President Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart, President Jair Bolsonaro, were full of praise for each other during the latter’s first visit to the White House on Tuesday.
“He has done a very outstanding job,” Trump said during an Oval Office press conference, before praising Bolsonaro for running “one of the incredible campaigns.”
“Somebody said it a little bit reminded people of our campaign, which I’m honored by,” he added.
Bolsonaro echoed those sentiments. “It gives me great pleasure to be here in the United States, to take part in this visit, after decades on end of anti-U.S. presidents in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said through a translator. “We will certainly work toward the benefit of our two nations. Just as [Trump] wants to have a ‘great’ America, I…also want to make sure we have a great Brazil.”
The Brazilian president also spoke warmly of Trump the night prior, in an interview with the conservative-leaning Fox News.
“We have a great deal in common,” he said. “I have been highly criticized because of this but I will not, of course, deny what I do think. … I’m willing to open my heart up to him, and do whatever is to the benefit of both the Brazilian and the Americans.”
The friendly relationship between the pair is perhaps unsurprising, bearing in mind the similarities in both their policies and often vitriolic rhetoric, most notably in relation to their ideas on crime and policing.
Both Bolsonaro and Trump have styled themselves as law-and-order leaders who have promised to crack down on crime. In Bolsonaro’s case, this is a much more pressing issue: Brazil suffered nearly 64,000 murders in 2017, a record number which increased the country’s murder rate to 30.8 per 100,000 people.
By comparison, the number of murders in the United States in 2015 (the most recent year data is available) was approximately five per 100,000 people. This, however, has not stopped Trump from repeatedly fear-mongering about crime in the United States, particularly when it comes to immigration.
Whereas most of Trump’s most aggressive “law-and-order” ideas have been limited to his speeches — like asking cops to rough up more suspects during an address to police officers in 2017 — the shocking murder rate Brazil is experiencing has given Bolsonaro political leeway to pursue a violent crime crackdown.
Over the past three months, police in Rio de Janeiro have averaged more than three killings a day, and residents in some of Brazil’s favelas have accused the police of brutality, including waging unauthorized sniper campaigns and firing indiscriminately from a helicopter.
Bolsonaro’s embrace of fiery populist rhetoric has also frequently boiled over to galvanize supporters into acts of violence, specifically targeted at opposition supporters and the media.
During the Brazilian election last November, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism documented more than 140 cases of violence against reporters, mostly by Bolsonaro supporters. Trump has embraced a similar rhetoric, which has at times caused his supporters to lash out against the media, most notably in the case of Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter who allegedly sent a dozen pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN’s offices in New York City. More recently, at a rally in El Paso last month, a Trump supporter attacked a BBC cameraman and several other news crews before being dragged away by security.
Both men also share a severe disdain for minority groups. Trump has repeatedly sought to paint nonwhite immigrants — specifically those from Mexico and Central America — as violent criminals, despite multiple studies showing undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than U.S. citizens.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” he said last May, referring to undocumented immigrants. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Trump also implemented a ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries, notoriously calling on the campaign trail for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Bolsonaro holds near-identical views. On Monday night, he told Fox News that he supports Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall because “the vast majority of potential immigrants do not have good intentions.” In that same interview he also castigated France for its open border policy, which he claimed had made parts of the country “unlivable.”
Both Trump and Bolsonaro have also targeted vulnerable communities within their countries.
On his first day in office, the Brazilian president issued several executive orders, one of which prohibited new lands from being set aside for indigenous communities or “Quilombolas,” the descendants of former slaves. He also issued an order granting the Agriculture Ministry, rather than the National Indian Foundation, power to certify those indigenous territories, a move which will likely leave many uncertified regions unprotected and open to farming, logging, and mining.
Bolsonaro also took immediate action against the LGBTQ community by stripping the human rights ministry of any authority over discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Bolsonaro has also said on several occasions that he would prefer a dead son over a gay son.
The Trump administration has similarly argued in court that discrimination against LGBTQ people should be legal, banned transgender people from serving in the military, and is considering erasing transgender people from the federal government.
In a second press conference in the Rose Garden Tuesday, Bolsonaro praised Trump’s crackdown and said he planned to repeat those efforts within his own government.
“Brazil and the United States stand side-by-side in their efforts to ensure liberties in respect to traditional family lifestyle, respect to God, our creator against gender ideology or politically correct attitude and against fake news,” he said. “Drawing inspiration from Ronald Reagan, I wish to bring his administration style to Brazil.”
In addition to being a climate denier, Bolsonaro has also suggested he is willing to destroy the Amazon rainforest for financial gain and believes indigenous groups living there should be forcibly assimilated. Trump, too, has repeatedly questioned the origins of human-caused climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence on the subject from his own administration.
Trump and Bolsonaro share another notable similarity: both men are facing creeping political scandals that have stymied their presidencies.
During his Fox News interview on Monday, Bolsonaro was forced to deny that he or his family were in any way linked to the murder of Marielle Franco, a prominent leftist politician who was gunned down in Rio de Janeiro last year. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is bracing for the imminent release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which is expected to outline allegations of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Despite this, Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he was confident Trump would be reelected in 2020.
“We will respect whatever the ballots tell us on 2020. But I do believe Donald Trump will be re-elected fully,” he said.