Saturday, April 20, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 12-08-2022 11:12

The Donald and Cristina show

While Trump could well benefit from that FBI “raid” on his garish residential complex in Florida, for Cristina the outlook is rather less promising.

Donald Trump says he thinks his enemies, with the eager participation of law-enforcement agencies that should be above taking sides in political disputes, are subjecting him, together with his relatives and friends, to an outrageous campaign of “lawfare” in an attempt to prevent him from continuing to play a leading role in his country’s affairs. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would have us believe that much the same is happening to her, with members of what she calls a “judicial party” in cahoots with the opposition plotting to bring her down.

Though the two may greatly dislike the idea, they really do have a great deal in common. As well as having little time for the legal niceties, both former presidents are born authoritarians who expect their supporters to obey their every whim and take as gospel their most casual remarks. They also have the backing of what could be described as the “lower orders” of their respective societies; without the huge number of votes The Donald and Cristina garner from the poor and uneducated, neither of them would have got anywhere near to where they are right now. 

However, there are some big differences. While Trump could well benefit from that FBI “raid” on his garish residential complex in Florida, what with top Republicans rallying around him and bellicose members of his “base” making threats of violence which rattle his Democrat foes, for Cristina the outlook is rather less promising.

Unfortunately for her, the charges she is facing are far more damaging. Trump is accused of squirrelling away some official documents he was not entitled to keep and, of course, of encouraging the largely peaceful and thankfully brief occupation of the US Capitol Building by a mob of individuals convinced he had really won the 2020 presidential election, but Cristina must prove that, despite the all too plausible evidence that has been available for years, she did not steer a huge amount of public money into her family’s coffers and, by doing so, deprived the poor of services, such as schools and hospitals, they desperately needed.

What is more, Kirchnerism, unlike the way of thinking that has grown up around Trump, seems to be on the way out. As things stand, the dreadful Orange Man could conceivably beat Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or anyone else the Democrats throw against him in the upcoming presidential elections, but Cristina’s chances of making a similarly spectacular comeback look virtually non-existent. For all his many faults, when he was president, Trump did well enough to keep a large proportion of his compatriots on side; the incomes of most who have always had to struggle to make ends meet, including blacks and Hispanics, rose during his stint in the White House until the coronavirus irrupted and changed everything. The consensus is that, had it not been for the havoc wrought by the Covid pandemic, he would have remained in office, as in fact he very nearly did, by getting a few more votes in a handful of swing states.

Trump’s movement is still very much alive because its foes, beginning with the Democrats who once saw themselves as the guardians of those near the bottom of the economic heap, have parted company with the hundred million or so North Americans who feel they have no place in the brave new high-tech, globalised and for all intents and purposes borderless world being constructed by “elites” who thoroughly despise them and are not afraid to say so.

In contrast, the performance of the Kirchnerite government, which Cristina dominates, has been so wretched, especially for those who dutifully voted for it, that it is no longer foolish to suggest that, after almost three-quarters of a century, the long-running Peronist saga could finally be approaching its end. Despite officialdom’s strenuous efforts to persuade people that everything that has gone wrong is someone else’s fault – with Mauricio Macri playing the part of the arch-villain responsible for the country’s plight – more and more are coming to the conclusion that Cristina, Alberto Fernández and the rest of them, including Sergio Massa, are really to blame for Argentina’s slide downhill.

Unless something remarkable happens in the next few months, Cristina will soon lose her ability to win more than a third of the available votes and, thanks to them, to stay out of jail. From her point of view, the corruption trial in which the prosecutor Diego Luciani is describing in painstaking detail, backing up each and every charge with convincing documentary evidence, just how she and her late husband put together a “pyramidal illicit association” (in other words, a mafia) which enabled them to syphon off hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of tax-payer dollars, could hardly have come at a worse time.

For understandable reasons, the public mood is getting sourer by the day and, little by little, support for her and for the unprepossessing characters surrounding her is drying up. They may still be able to make problems, stage noisy street parades and mouth threats of mayhem to come, but if they start causing even more trouble they will risk making themselves even more unpopular than they already are.

As far as most commentators are concerned, Trump is located somewhere towards the right of the populist spectrum along with Jair Bolsonaro and Europeans such as the Hungarian Viktor Orbán who dislike Muslims, while Cristina is out there on the left in the company of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega. This difference can be attributed to the takeover of political organisations in the prosperous parts of the West by well-off and lavishly credentialed “progressives” that in the past had stood up for what Marxists called the proletariat until flesh-and-blood proles let them know they preferred to stick to their traditional mores – love of country, attachment to the old-fashioned family, stuff like that – so that, after having been the “salt of the earth,” they morphed into “the scum of the earth”.

In the United States and other relatively wealthy countries, progressives left such people behind, but in this part of Latin America their theoretical partnership with the downtrodden masses has persisted, no doubt because many men and women who in richer regions of the world would be doing nicely have been dragged down into poverty along with the unskilled and illiterate and, quite naturally, make common cause with those who share their resentment towards the prevailing order.

James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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