Mr. Trump and Hugo Chavez are “strikingly similar”. A fashionable statement these days. Yet this comparison rather shows how some may have forgotten about who Hugo Chavez was, his ideals and his rise to power.
It’s common these days to come across articles and opinions being shared on how Mr. Trump and Chavez belong in the same category of crazy, authoritarian leaders. There is an article from a recognized fashion magazine (quite an interesting source of political analysis) being shared all across the internet world, in which a Venezuelan author indicates how much Trump resembles Chavez and how it is all a Deja Vu for Venezuelans in the U.S who ran away from Chavismo.
“I told you, Cubans didn’t think it was going to happen, we didn’t think it was going to happen, you’re next, America” – Some of my compatriots say. It is part of our idiosyncrasy to want to show that we know better. But this statement is missing that the Venezuelan Political structure was exactly meant for a ‘caudillo’ to come and destroy the country. The country had (and has) a fragile republican apparatus, very prone to military dictatorships, whereas the American system was built on the liberties Rousseau admired, with a respectable separation of the judiciary, legislative and executive powers.
The Humble Military Man Vs The New York Billionaire
Let us remember, Hugo Chavez was a humble military man from a rural village, who claimed to be poor and from the Zambo cast, a mix of African and Native Indigenous Venezuelan (a cast regarded as one of the most segregated ones in the country), who reached a mediocre Lieutenant Colonel rank, lead a failed coup d’etat in 1992, was in jail and active in politics long before being in power. Throughout the years, Chavez was highly influenced by Marxist-Leninist ideologies. He did not turn left during his government – he was a man from the left.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is Trump. New York billionaire businessman who grew up with the comfort of having rich parents. He is an economist and has been in the entertainment industry for most of his life. He ran his own reality show, owned beauty pageants, starred in some movies and coped with the most “in” celebrities of the moment – some of them turned their back on him when he decided to run for president. He is, as opposed to Chavez, the so called 1%.
Hope Vs Fear
Yes, Chavez and Trump both won by addressing the uneducated masses – in very different ways. It is fallacious to present the argument that the two are identical by pointing out that they are both populists: No man has ever won elections by saying what people do not want to hear. Following that logic, we should put almost every single politician in history in the same bucket.
Chavez came as a hope to end a two-party system – Both left. Paradoxically, his “new” movement was also leftist. Trump could not manage to launch his campaign independently like Chavez did, and saw an opportunity by running with the support of the Republican party, even when just a few years before he identified as a democrat.
When Trump announced he’d run for President, very few believed he’d win – He represented everything the masses hated. So he had to use a compelling strategy: Fear. Fear of Muslims. Fear of Hispanics. Fear of some imaginary enemies. Fear of losing.
Trump promised building a wall that Mexico would pay for, the enforcement of immigration policies, deporting illegal immigrants with prior convictions, and win, win a lot, until America gets bored of winning. Chavez endorsed criminality and gave fast citizenship to immigrants during his regime to get more votes. His promise was a new Republic, equality and power to those who were for decades segregated.
Holding a diploma in political marketing, I can say that in an electoral campaign fear is one of the most moving feelings out there, and Trump was not the first to use it while running for president. See the difference? Chavez = Hope. Trump = Fear. Both effective.
Chavez was charismatic and the appealing type of vulgar in his speech (the one that makes you smile rather than furrow your brows). Trump speeches were cringe-worthy. For Chavez, approval was imperative; therefore, he started his government in great terms with the media, as a wolf in sheep clothing. He was very clever and made great friendships with the most recognized journalists at the moment, and the biggest tv channels and newspapers of the country supported him in his very start – he closed the media that criticized him years into his presidency, when absolute power was already achieved. But Chavez was hypnotizing. There are a few stories on how some women could not contain their bladders when he passed in front of them in a demonstration. He had power over people, easily made them fall in love with him. Even those who opposed him smiled at him in his big, powerful presence. Trump on the other hand, throughout his campaign had the biggest media outlets against him. He started his term with the lowest rates of popularity any president elect ever did in American history, and his presidency started with massive demonstrations against him, mainly from the least advantaged sectors. He does not count with the physical evolutionary traits of a leader, and needless to mention, he does not rise any passion among those near him – even his wife Melania’s body language shows to be rather repelled by her consort.
Trump is hated by the most vulnerable sectors of society. Chavez was hated by the elites (until the those in his cabinet became the elite, of course). While both campaign discourses were populist, Trump’s was exclusionary – Chavez was inclusionary.
Inside that weak Republic, Chavez was able to attain immense amount of power quickly and become a dictator that easily prosecuted those against him, and using that power against all private businesses. Throughout the years, his ego driven illeist rethoric became more and more hateful towards the better-off sectors of the society. We can all agree Tump does not have the profile of someone who would viciously attack the private sector.
The premonitions of Trump becoming a North American Chavez are erroneous. Primarily because Trump will not change the U.S constitution and make indefinite reelection possible. Thus, in the most horrific scenario, America will be stuck with Trump for 8 Orwellian years. Chavez ruled for (only) 15 years because cancer didn’t allow him to rule longer. Chavismo, however, is still running the country.
Will Trump be Totalitarian? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Most likely not. No. First he would have to be authoritarian, and the American republican system definitely makes that very difficult. But since there is a plethora of possibilities in these so called “interesting times” we are living in, I’d say his rule, in the very worst case, could show some authoritarian features. Something is sure: He will not be a military dictator; he is no military man and he can not do as he pleases.
Nonetheless, if that were to be the case, there would still be no comparison to the Chavez regime. Trump could be horrible – in a complete different horrible than what Chavez was to Venezuela. Trump will not kill the private sector – He will likely benefit it. He plans to lower taxes on corporations, while Chavez raised taxes to supposedly benefit the poor (though of course plenty of it ended up in the pockets of his cabinet). Trump will not have the power to close media outlets nor imprison people with just the use of his mouth like Chavez did (he may however verbally attack them as he has already done in the recent past, which could be regarded as one of those authoritarian treats he may present above mentioned).
Ultimately, comparing Chavez and Trump is nonsense and it does very little for the anti-Trump cause, because most of the similarities found are quite general and can be seen in every other politician on Earth.