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Macho and Maskless: Trump, Bolsonaro Make U.S., Brazil Weaker COVID Prey

Alex Brandon
COWBOYS AND BANDEIRANTES President Trump (left) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago in Florida in March.


Has the State Department informed President Trump that his best Brazilian buddy was just ordered to be um banana?

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That’s a potassium-rich insult in Portuguese that means “a wimp.” A federal judge in Brazil this week told Brazilian President and commander-in-corona-denial Jair Bolsonaro that he has to wear a mask in public like every other brasileiro in the country’s federal district. He’s making bolsonarismo surrender to bananismo

The U.S. and Brazil, the two largest countries in the Americas, are now home to the world’s two highest tallies of new coronavirus cases and deaths. Those infections and fatalities, from Arizona to Amazonas, keep exploding in no small part because Trump and Bolsonaro champion a defiant, science-contemptuous mindset. A belief that anyone who wears a corona-preventive mask is the weakest, wimpiest of bananas.

Especially some federal bench banana who wants to make a tough guy like Bolsonaro look like a banana.

READ MORE: COVID Roulette: Brazilians Didn't Vote for a President Who'd Gamble With Their Lives

What that Brazilian judge doesn’t get – and what so many banana Americans don’t understand – is that if you force free and rugged machos like Trump and Bolsonaro to cover their free and rugged macho faces with one of those powder-blue flags of snowflake hysteria, you’re choking the free and rugged machismo that made the U.S. and Brazil the hemisphere’s two titans.

Yes, Trump and Bolsonaro are scared stiff that the economic tailspin from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens them politically. But their dogged determination to keep a microscopic invader from tripping their swagger speaks to a larger syndrome in both their countries. It's one that says a lot about why the U.S. and Brazil – which should have managed COVID-19 by now – are surpassing the pandemic tragedies seen earlier in Asia and Europe.

Trump and Bolsonaro consider themselves vessels of the free and rugged defiance that made the U.S. and Brazil strong – but which is now making it easier for COVID-19 to kill Americans and Brazilians.

In effect, the New World is making a bigger mess of the pandemic than the Old World has because, ironically, it’s too busy worshiping the tough, independent spirit that’s historically defined the New World. The virus is attacking the U.S. and Brazil amid national identity crises, a moment ripe for nationalist demagogues like Trump and Bolsonaro, and too many folks are trying to recapture the countries’ mythical auras. Hiding from COVID-19 – cowering in our homes, shuttering our businesses, wearing wimpy masks – mocks who they think we should be.

We should be cowboys and bandeirantes, the American and Brazilian archetypes of unshackled pioneer strength. Like the cowboy – the antithesis of effete elitists in Washington – the bandeirante or “flag carrier” conquered Brazil’s frontier (enslaving a lot of indigenous people along the way) and came to be the antithesis of the chi-chi coast-huggers in Rio de Janeiro.

Trump and Bolsonaro consider themselves vessels of that ancestral testosterone. So do their acolytes, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose photo op last month with Vice President Mike Pence in an Orlando burger joint, sans masks, declared his state a no-wimp zone. One that reported its highest single-day number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.


It’s why Trump and Bolsonaro have set such appallingly dangerous examples when it comes to commonsense, public-minded pandemic practices. Before last weekend I considered Bolsonaro the worst of the two. He’s a leader who takes sneering delight in being out in public, especially the crowded and maskless street rallies he calls his supporters to join, violating every doctor’s social distancing guidelines. It’s what the bandeirantes would have done.

Credit Andre Borges / AP
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shouts to a large crowd of supporters at a recent political rally in Brasilia.

But after watching Trump call his supporters to act out the same, maskless lemming parade in Tulsa last Saturday, I gotta say cowboy Donald is neck-and-neck with Jair again in the race to see which head of state will have the most to answer for once the pandemic subsides.

The good news is local authorities – like those in Palm Beach County and Brasília, which enforces the public mask-wearing law Bolsonaro’s violating – have stepped up during the worst global health crisis in a century to remind Americans and Brazilians that real patriots actually put selfless medical safeguarding ahead of self-absorbed political grandstanding.

And any guy who spits at that fact is the real banana.

The rugged pioneer motto was always, What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But Trump and Bolsonaro, and too many Americans and Brazilians, don’t understand that what we thought made us stronger is now helping to kill us.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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