So, this happened.
BUENOS AIRES — A radical libertarian and admirer of Donald Trump rode a wave of voter rage to win Argentina’s presidency on Sunday, crushing the political establishment and bringing the sharpest turn to the right in four decades of democracy in the country.
Javier Milei, a 53-year-old far-right economist and former television pundit with no governing experience, claimed nearly 56 percent of the vote in a stunning upset over Sergio Massa, the center-left economy minister who has struggled to resolve the country’s worst economic crisis in two decades…
…Milei made a name for himself as a television pundit who insulted other guests, and he has shown a tendency to fight with the news media. He has circulated conspiracy theories and raised unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud…
…He has branded Pope Francis, an Argentine, an “evil” leftist. Climate change, he says, is a “socialist lie.” He would hold a referendum to undo the three-year-old law that legalized abortion.
And of course there are Argentinians who explain their vote in terms you will recognize.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” Tomás Limodio, said a 36-year-old business owner who voted for Milei in Buenos Aires on Sunday. “We’ve had this type of government for so many years, and things are only getting worse.”
…“The thinking is well, maybe since Milei is crazy, he’ll launch himself like a kamikaze” and make necessary reforms that previous leaders refused to make, in fear of getting kicked out of power, Touzón said. “Let’s use the crazy man to make the reforms that the rational ones didn’t want to make.”
Javier Milei sounds exactly like Trump. The Milei voters sound exactly like 2016 Trump voters who thought the system needed a big shakeup, and damn the torpedos full speed ahead. The problem will kamikazes, however, is that everyone dies including the pilot.
But, here’s the thing. The center-left establishment in Argentina really has led the country into very bad economic straits. It really has been in power for a very long time. That was not the case for the United States in 2016. In 2016, the center-left had taken over only eight years prior, in the midst of the worst economic downturn in 80 years. And it had quickly righted the ship. The economy had recovered and was going so strong that it lasted well into Trump’s administration, only crashing on the shoals of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether you liked Hillary Clinton or not, there really was no broadly economic reason to fly an explosives laden plane into her political coalition. The things that needed to be done, like tackling monopolistic concentration, were certainly not going to be done by Republicans, let alone a con-man like Trump. But enough people were feeling left behind economically and culturally, that a rabid insult dog had a cult-like appeal to millions.
And, as Hannah Knowles reports from Iowa for the Washington Post, the cult is still going strong.
Offered the chance to support other presidential hopefuls who champion similar agenda to Trump in a less abrasive package, Republicans are for now sticking with the former president — underscoring how his personality and shattering of behavioral norms have long been a major part of his appeal…
…“Joe’s gotta go,” said Lori Carpenter, 59, as she left the Fort Dodge event.“And the ho shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” The “ho” was Harris, she clarified, before offering another nickname for Harris that was even more vulgar.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said of Trump’s insults and crudeness. Her relative, 71-year-old Marsha Crouthamel, agreed.
“It doesn’t bother me either because his policies are strong,” she echoed, adding that Trump got a lot of laughs and added, “Sometimes you just gotta excite people a little bit.”
“We’re Christians, and we can look past that,” Carpenter said. “We see the good that he did our country when he was in.” Asked what she thought of GOP rivals arguing they could deliver Trump-like policies without the baggage, she said: “They’re weaker than him.”
Trump comes off strong to these people precisely because he’s so norm-breaking. The ruder and crasser he his, the stronger he seems.
In order for this kind of politics to work, you have to have enough people who are more interested in seeing people get abused than they are in any kind of policy or standards. We can argue all day whether economic or cultural factors are more important in making this population. The truth is, it’s a combination of both. But it’s also clear that there’s no necessary objective metric you can look at, because there’s not much commonality in the cultural and economic issues in America and Argentina.
When an appetite for populism arises, however it arises, it usually has to be met with an anti-establishment alternative. There’s a reason Trump is polling even or ahead of Biden, and it’s not because Biden is too old. It’s because half the country does not give a fuck about Trump’s crimes. They just like that he’s still out there telling everyone with power or influence to fuck off. There’s no one on the left doing really doing that, but we could see some surprising strength for RFK Jr., precisely because he’s willing to fill that niche.
It’s like a virus, and antibiotics won’t fix it. Putting Trump in jail in the best option because his appeal is based on his ability to violate norms and get away with it. This is the only way the establishment can win as an establishment, and Biden isn’t going to run some left-wing populist campaign. He’d convince no one if he tried. But an imprisoned Trump is not strong. Trump is not Nelson Mandela.
Anyway, good luck to Argentina. They actually do need a shakeup, but not the kind they’re about to get.