Fiery speeches. Big promises. Bullying tactics. Polarizing personality.
Donald Trump’s style of politics is garnering a new title in the Spanish-speaking world: Trumpismo.
To many Americans, Trump’s bombast, his over-the-top personality and his ability to whip up a crowd seems unprecedented for a Presidential candidate. But to many in Latin America, he’s eerily similar to some of their most divisive and larger-than-life leaders.
“This cult of personality, the cult of the big man…the bravado, the machismo,” says Steven Conn, a history professor at Miami University who has written on the subject. “For folks in Central and South America, that’s a much more familiar character.”
Even if Trump’s proposals aren’t all populist, his tactics parallel those used by Latin America’s authoritarian tough guys. They all appeal to those who feel marginalized and are often working class or poor.
Latin America has a long history of leaders who strong-arm their way to power. Some experts see clear parallels between Trump and especially two iconic leaders: Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president between 1999 and 2013; and General Juan Peron, Argentina’s president who held power in the 1940s, 1950s and briefly again in the 1970s.
Both Chavez and Peron appealed to people who felt left out of economic opportunities. They used huge public gatherings to drum up support and created an “us” vs. “them” environment.
For Trump, the “them” is immigrants and foreigners who he says are stealing jobs from Americans. For Chavez, it was the United States and its imperialistic tactics. For Peron, it was the elites of Argentina.
“If you look at his style, it does recall some of the classic populist leaders,” says Harold Trinkunas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brooking Institution. “That style of communication works well in a highly polarized political environment.”
Chavez and Peron also created their own brands of politics: Chavismo and Peronismo.
Chavez greatly increased subsidies to the poor during his time, but he alienated Venezuela from foreign investors who were spooked by his anti-American rhetoric. Peron also aided the poor and working classes, but his ideology created an extremely polarized environment in Argentina that still lasts today. Both those approaches hurt the economies of the countries.
Many Latinos have no time for Trumpismo.
“He speaks exactly like Chavez,” says Alejandro Nava, a 23-year old teacher and recent law grad in Maracaibo, Venezuela. “Everyone is really surprised that the American people are falling for a demagogue like Chavez.”
Nava, like many Venezuelans, wants new leadership in his country.
Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, was Chavez’s protege, and often uses bullying tactics against his critics. He has imprisoned popular opposition leaders like Leopoldo Lopez, threatened U.S. embassy officials and shut down independent media.
Now Venezuela’s Congress, led by the opposition party, is trying to oust Maduro out of office.
Similarly, the last president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner came from the Peronism movement. Argentina’s economy suffered mightily under Kirchner’s populist, anti-American policies. The country didn’t have access to the global capital markets during her entire term after Argentina defaulted on its debt and refused to negotiate with debtholders.
But her party lost badly in December to Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, an underdog candidate who has positioned Argentina in the complete opposite direction.
The real concern about Trumpismo is the familiar undercurrent of violence in his language, Latinos and experts say. They say his style makes it okay to change the rules to his liking or call for his supporters to rough up protesters who don’t agree with him.
“‘If you disagree with me, you’re simply stupid and somebody ought to punch you,'” Conn says, evoking Trump’s rallies. “That’s familiar to people in other parts of the world.”