Sunday, March 20, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Caudillo?

WSJ's  David Luhnow thinks so:
Donald Trump is something new to the American political landscape. But to many in Latin America he is—stylistically, at least—a far more familiar figure: the caudillo, or authoritarian populist.

In recent weeks, growing numbers of newspapers across Latin America have tried to explain the rise of Mr. Trump to bewildered local audiences by pointing to the region’s own strongmen, a long list that includes Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez and Ecuador’s current president, Rafael Correa.
In a recent op-ed in El Universal, a leading Venezuelan daily, the journalist Roberto Giusti described Chávez and Mr. Trump as “consummate showmen with a shrewd ability to manage emotions of a large audience and, using a mixture of half-truths, pin the blame for people’s ills on enemies, real or imagined.”

Like Mr. Trump, Latin American caudillos recognize and exploit real grievances in their countries. They confront an ossified political establishment, develop a strong bond with their followers and attack their opponents and the media with no holds barred—sometimes even encouraging violence.

“A lot of people in Mexico and Latin America are worried about this. It’s not just the substance of what Trump says, but it’s the style. It’s a familiar and worrisome style to us,” says Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s former foreign minister.

All populists—of the left and the right—tell narratives that place the blame for the people’s troubles on others and free the people from responsibility, says Moisés Naim, a former Venezuelan cabinet minister.

For many Latin American populists, the poor are victimized by big business and corrupt politicians working with the “empire,” meaning the U.S. For Mr. Trump, America’s working class is bedeviled by immigrants and an inept leadership that gets suckered by savvy Chinese and Mexican governments into enacting lopsided trade deals...

Michael Penfold, the co-author of a book on Chávez, sees a similar media strategy at work with Mr. Trump. “Both guys knew what headline they wanted to see the following day,” he said, “and worked backward from there.”...

Virtually all caudillos also share an alpha-male personality. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa once accosted police who were on strike, tearing open his shirt and screaming at them to shoot him in the chest, “if you dare.”...
Read the full essay here.

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