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On Jan. 8, 2023, supporters of Brazil’s right-wing former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential offices. Many of them had been camped outside the Brazilian Army headquarters for months in an effort to spur military action that could overturn the results of Brazil’s October 2022 election. In this election, Bolsonaro lost to incumbent left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Following Lula’s election, millions of Bolsonaro’s supporters resisted this change of power, claiming that the election was rigged despite the fact that various experts and election officials were saying the opposite. The root of this resistance seems to have come largely from Bolsonaro’s own doing, as he has always been public and open about his belief that Brazil’s election system is fraudulent.

The parallels of this situation are uncanny. Brazil’s riots are eerily similar to those that we saw here in the United States on Jan. 6, 2021. Just like Bolsonaro’s supporters, former President Donald Trump’s advocates attacked the U.S. Capitol in opposition to the result of the 2020 election. The sea of chaotic red, white and blue mirrors the one of green and yellow in Brazil. 

Is this a coincidence? Many think not. Trump is one of Bolsonaro’s allies — he has always endorsed Bolsonaro and even described their relationship as one of “great friends.” Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, and other Trump allies have taken an interest in Brazilian politics. Bolsonaro and his son, Eduardo, have attended multiple prominent American conservative conferences; it was Bannon and other American right-wing commentators who continuously encouraged Brazilians to question the results of their country’s election.

In efforts to explain this coincidence, political analysts are pointing to the idea that antidemocratic revolutions are contagious. Unrest leading to more unrest is a pattern in history. An example that resonates with many Americans is the Civil War — when South Carolina seceded from the U.S. in 1860, it led to a domino effect of other states seceding and, ultimately, the Civil War. Political analysts think the contagion of political unrest holds true in the case of Brazil and the U.S., as the similarities of the situations and the relationships between the political actors from both countries are too striking for these occurrences to be unrelated. 

Of course, I beg to differ. Though I do believe that there was some influence from political actors in the U.S., I also think it is important to consider the history of Brazil’s government before we draw any solid conclusions. Throughout history, Brazil’s government has often experienced corruption, military takeovers and prosecutions of former presidents. 

There was a coup d’etat in 1964 that ended with the successful overthrow of former President João Goulart. Following this takeover, the country was run under a military dictatorship for the next 21 years until democracy was ultimately restored. Even then, the country was not without political drama — Lula, after his first presidential term, was convicted in 2018 on charges of money laundering and corruption and sentenced to 12 years in prison (but was released early due to a Supreme Court ruling). With all that said, Brazil’s path toward democratic stability was evidently not an easy one. And now, there has even been some recent backpedaling as seen by the riots in Brazil.

Considering this history of political unrest, it is plausible that the riots in Brazil have nothing to do with the U.S. and everything to do with Brazil itself. Though political analysts are saying that antidemocracy is contagious, where these analysts may be wrong is in thinking that this contagion stems from the U.S. Maybe political unrest has been a centuries-long contagion, slowly spreading toward the U.S. rather than being born here and spread elsewhere. Maybe the Jan. 6 riots in the U.S. were “patient zero” of this transmission and there is more to come for our country.

And, if that is true, is it not all the more alarming with respect to what that says about the direction of our country? Rather than thinking of Brazil as a copycat of the U.S., we can flip the idea on its head and wonder whether we are simply becoming a less tame country — one that is prone to political unrest, rioting, staged coup d’etats or anything else under the sun. Our political dynamic may have shifted for the worse irreversibly. The implications of that idea, I believe, are most terrifying. 

Maybe it is difficult to see or believe that our country is changing for the worse because we are so entrenched in the time that we cannot externalize. Plus, as humans, we naturally draw parallels and look for patterns in our lives, so maybe the relationships we are drawing between riots are less significant than we think. 

Whether that is true or not, what we can certainly do is use this as a cautionary tale. Our country is exhibiting characteristics of one that has a comparatively more tumultuous political history than our own — let us take this as a sign to work toward greater political open-mindedness and cooperation. 

Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at annatrup@umich.edu.