by Geoff Shullenberger
Tuesday, 23
February 2021
Explainer
07:00

Trump is no Perón — but their opponents were similar

Both leaders provoked far greater illiberalism on the part of their rivals
by Geoff Shullenberger

On 24 February, 1946, the electoral victory of the populist firebrand Juan Domingo Perón altered the course of Argentina’s history. This political earthquake was made possible in part by an actual earthquake that occurred two years earlier in the city of San Juan.

Perón was serving as labor and welfare minister in the military government that ruled at the time, and he became a national hero for spearheading relief efforts. He was subsequently able to consolidate a powerful base of working-class support by throwing his support behind labor unions and fighting to expand the social safety net. His 1946 triumph offered the first proof of concept for a strain of economic and cultural nationalism that remains potent to this day.  

Perón’s success at turning the so-called descamisados — the “shirtless” urban poor — into an overwhelming political force galvanized an alliance of otherwise opposed factions to attempt to block his election. His opponent in 1946, José Tamborini, headed a coalition that included communists and socialists as well as mainstream liberals and conservatives. Those on the left saw him as a fascist (and it’s true that he admired Mussolini), while free-trade liberals deplored his economic nationalism and the conservative elite feared the anti-oligarchic fervor he had whipped up with the help of his increasingly influential wife, the former radio actress Eva Duarte. 

Ever since the 2016 US election, commentators have drawn analogies between Perón and Trump, pointing to their personalistic style of leadership and shared rhetoric that pits the people (descamisados/”deplorables”) against the corrupt elite. However, it was not Juan but Eva Perón who likely exerted some influence on the former US president. The latter’s favorite musical is Evita: the story of a show-business natural who transferred her skills to politics, and a social climber who transmuted her resentment of the brahmin class into a contagious populist fury.

Unlike Perón, Trump did not forge a broad or durable working-class coalition capable of delivering him commanding electoral victories. He was also unable and often unwilling to fulfill his more ambitious populist promises. Conversely, both admirers and his detractors see Perón as a transformative leader whose impact was comparable to Franklin D Roosevelt’s in the US. Trump is unlikely to ever be seen this way.

The more meaningful historical parallel, in fact, is between the oppositional forces Perón and Trump summoned up. The anti-Trump “resistance,” like anti-Peronism, was a big tent: it brought together hawkish neoconservatives and barons of the finance and tech industries with Antifa and racial justice activists. Antipathy to Trump also prompted a realignment of affluent majority-white suburbs toward the Democratic Party. 

While Perón is often perceived as a dictatorial figure, the real problem his enemies confronted was the electoral potency afforded by his status as the tribune of the masses. As a result, it was his opponents who ultimately resorted to far greater illiberalism. Desperate to keep Peronism out of power, they lined up behind the series of military dictatorships that ruled periodically from Perón’s exile in 1955 up until the 1980s. Since the country’s return to democracy in 1983, 8 out of 11 Argentine presidents have been members of the Justicialist Party, which Perón founded. His historical example reveals that a successful populist agenda might prove nearly undefeatable. On the flipside, such a scenario can lead to the abandonment of democracy on the part of populism’s opponents — ironically, in the name of “defeating fascism.” 

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘He was also unable and often unwilling to fulfill his more ambitious populist promises.’
I have to object to this. Trump got much of his wall built, he cut taxes and renegotiated various trade deals, and he did not start any new conflicts or escalate any existing conflicts. He also attempted to bring thousands of troops back from Afghanistan, an attempt that was overwhelmingly voted down in Congress and the Senate.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fraser Bailey
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Unable because the opposition, the ‘Swamp’ as they were, and the race dividing, Social Media and MSM controlling, the Soros ilk, the Governors and House of Congress, the Education industry de-platformers, they did everything they could to thwart Trump, even if it hurt the nation. When most the nation’s influences are 5th column it makes it impossible for the patriots to succeed.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Not sure tax cuts count as a populist policy, even if some fraction of the benefit went to the middle classes rather than the rich.
And you can’t blame the opposition for the president’s failure to drain the swamp, since he was so energetically filling it. He provided enhanced access for lobbyists and failed to deliver the promised lobbying bans (or even close the loopholes in existing rules) for former senior government figures.
But he did build lots more fence along the border. That was one of his “populist promises”. And we avoided war with North Korea (after a period of brinkmanship), which was nice.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul N
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

On the contrary, everyone likes tax cuts, there can be no more basic populist policy, keeping more of your own money.
Trump didn’t build fences on the border, but he replaced fences in some areas with wall.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

We’re full of people accusing Trump and others of fascism while engaging in tactics that would make the brown shirts proud. And it continues today. Trump has become the left’s oxygen. The media is utterly lost without him and it certainly won’t professionally cover the Biden camp. He is the left’s great white whale.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Can you do anything in the USA? Just about the only things we can do are write emails to our MPs or maybe get a private petition together. If there are more than a certain number (100,000 ??) of signatures, it can be handed over to the government and they have to do something? Talk about it?
Or we can be a celeb and get free air time.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The last sentence says it for me. It calls in the word ‘democracy’ which is overused to the point of ridicule. It is defined as anything the writer wants it to mean.
According to Mr Pericles from about 2500 years ago, we don’t have democracy, we have a system of government developed over hundreds of years which we think gives us an input. But all of the politicians are the same, they all rely on the Civil Service for everything. The Civil Service is, in fact, the government and you couldn’t get more undemocratic than that. I think of Tony Benn when he became Postmaster General trying for years to get proper service from the Civil Servants.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Exactly. I can’t remember the details but research in the US has demonstrated that, in recent decades, more or less all legislation runs contrary to the wishes, opinions and interests of working- and middle class people.
Essentially, in the US (no to mention the UK and the EU), almost all legislation is cooked up by politicians and lobbyists to suit the interests of the rich and large corporations etc.
This is not democracy.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Congress still has some influence in USA legislating, but currently Judges and Presidental edicts seem to be the real source of law, putting it in the hands of individual agendas rather than the elected body meant to have that power.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The anti-democratic drag from the Beuracrats has been written of throughout history, but in this case another insidious situation works even more potently, the ‘Donor’ Class. They fund almost all election campaigns, and so rising the greasy pole of high office requires you be groomed by them at every step. Then the Lobbyists, and one of the biggest factors today, the education and media industries forming the young minds along Frankfurt School lines, the ‘Give me a child till 7 and I will give you the man’ Aristotle wheeze.

barbara neil
barbara neil
1 year ago

Another article blaming Trump for the atrocious behaviour of the Democrats and friends! God, it’s tiring.The Peron argument, even if the writer doesn’t fully agree with the likeness, is a slur by association. As I heard Brett Weinstein say in a very interesting interview, Trump had many opportunities to behave as a fascist while he was President. And he didn’t take them.

Otto Christensen
Otto Christensen
1 year ago

Having worked for the “civil service” I can testify that the democracy show is run by the Deputy Ministers and so on down the line. Run on a paramilitary model there was a pretence of being directed by politicians who supposedly can switch Ministries as easily as going from driving a Chev to a Ford and, miraculously and instantly know how to build better cars. They are simply a face. All that said I do not know with what to replace the civil service? Who would run the business of the country, the welfare state? The job of the politicians should be to ensure that the Ministries stay focused on delivery, remain honest (as much as that is possible) and to cut the useless and fat out of the system. Currently their job is to get elected, something the civil service is quite pleased about; out in sight, out of mind.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Good post.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

So those who actually run the country are either agenda driven out to subvert the will of the people or Peter Principal ones promoted to the level of their incompetency, or hold their jobs as favors repaid? If you took Hyancith Bucket’s husband, made him a closet Trotskyite, willing to take the odd brown envelope passed under the table, and really bad at his job, you may have the actual Civil Service Manderin..

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago

My wife is Argentinian so I know the country well, and I can tell you Perón and his descendants were a complete disaster for the country and its economy. It went from a country that was virtually first world status in the 1930’s to one where a whole generation or two now have been living in economic conditions below those of their parents.
Go to Argentina (or indeed Brazil where similar policies were enacted) and you can find people drinking terrible coca-cola substitutes because the real drink is too expensive to import. People smuggling TVs and computers from Chile because the tariffs are so high. Huge areas outside Buenos Aires that are full of poverty, people living on hardly anything but the occasional handout, burning their rubbish in the street. Large numbers of people in unproductive industries that can’t import anything so force substandard products on local people. Constant disruption in the capital from over-mighty unions brining the centre of Buenos Aires to a halt practically every week. Trains that require guards with machine guns because the crime is out of control
Compare that to Chile and the large middle classes, to clean roads, the functional bureaucracy that doesn’t take days to do anything (if you can even get an appointment), and the general optimism of the place where the slums have been reduced to a tiny size compared to other Latin American countries.
Then tell me again about how wonderful popularism in the US or UK would be, the evils of neoliberalism, the need for economically-illiterate neo-Catholic ‘distributism’ and corporatism, protectionism and nationalisation and how they are going to produce utopian on earth.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago

Ferrusian, the comparison is valid to a certain point. As a Brazilian with plenty of Argentinian friends I can tell you that both countries have been ruined by Fidel Castro’s stupendously appealing and successful export product – marxist “revolution”.
I think even the most staunch Trumpists would agree that the US is not being threatened by a marxist agenda…

Last edited 1 year ago by Andre Lower
Vikram Sharma
Vikram Sharma
1 year ago

We have developed a very interesting new definition of democracy.
It is only democracy when my side wins.

Javier H Saal
Javier H Saal
1 year ago

Perón returned from exile in 1973 and died in 1974. March 24, 1976 was the last and bloodiest military coup and democracy was restored in 1983.
The participation of the United States Ambassador to Argentina, Spruille Braden, as organizer of the campaign against Perón in the 1946 presidential elections is known and regrettable. The slogan in the campaign was “Braden or Perón.”
Populism is not always a bad thing. If populism is to privilege the rights and needs of the poorest and most humble people over the interests of the oligarchy (as happened with Perón), it is welcome. Not all populisms are the same, nor are the societies that those populisms represent. Trump and Peron do not admit comparison to the same as the United States and Argentina.

(This text was translated automatically by Google. I apologize if any ideas were not clearly expressed)

Last edited 1 year ago by Javier H Saal