Bill Maher came at American democracy in Friday’s “New Rules” segment on HBO’s “Real Time.”
“Finally, new rule: In the future, all American school kids must be made to study the Constitution. Not ours, Brazil’s,” Maher said for the opening twist, adding that theirs “is working a lot better than one we have.”
Maher then laid out how former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro went straight to Trump’s own techniques for dealing with a loss. But what happened next was far different in Brazil than in the United States.
“America ran a very clear scientific experiment with Brazil recently, where we faced the exact same situation — and let’s just say when it comes to democracy, we’re the ones who got waxed,” Maher joked.
“Brazil,” Maher repeated when the audience didn’t find the Brazilian bikini wax reference amusing — though some of that may be due to Maher’s pronunciation being a little unclear. “Just stroke the audience more on that one.”
Undeterred, Maher continued, describing what happened following the 2020 election in the U.S. “American incumbent President Donald Trump, a thrice-married, far-right populist, lost his reelection bid, and then embarked on a campaign of outright lies to convince his supporters the election had been rigged, which resulted in the siege of the American Capitol on Jan. 6th.”
He then explained Brazil’s bizarro version of an insurrection.
“Fast forward almost two years to the day, Jan. 8th, 2023, and you have Bolsonaro — Brazil’s thrice-married, far-right populist incumbent president known as ‘the Trump of the Tropics.’ [He] repeats the Trump playbook exactly after he loses his reelection bid, and thousands of supporters stormed the Brazilian Capitol.”
Maher said that, while both insurrections failed, they show “the difference between a healthy democracy and one that’s hanging by a thread.”
“After Jan. 8th, almost all of Brazil turned on the plotters and made Bolsonaro a pariah,” Maher explained. “But after Jan. 6th, Trump went on to his Winter Palace in Florida to accept tributes and replot in opulent splendor. Bolsonaro also went to Florida, where he ate by himself at a KFC.”
Maher cut to a shot of Bolsonaro sadly eating chicken in one of the saddest scenes from an exile ever. He added that just 6% of Brazilians say they support “the mob that sacked their capitol,” while Trump remains immensely popular and on a course to regain power.
“In Brazil, not only has Bolsonaro been banned from running again anytime soon, but the country united around their new leader, who walked arm-in-arm with congressional leaders from the left and right in solidarity against the uprising. Arm in arm. In America, no arm in arm. Arms, yes.”
The “Real Time” host cut to a shot of conservative supporters decked out in amateur military gear and bearing arms, carrying rifles.
“And threats,” Maher added, noting the quite real stakes of the situation.
“Most Republicans were literally scared to death to do the right thing. They didn’t want to be hung like Mike Pence or castrated like Lindsey Graham,” Maher joked.
He illustrated the gag with a photo of the actual gallows that Trump supporters brought to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, then cut to Graham while knowing his audience would realize how much Graham had acquiesced to Trump.
Maher then gave the historical context for why Brazil’s democracy is different from ours.
“Because the thing is, in Brazil, their Conservative Party is where ours was during Watergate,” Maher continued. “When Republicans were willing to throw Nixon under the bus because they still had ideals higher than owning the libs.”
“So what changed? Well, part of this is structural: Their constitution is only 35 years old. Ours is 235, and it looks it,” Maher added. “We not only still use old timey words like ‘gerrymandering,’ we still practice it. The average Republican congressman is in a safe seat with an electorate he selects, and he’s only scared of two things: A primary opponent with more guns on his Christmas card, and getting a nickname from Trump.”
“Trump has proven that in America, you can absolutely attempt a coup and at the very least there’s no immediate repercussions,” Maher concluded that portion of the comparison.
The political comedian went on to lay out a frustration that liberals have long expressed: each state getting just two senators.
“The only way we are allowed to punish a president is through impeachment, with a jury of the Senate — except California has 68 times the population of Wyoming, and yet we both get two senators. We both get two jurors.”
The Brazilians approach things differently. “In Brazil, elections are overseen by a special electoral court with judges who serve two terms. We don’t have that. The partisan Supreme Court? Their terms expire when they do.”
Following the grim reminder of Supreme Court terms being life appointments, he noted that most of the current court was chosen by presidents who lost the popular vote. He also criticized the fact that our elections are run by individual states, meaning they’re all run differently.
“And we’re the only nation on earth that chooses their election by way of an electoral college, which is somehow even worse than regular college,” Maher quipped.
He continued, noting that the U.S. takes two months to count and certify votes, “which gives the losers plenty of time to plot and make mischief.”
“In Brazil, popular vote always wins. Everybody goes to the polls on the same day, and the official commission declares the winner that night and then everyone goes outside and flashes their t–s,” referencing the party atmosphere of Brazil’s celebratory Carnival.
Maher went on to opine that one of the major issues in the U.S. is the rise of for-profit cable news versus the tradition of broadcast television networks offering news in what was seen as more of a public service.
“We let various s–t-stirring, ratings-hungry news outlets call the election and tease out the suspense like it’s the Golden Bachelor giving up the final rose,” Maher quipped, drawing the comparison with the popular reality romance series.
Maher argued that public opinion used to be shaped by the news, but now it’s flipped, with the news being shaped by people’s opinions.
“Opinions, all we hear in the media all day long. And we’re now hearing it from our friends on Facebook. And by ‘friends,’ I mean Russia,” Maher added, cutting to a winking photo of Vladimir Putin.
“And there’s one more thing: We’re just a s–ttier people than we used to be,” Maher added, going straight for the American jugular. “Sorry. We ran the experiment, and we lost. In Brazil, the politics of grievance has its limits. Here. It doesn’t. There are 172 election deniers currently sitting in Congress, but Republicans only took out one guy — and ironically, he was from Brazil.”
Maher showed former Republican Rep. George Santos, the controversial candidate and apparent serial fabulist who was forced out of office a year into his term.
The host added that while conservatives deserve most of the blame for the state of the country for sticking with Trump, “it’s not that simple.” He added that, following Watergate, our political parties switched personalities.
“Democrats used to be the party of the working class and Republicans were the elitist, Chardonnay-sipping a–holes, the snobs on the winning side of the diploma divide — but that got switched up. And people really hate us. Enough, in fact, to vote for Trump, who recently said it’s ‘nice to have a strongman running your country.'”
He concluded by clearly stating why things are different in Brazil — they remember when it wasn’t so nice.
“They lived under a real dictatorship less than 40 years ago, and so they have an immunity that we do not. And wouldn’t be nice if we can get that immunity without having to get the disease?”
Maher left the question of Trump’s potential return to presidency hanging in the air.
You can watch the full segment above.