By Heidi Cho
Adolf Hitler, Evo Morales and Donald Trump — what do they all have in common?
Carlos de la Torre, a widely published expert on Latin American populism and politics, can answer that question: They are all populists.
That is what Trump, with his millions of dollars, shares with Morales, a llama shepherd who “would see buses going into his community and people would throw from the window, peels of oranges and bananas… that he would eat. His dream to grow up was to ride in a bus,” Torre said.
Morales, the current Bolivian president, shares his humble beginnings with the impoverished majority of his country. Trump shares his thirst for change and ideals with his own people.
Torre spoke on March 28 in the Library Auditorium about the ties between Trump’s populism and lessons to be learned from populism in Latin America.
When defining populism, there is no founding text. It is not an ideology.
Populism is a political strategy intended to take dissent in the populace and divide groups even further.
“In Latin America, we have deep crises of political representation, political parties, Congress, the courts, all institutions of democracy,” Torre said.
In America’s Rust Belt and Bolivia, people are affected by economic distress and live in impoverished conditions. People see how they live and believe that the government, the established system, has failed them.
“Populism is a response to a crisis,” Torre said.
Bolivia and America have found themselves in these crises where people are willing to look for a scapegoat for the unfortunate state of their lives.
Populists find or make common enemies to rally against in their political campaigns, whether it be the media, government, big business or all of the above.
“Because for (populists) politics is creating, recreating, inventing enemies, confronting enemies,” Torre said.
While creating enemies for the people to attack, they proclaim to belong to the class of the common folk.
“These leaders do not aim only to represent the people — they claim that they are the people, that they are the embodiment of the people, and those who are not with them are enemies of the people,” Torre said. With Trump, only two sides seem to exist.
“Either you are with him and the people, or you are an enemy of the people,” Torre said.
Torre listed the media as one of Trump’s many enemies.
“Trump doesn’t have friends — he has enemies,” Torre said.
Trump also opposes globalization, North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and socialized medicine. He linked national economic decline with the absence of industrial production. He singled out corporations for moving factories overseas, according to Torre.
These views fall in line with the acts taken by Latin American populists while in power: censorship of media, taking control of all state institutions and laws to control non-governmental organizations or NGOs, according to Torre.
While Torre never specified Hitler as a populist, Pope Francis did in his interview with El País, a Spanish newspaper, while Trump was being sworn in as the 45th president.
In the same way that Rome did not fall for a single reason, but many, it is hard to fix a system in need of many repairs. It is easier for someone to aim the public’s dissent at the Jewish people, the Mexicans and the Muslims.
Using the same techniques as Hitler, populists gather and rally the people en masse to go against all those that oppose them. Populists also tend to go from a leader into a character larger than life like a father figure to the country.
“Populists always promise to bring power back to the people, but in Latin America, they ended up creating a totalitarianism,” Torre said.
Will America follow that same path? Torre is unsure. The pessimistic path would see a rise in xenophobia, racism and hate speech, where division fragments democracy. The optimistic path Torre suggests is one where democratic institutions prevail.
“Are the foundations of American democracy and the institution of civil society strong enough to resist Trump’s brand of radical right wing populism?” Torre asked the audience.
He invited the audience to discuss it with him, as the future of America is, in one word, uncertain.