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You are worried: “Will my kids be safe in school? Will I be safe when they come home? Will we have enough money for rent or mortgage or food or health?” 

And your worries, l trust, will include the bigger picture: “Will our democracy survive?” How do we survive?

Both personal and political questions involve leadership—who sets the goals, who helps to meet them? That office is the President, currently held by Donald J. Trump. That is both the problem and the solution. He is cause, namely: inattention, then inadequate response to the virus and pandemic, resulting in the savage damage to the economy. He could also be involved in the solution – if and when deposed.

We cannot completely answer the personal questions worrying you until we focus on the danger to the democratic system. Let’s compare the rise and possible fall of two federal systems, two democracies: Brazil and the United States of America. Brazil suffered through a military dictatorship, beginning with a coup, a golpe de estado—a military take-over of government – in 1964, re-emerging as a democracy in 1985. It now faces a “soft coup,” led, at the top by its militaristic President, Jair Bolsonaro. That “head of the fish” is doomed to decay.

So, it seems, is our “head of the fish,” Donald Trump, perhaps rotting from his lack of knowledge of science and from the drastic damage to the economy (GDP drop by 32.9 percent, largest in history). Add : 1) on the international level, flirtation with his buddy, his admired counterpart, Putin of Russia, who allegedly pays Afghans to kill Americans; 2) on the local level, flirtation with Voo-Doo medicine, a Houston woman who blames “sex with demons” and “alien sperm” as causes of the virus! He thinks she has a “good message” for us to hear! (where are good, “Christian”–read, Evangelical—leaders to say “he’s a non-believing hypocrite?”) 

Re-thinking Brazil—famously known as “o pais do futuro”—the country of the future! (Brazilians have often joked: “always the future—never the present!”) She is 5th largest in the world geographically and 6th largest in population, with 211 million people. (I chose to focus on Brazil as a sister Republic; I could have used Hungary or Turkey, other lost democracies.) I spent time studying in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Recife. I lived there (Jacarézinho, in Rio and Brasilia Teimosa, in Recife). I miss their largely Afro-Brazilian inhabitants. 

The current, rotting President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, openly repeats how much he detests Blacks. Ironic, given so much of Brazil’s famous literature (Jorge Amado), exotic food (feijoada) and sublime music (Carnival; the film, Orféo Negro) come from the Afro-Brazilian population. So, he has no care about the culture, or about 50 percent-plus of the population? Add to his racism – this White, militaristic, would-be dictator – his misogyny. He jeered at a female Congressperson: “I wouldn’t rape you; you’re too ugly.” It’s Donald Trump of the Tropics, on steroids.

Immediately upon taking office, Bolsonaro deleted government policies that have protected Brazil’s indigenous peoples in the interior. He jailed a former President and banned him from speaking in public. More recently, he has eliminated over 55 policy councils and other democratic agencies.

Brazil’s President openly ridiculed efforts to stem the corona virus and fired the national health officer for speaking against those actions. He speaks favorably of a return to the military junta of 80s. Ironically, now Bolsonaro also had the virus—Karma?–but only “mold on my lungs” now. He has met with Trump personally, without masks. See any parallels? Have any predictions? prayers?

Donald Trump’s belated (and negative) responses to the virus have not yet fully played out. We do know Herman Cain is dead, Louie Gohmert and others near and around Trump have the virus. Yet, Trump still argues for “schools to open” in the Fall. He flails against the sagging economy, so repairs to what he still sees as his “base.” He tweets: “Suburbanites Will No Longer be Bothered by Low-income Housing” (Joshua Espinoza, Complex, 30 Jul 20), as he cuts more Fair Housing laws. Yet, this descent into more classism and racism is not “as low as he can go.” 

Lower, and more dangerous to democracy still, is Trump’s threat to “postpone” elections. Also appalled, is Northwestern University Law Professor, Steven Calabresi, who wrote: “Trump should be impeached again and removed from office” He and other historians note no election in U.S. history (during the Civil War, the Great Pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, World War II) has ever been canceled or dates changed. That matter, for the record, is only constitutionally possible by the Congress.

So, yes, do worry—and do get involved—in democratic decisions regarding your local schools. Research, respect science, and register your opinion. Also, think big; consider national and international issues. Is Trump as fearful and as desperate as Bolsonaro? Which country might lose its democracy first—Brazil? the U.S.? Rot starts from the head of the fish. We have the earlier, best chance to cut off that head. Brazil might then be encouraged by our example of democracy for the Americas.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above op-ed shows Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro. (Photos: Sergio Lima/Bloomberg)

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