We might have reached peak populism

Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain known for his extremist rhetoric and open nostalgia for Brazil’s departed military dictatorship, unexpectedly assumed the country’s presidency in 2019. But he is now in deep political trouble. Lacking loyal allies in the country’s Congress, Bolsonaro has so far proved unable to concentrate power and, thanks to his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, his popularity has plummeted. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president better known simply as Lula, is likely to beat Bolsonaro in an upcoming election.

Extremist politicians in other Latin American countries are also doing poorly. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing populist, won Mexico’s presidency by making big promises about economic redistribution and an end to corruption. Even before the coronavirus hit, his government had failed to deliver. Then his mishandling of the pandemic—a deadly mix of complacency and denialism that was strikingly similar to that of López Obrador’s nominal ideological adversaries, Trump and Bolsonaro—further dented his popularity. In congressional elections in 2018, López Obrador’s party won a crushing majority. In elections last month, it bled nearly 20 percent of its support. While López Obrador’s party retains a nominal majority in Congress thanks to the support of two smaller allies, his ability to pass controversial legislation has been significantly curtailed.

Even some authoritarian populists who had long since seemed to consolidate their power now face some difficulty. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has recently suffered painful setbacks in important state elections.