jair bolsonaro Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Dirty Populists

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro joins the growing ranks of leaders – including America's Donald Trump, Hungary's Viktor Orbán, and Poland's Jarosław Kaczyński – who won power by vowing to end systemic corruption. But he is likely to join them in enabling much more of it.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – The election left one of the world’s largest countries deeply divided, handing the presidency to a military-loving, minority-bullying, media-bashing firebrand promising to smash a corrupt establishment. I am not talking about the 2016 US presidential election that put Donald Trump in power, but rather the 2018 election in Brazil, won by the so-called Trump of the Tropics, Jair Bolsonaro, who was formally inaugurated on January 1.

Bolsonaro joins the growing ranks of supposedly transformative leaders – including Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and de facto Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński – who won power by railing against the establishment and vowing to end systemic corruption. Will he also join Trump, Orbán, and to a lesser extent Kaczyński, in overseeing the spread of new kinds of corruption, while attempting to reshape governance to entrench his own power?

Despite repeatedly pledging to “drain the swamp,” Trump has enabled a level of corruption that is arguably unprecedented in American history, affecting large swaths of the federal bureaucracy. He has failed to fill open positions, slashed budgets, bypassed established bureaucratic procedures and protocols, and sidelined diplomats. He has largely spared the military, though here, too, he frequently denigrates his commanders’ expertise in favor of his gut feelings.

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