Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trump and Argentina's Mauricio Macri

Luis Bruschtein Mauricio Trump Página/12 12.11.2016 looks at the similarities between incoming US President Donald Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who took office last December. The article is accompanied by this illustration:

I've described Macri as a kind of Argentine Mitt Romney, i.e., a plutocratic foof. Except Macri looks more like Dracula.

Bruschtein's commentary highlights for American readers how complex the use of "right" and "left" are in Argentine politics. The previous two Presidents, Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), were Peronists from the Partido Justicialista (PJ) who practiced populist politics. Their governing policies were Keynesian stimulative economics, rejection of the neoliberal Washington Consensus, promoting workers' rights and women's rights and prosecuting human rights criminals from the dictatorship of 1976-83. They expanded government services and pursued an independent foreign policy focusing on Latin American unity, and successfully resisted pressure from international capital to go back to the neoliberal policies whose plain and disastrous failure culminated in the financial crisis of 2001. Their governments were considered part of the "Pink Tide" of left-leaning Latin American governments, a tide which is now triumphantly proclaimed by the corporate press and the US foreign policy establishment as being in retreat. Their politics became known as kircherismo. Néstor and Cristina were left social-democrats, in other words, and understood themselves in left-populist terms.

The main opposition party to Peronism since the national election of 1946 has been the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). Macri was elected with that party's backing and is the current leader of the "radicals," as they are commonly called. Although his party is a separate group now called Cambiemos, essentially created by him originally as a personal vehicle he used to get elected governor of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. His Cambiemos party has gone through several names in its various iterations since 2003. The UCR, and the small Socialist Party which generally acts in concert with it, are committed to hardcore neoliberalism and aligns with other Latin American conservative parties. They are supported by the Argentina oligarchy, whose interests they are generally proud to serve. The oligarchy has found little to complain about in Macri's policies since last December.

But the UCR identifies itself as a left party. In fact, both the UCR and the Socialist Party are official affiliates of the Socialist International, the association of social-democratic parties, including the German SPD and the ruling Socialist Party in France. The UCR backed the coup of 1955 that ousted Juan Perón during his second term as elected President and outlawed the Peronist Party, which had gained 62% of the vote in the 1951 elections. And it generally shares perspectives with other conservative parties in Latin America, including fealty to IMF dictates and deference to the United States. But it maintains the rhetoric of being the "left" party against the Peronist "right."

It's worth noting that in European politics it is common, though by no means universal, to refer to populism as though it is by definition rightwing. It's also the case right now that the center-left social-democratic parties are generally facing a political crisis because their core neoliberal economic and social policies have become hard to distinguish from those of conservatives. And by "neoliberal," I'm talking Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning/austerity dogma.

Bruschtein writes in the first paragraph:

“Todos tenemos un amigo que votó a Macri y ahora se lamenta porque ganó Trump” dice una frase que circula por las redes. Ironías aparte, tiene algo de razón, Macri es más parecido a Trump aunque quisiera parecerse a Hillary. Los dos son de derecha, pero Hillary es más presentable. Para los macristas, el triunfo de Trump en Estados Unidos fue como si los hubiera sorprendido un espejo caminando por Florida y los enfrentara a la imagen del empresario rústico, ignorante y oportunista para los negocios, que se desayunó al sistema político y alcanzó la presidencia. Trump y Macri fueron socios en un emprendimiento inmobiliario en Manhattan. Forman parte del mismo universo cultural. El aparato mediático del macrismo, Canal 13, TN, Lanata y demás, se apresuraron a disimular esas semejanzas, lo hicieron como si les dieran vergüenza. “Trump es de derecha, como el kirchnerismo pero sin doble discurso”, dijeron.

"All of us have a friend who voted for Macri and is now lamenting the fact that Trump won," goes a phrase that is circulated on the Internet. Ironies apart, there is something to it. Macri looks more like Trump even though he would prefer to look like Hillary. Both of them [Trump and Hillary] are on the right, but Hillary is more presentable. For the macristas, Trump's triumph in the United States was like walking down Florida [a famous shopping street in Buenos Aires] and being surprised by a mirror that presented them with the image of a businessman who was rude, ignorant and opportunistic in business, who had just eaten the political system for breakfast and achieved the Presidency. Trump and Macri were business associates in a real estate venture in Manhatten. They form part of the same cultural universe. The media apparatus of macrismo - Channel 13, TN, Lanata and the rest - are rushing to deny these similarities. They are doing it as though they are embarrassed. "Trump is on the right, like kirchnerismo but with a two-faced discourse," they say.
He goes on to observe, "Macri y Trump son parte de la propagación en todo el mundo de una hegemonía conservadora y regresiva" ("Macri and Trump are parts a part of the propagation around the world of a conservative and regressive hegemony"). Though he does caution against making easy generalizations about the diverse factors involved in the success of various rightwing movements.

Macri hasn't indulged in the sort of overt xenophobic and racist rhetoric on which Trump based so much of his campaign. He says that Trump's language is "ramplón y berreta," i.e., "course and trashy." Although I suppose "deplorable" would also be an appropriate translation. Bruschtein does quote a notorious statement by Macri that sound Trump-like, "All women like to be catcalled. Those that say it offends them, don't believe them. There couldn't be anything prettier than a catcall, even more if it's accompanied by a rude comment, like telling her what a pretty butt she has, that's just fine." (“A todas las mujeres les gusta que les digan un piropo, aquellas que se ofenden, no les creo. No puede haber nada más lindo que un piropo, por más que esté acompañado de una grosería, que te digan qué lindo culo tenés, está todo bien.”)

But Macri is also more straightforward than Trump about his neoliberal policies of deregulation and freedom for international capital movements that carry a high risk of Argentina becoming once again the target of financial speculation. Macri's law-and-order rhetoric would sound familiar to Trump supporters. If they spoke Spanish, that is, which most of them proudly do not. Macri is the heir to the Macri Group, a media empire built by his father. He was embarrassed by the exposure in the Panama Papers revelations of undeclared funds he had stashed abroad. And he sees the business ethics of the two as similar, describing Macri as having operated in a business environment "plagado de tramposos y coimeros" ("plagued by swindlers and bribe-takers").

Bruschtein argues that either Hillary or Trump represented bad news in foreign policy for Argentina. Although President Obama's policies on Iran and Syria have been dovish in many ways compared to that of his critics, his Latin American policy has generally been very conservative. His pragmatic adjustment of a Cuba policy that had been an obvious failure for decades was accompanied by increased hostility to the controversial elected government of Venezuela, even declaring Venezuela a threat to the national security of the United States. Hillary was Secretary of State during the coup in Honduras in 2011, which she and Obama welcomed in actual policy. She has the reputation of being more hawkish than Obama, and one of the foreign policy accomplishments she bragged about was the intervention in Libya with the generally disastrous consequences. Latin American publics are not especially inclined to look on US military interventions abroad as benign.

But he leaves it an open question whether Trump's actual policies would be better or worse than a now-hypothetical Hillary Clinton Administration's would have been. He notes that no one would be surprised to see a future photo of Macri, Trump and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi together.

Bruschtein also notes that the corporate press in Argentina favored Clinton in the American Presidential race. And, "En el sistema de medios norteamericano no existen medios importantes que expresen una mirada progresista y popular" ("In the [US-]American media system, no important media exist that express a progressive and popular view"). He's basically right on that.

The politicians Trump and Macri, he says:

... son una consecuencia del esquema de valores que puso en juego el neoliberalismo en su confrontación crispada con las experiencias democráticas y populares: la antipolítica, la exaltación de la riqueza como máxima virtud, la naturalización de la pobreza, la leyenda del empresario sin cultura ni escrúpulos que triunfó. Trump abona al mismo clima de época que Macri, que Uribe y el No a la paz en Colombia y que el Brexit en Gran Bretaña.

[... are a consequence of the value scheme that neoliberalism brought into play in its tense confrontation with democratic and popular experiences: the depoliticization {literally: the anti-political}, the exaltation of wealth as the highest virtue, the naturalizing of poverty, the legend of the entrepreneur without culture or scruples who triumphs. Trump nourishes the same climate as Macri, as {former Colombian President Álvaro} Uribe and No to peace in Colombia, and as Brexit in Great Britain.]

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