Democracy in Danger / Episode 2

Jair Bolsonaro came to power in Brazil in 2019 having campaigned on a nationalist message and nostalgia for the country’s military rule of the 1960s to 1980s. His administration has since rolled back protections for indigenous and minority groups, rejected the science behind climate change and denied the severity of the coronavirus pandemic — even as Brazil has climbed to second place in infections and deaths, behind only the United States. Bolsonaro himself contracted covid, and in early July removed his face mask in front of reporters in a display of bravado, to show he was getting better.

Photo by Antonio Scorza via Shutterstock.com.

Populist regimes are gaining ground across the world, and perhaps nowhere have the consequences been more dramatic than in Brazil. Under the chaotic leadership of president Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has become a major hot spot in the coronavirus pandemic. In this episode, Will and Siva talk to historian Federico Finchelstein about the rise of populism in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. For someone who grew up during Argentina’s Dirty War, these current populists trends echo fascist regimes of the past.


About our guest

A professor of history at the New School for Social Research in New York, Federico Finchelstein is the author of seven books on fascism, populism, and the Holocaust. His most recent works are A Brief History of Fascist Lies, published this year, and From Fascism to Populism in History (2017). He is also a regular contributor in the popular media, with articles appearing in the Washington Post, the Guardian, the New York Times, Folha de S.Paulo and other major newspapers and magazines.

Finchelstein joined us by video conference from his home in Connecticut. The interview was recorded in June and posted July 28, 2020.

What we’re reading

By our guest

Finchelstein's newest book, from the University of California Press, argues that the dissemination of political falsehoods provided an important basis for the rise of fascism in the 20th century. Tracing this line up through the present, the author suggests that the contemporary rhetoric of “fake news” mirrors such earlier phenomena, by casting the truth as “fake” and government-backed mischaracterizations as true.

Read more about how Finchelstein sees this dynamic playing out in the way populist leaders have responded to the global coronavirus pandemic, in this essay from Project Syndicate. He has also written for the Washington Post on President Trump’s handling of mass demonstrations around the United States this summer; on "Why far-right populists are at war with history"; and on what Americans have to learn from the authoritarian turn in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro.

From around the web

Read more more on the state of the pandemic in Latin America, from the BBC.

In this op-ed in the Guardian, historian Andrew Gawthorpe says fascism has not arrived in America — but it could.

And recent news coverage in the New Yorker and the New York Times has shown how the pandemic has exacerbated systemic racism and threatened the fragile political ecology of the Amazon River basin.


The transcript of this episode is available here

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