Like the president of Trump Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has had coronavirus. What can we learn from this?


Few world leaders are compared to President Donald Trump as often as Jair Bolsonaro. Like Trump, the Brazilian president is a polarizing right-wing populist, inclined to demean women and minorities, attack the news media and use Twitter to inflame his increasingly nationalist base. Also – like Trump – Bolsonaro got COVID-19.

Now, just 32 days away from the U.S. presidential election, those who have watched the two leaders’ parallel careers are wondering if Bolsonaro’s experience with the virus may help understand what Trump’s illness might mean for his chances on the November 3. .

Joshua Clinton, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who studies the effect of public opinion on elections, said Trump’s diagnosis, like Bolsonaro’s, could end up bringing back a topic he’d rather avoid in public conversation.

“If President Trump becomes extremely ill, which I obviously hope he doesn’t, what does that mean? Clinton said. “Are people nicer? Or do people get the impression that he made political mistakes and that this is an example of the result of those mistakes? ”

Like Trump, Bolsonaro, who has ruled Brazil since 2018, has played down the virus in public, mocking it “a bit of the flu” and urging Brazilians to return to work as the country has some of the highest infection rates. highest in the world. Then, in early July, Bolsonaro announced that he had contracted the disease. It emerged, after three weeks in quarantine, once again downplaying the severity of the coronavirus and suddenly enjoying a surge in popularity.

“I knew I was going to catch it someday because I think unfortunately almost everyone here will eventually catch it,” Bolsonaro said at the end of the month. “I regret the dead. But people die every day from a lot of things. It’s life. ”

According to Datafolha, a Brazilian polling institute, 37% of those polled described the Bolsonaro administration as good or excellent in August, up from 32% in June, with most of the gains occurring among poor sectors in Brazil. It was a big turnaround for Bolsonaro, who had faced calls for impeachment over corruption scandals earlier this year.

While some attributed the bump in public opinion to her full recovery and her vigorous rejection of the severity of a disease that has so far killed more than 144,000 Brazilians – just behind the United States – others point instead to towards massive government aid initiated by Bolsonaro before him. get sick.

The emergency assistance program authorized monthly payments equivalent to approximately $ 115. These payments led to a drop in severe poverty rates in Brazil during the global pandemic, according to a study by Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a think tank.

Although Bolsonaro, 65, tried to use his recovery as a sign of his own political strength, Brazilians’ biggest concern appeared to be the economy, which has been devastated by the pandemic. Providing millions of people with a financial lifeline had a much greater impact on public sentiment.

Yet, said Brian Winter, editor of Americas Quarterly, if Trump’s case remains moderate, the outcome for him could be similar to Bolsonaro’s. “It goes along with the same idea of ​​’we’re going to get out of this,’ Winter said. Bolsonaro’s case “helped convince some Brazilians that the pandemic was not so severe and that they could go back to their daily lives,” he added.

Unlike Bolsonaro, Trump, 74, currently does not have a massive public assistance program to bolster his support. Although Congress authorized a weekly federal payment of $ 600 to the unemployed as part of its coronavirus stimulus package in March, that money ran out at the end of July, and Trump was not in. able to secure a second round of aid through a frozen legislature.

Darren Davis, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, played down the idea that Trump could benefit from his own fight against the disease given the current economic and social climate.

“While it’s possible for President Trump to receive some sympathy for his positive Covid-19 tests, I would expect it to be marginal at best,” Davis said. “I would say a lot of people feel more schadenfreude than sympathy.”

A growing number of world leaders have contracted COVID-19 since the disease first emerged in China, including the presidents of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, the prime ministers of Russia and Armenia, and the second in command in Venezuela. None have died, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized and needed supplemental oxygen, while President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández was also briefly hospitalized after contracting the virus. The Nigerian president’s chief of staff died from the coronavirus in April.

Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, initially called the disease a “psychosis” and claimed that drinking vodka and going to the sauna could prevent infections. But in late July, he revealed he had tested positive for the disease and had recovered without serious symptoms.

But Bolsonaro is perhaps the world leader who follows Trump most closely in terms of dealing with the pandemic, as well as his overall political approach.

Brazil now has the third-worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, with 4,847,092 positive cases, and the country’s total death toll is second after the United States.

In response to their massive public health crises, the two presidents downplayed the severity of the pandemic, refusing to wear masks, contradicting their own top scientists and prioritizing the economy. When a reporter asked Bolsonaro about the record number of deaths, he shrugged and asked, “So what?

” What do you want me to do? He continued, visibly irritated.

In March, Bolsonaro and Trump shared a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, after which at least 15 people from Brazil, including close associates of the president, then tested positive for the virus. The Brazilian Minister of Health later called the return trip a “Corona flight”.

None of the leaders were infected at the time, but soon after, Bolsonaro began advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the disease – echoing Trump’s similar sentiments – despite the fact that he There is very little, if any, scientific evidence to suggest that it is a useful therapy. for COVID-19.

After contracting the virus, Bolsonaro said he was taking the antimalarial drug and claimed it was helping him recover.

During the television interview in which he announced that he had tested positive in July, Bolsonaro removed his mask, prompting the Brazilian Press Association to file a criminal complaint with the Supreme Court for endangering journalists present at the press conference. Like Melania Trump, Bolsonaro’s wife has also contracted COVID-19.

Many people considered a positive Bolsonaro test to be inevitable. The former army captain had continued to roam the country, shaking hands with partisans, visiting shops and dining in restaurants, often without a mask.

Some Brazilians also didn’t seem surprised by Trump’s positive test, given his resistance to wearing masks and his rejection of the severity of the disease. Some quickly drew comparisons between him and their own president.

“It’s very symbolic that Trump and Bolsonaro have both been infected with the coronavirus,” journalist Lucas Pedrosa wrote on Twitter early Friday morning.

Some have even speculated that Trump might fake the diagnosis to get out of more debate after this week’s chaotic showdown with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, which was widely seen as a loss for the incumbent.

“Trump lost the last debate and now he ‘has the crown” and he will not participate in the next debate. Son of a bitch, I think Bolsonar[o] taught him to get out of debates ”, tweeted a Brazilian user.

Beyond the health concerns and political implications of the president’s diagnoses, Clinton, the political science professor at Vanderbilt, noted that this also presented huge logistical challenges at the worst possible time.

“It puts him on the sidelines at a time when he needs to be out there to fundraise. If he lags behind in the polls and needs to be quarantined, it will be difficult for him to come out and change the narrative.


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