Presidential Indifference

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil takes the prize. Mr Bolsonaro not only mimics the behaviour of his US counterpart Donald Trump, whom he considers a good friend and model leader, but takes the art of indifference to an entirely new level.

President Bolsonaro doesn’t seem to care that more than 6,000 Brazilians succumbed to covid-19. Questioned if he had anything to say about the matter, he merely shrugged his shoulders and asked in turn what the reporter thought he should do about ‘it’. Compared to Mr Bolsonaro, President Trump positively acts and sounds like a fount of carefully weighed and considered wisdom.

Moves are now afoot in the Brazilian congress to impeach the hapless president, albeit over another impropriety. A few commentators have also detected unease in military ranks and raised the possibility of a coup d’état, albeit one carried out with the tacit approval of a congressional majority. Almost all Brazilians agree that Mr Bolsonaro is quite unfit for office and singularly incapable of leading the country.

At every twist and turn of recent events, the Brazilian president has downplayed the corona outbreak. The surreal nature of his televised appearances surpasses by far any of President Trump’s more remarkable moments. Whilst even his most vociferous critics agree that President Trump is guided by some vague policy values and notions, President Bolsonaro’s cabinet appears to get by without any such broad principles. In fact, the predatory nature of the Brazilian government, led by a clique mostly intend on furthering their own private interests, prompted its only well-respected minister to resign. He went with a bang.

Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, who as a federal judge gained the respect of the nation for ruthlessly tackling corruption, could no longer accept the pork barrel politics and the trafficking of raw power he was confronted with in Brasília. His departure dealt a severe blow to President Bolsonaro who just days before had sent his public health minister packing for daring to oppose his own peculiar ideas about the pandemic.

Brazil has suffered more than most countries from corrupt, power-hungry, and inept presidents. In fact, one has to go back to the early 1960s to find the last demonstrably incorruptible president. That was Jânio Quadros (1917-1992) who caused consternation by abandoning the capital and the presidency mid-term without giving notice or an explanation. It is, however, widely suspected that Mr Quadros was so disgusted by what he saw and experienced whilst in power that he refused to serve the nation. His sudden departure resulted in a political crisis that ended in 1964 with the generals taking power – to popular acclaim – and clinging to it for the next 18 years. A lesson in history: Be careful what you wish for.