Donald Trump stood side by side at the White House yesterday with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has earned a reputation as the "Trump of the Tropics." Bolsonaro's right-wing antics and authoritarian vision have positioned him as one of the world's closest analogues for the current American president.
With this in mind, in his opening remarks before a brief Rose Garden press conference yesterday, the new Brazilian leader said, "In conclusion, may I say that Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God, our Creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news."
Soon after, Trump gushed with pride.
"You know, the incredible thing is that we can win an election and we have such a stacked deck. And that includes networks, frankly. You look at the networks, you look at the news, you look at the newscasts -- I call it 'fake news.'"I'm very proud to hear the president use the term 'fake news.'"
The Republican's response may not have been surprising, but it was depressing.
In the not-too-distant past, a foundational goal of U.S. foreign policy was exporting American values. For generations, it's been the underpinning of our approach to everything from trade to diplomacy. The more we interact with other nations, the more opportunity we have to introduce the world to our ideals: civil liberties, human rights, the virtues of democracy, religious liberty, the institutional importance of a free press.
In 2019, however, exporting American values has taken a back seat to exporting Trump's values. Instead of reminding the world about the key role journalism plays in a free society, we have an American president who takes great pride in hearing a South American leader echo his anti-press catch phrase.
Indeed, yesterday's press conference with Bolsonaro came just hours after Trump declared on Twitter, "The Fake News Media has NEVER been more Dishonest or Corrupt than it is right now.... Fake News is the absolute Enemy of the People and our Country itself!"
As Vox's Jen Kirby concluded yesterday, "Trump cozying up to authoritarian leaders is nothing new, but Bolsonaro got his 'Trump of the Tropics' nickname for a reason: Both men are democratically elected leaders who indulge in undemocratic tendencies and rhetoric. Their appearance together in the Rose Garden was another striking example of the Trump administration's shift in tone on issues of free speech and human rights -- and why Bolsonaro has so often been compared to Trump."