The New Year’s Day inauguration of avowed authoritarian strongman Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil signaled an ominous start to 2019. Brazil, as the fifth largest country by landmass (larger than the Australian continent), the sixth largest by population (larger than Russia), and the ninth largest economy (larger than Canada), represents global fascism’s biggest gain in recent history. The rise of Bolsonaro follows the recent consolidation of power by reactionary nationalists Recep Tayyip Erdoğa in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
We start out 2019 with neo-Fascists and assorted other “populists” and ethnonationalists holding office in 11 European nations, scoring recent double-digit vote tallies in Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Marine Le Pen’s French ethnonationalist National Front garnered one third of that country’s 2017 vote for president. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland’s governing PiS Party, described migrants arriving in Europe as being physically different than Poles, with an ability to carry “various parasites and protozoa, which don’t affect their organisms, but which could be dangerous here.” Duterte celebrated New Year’s Eve boasting of his childhood molestation of his family’s maid. Bolsonaro praised genocide against Native Americans and told a fellow member of Brazil’s congress, on the floor of that house, that she wasn’t good enough for him to rape. He promised to jail his opposition. 2019 is promising to be ugly.
In the United States, while Republicans lost ground nationally, reactionaries solidified domination of the party, with moderates and constitutionalists retiring or losing primaries in 2018. Despite a large popular vote loss, Republicans added two seats to their Senate majority, giving them continued power to appoint activist right-wing judges.
After losing statehouse races in Michigan and Wisconsin, Republican legislatures in both states moved to curtail the authority of the incoming Democratic governors-elect, as they did two years earlier in North Carolina. Resistance to ceding power after losing an election is a critical warning sign of a failing democracy. Nationally, the party has been doubling down on its efforts to suppress voting while embracing propagandistic misinformation campaigns and xenophobic dog-whistles often associated with the rise of fascism. Trump isn’t leading the party to fascism—he’s the product of a sustained GOP effort to subvert voting rights and democratic norms. By the time this New York City sideshow authoritarian ran for president, the Republican rank and file was well groomed to receive him and the fascism he represented.