25 climate summit in Madrid in December, October 16th, 2020
Compulsory vaccine only for Faísca here.
President Bolsonaro on social media, displaying a selfie with his dog, October 24th, 2020
Another win for Jair Bolsonaro.
President Bolsonaro on social media celebrating the suspension of trials for a Chinese coronavirus vaccine being conducted by the administration of his political rival São Paulo governor João Doria following the suicide of a volunteer, November 10th, 2020
We have to stop being a country of poofs … We have to confront this with our chests out, fight. What is this generation of ours?
President Bolsonaro on the coronavirus pandemic, November 10th, 2020
Diplomacy alone isn’t enough. When the spittle runs out, you have to have gunpowder.
President Bolsonaro prepares to resist the threat of US sanctions from the incoming Biden administration over deforestation in the Amazon, October 11th, 2020
For me, there is no racism in Brazil. This is something they want to import. It doesn’t exist here. I say to you with total tranquillity racism does not exist in Brazil… I lived in the United States. There is racism there.
Vice-president General Hamilton Mourão ignores virtually every metric by which racism is usually measured when asked to comment on the death by asphyxiation of a black customer by a supermarket security guard and a police officer which was captured on video, November 20th, 2020
There are diverse interests creating tensions between us. A united people is a sovereign people. Divided it is vulnerable. And a vulnerable people can be more easily controlled and subjugated. Our liberty is non-negotiable.
President Bolsonaro, in his address to the G20, insinuates outsiders are behind protests that followed the killing of a black man two days previously, November 21st, 2020
Now, the press does not divulge it, but I have my own sources of information; no point telling you, you will not divulge it, but really there was a lot of fraud there which no one is discussing.
Bolsonaro to reporters on the US presidential election, November 29th, 2020
Tom Hennigan is the South America correspondent of The Irish Times and is based in São Paulo, Brazil.