Skip to main content


America: a beacon of democracy no more?

Protesters at the congress building in Brasília. Mateus Bonomi/Anadolu Agency/Getty

For Americans, says Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic, the political violence in Brazil has felt all too familiar. After Jair Bolsonaro lost November’s election, he refused to attend the inauguration of his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Instead, he decamped to, “of all places”, Florida, and he and his right-wing supporters pursued “fictional” claims of voter fraud in the courts. When those efforts failed, his goons chose 8 January to launch their assault on the congress, supreme court and presidential palace in Brasília – almost exactly two years after Donald Trump’s supporters launched their own assault on America’s capital. Some protesters even held up signs in English, “as if to speak to their fans and fellow flame-throwers in the US”.

This marks a turning point for America. For more than two centuries, the US was a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world. The language of the 1776 Declaration of Independence was echoed in the 1789 French Revolution – “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” – and the 1804 Haitian slave rebellion: “in the end we must live independent or die”. Simón Bolívar, remembered as “the Liberator” in half a dozen South American countries, said the US was the first place he saw “rational liberty”. Brazil shows that the “power of example” works both ways – we can inspire autocrats too. “Democratic revolutions have long been contagious. Now we know that anti-democratic revolutions can be too.”