One Trump, but the emergence of many?

As the ascendancy of Donald Trump relentlessly reverberates across oceans and borders, aspiring demagogues seek to replicate the vitriolic rhetoric that was so successful in moulding the electoral narrative in the US. Failing to recognize the unique political environment that propelled Trump to the heights of executive office, the likes of Marine La Pen in France and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil label themselves as their country’s version of the real estate mogul. Their aspirations are bolstered by media organizations that elevate exposure to political antagonists for the allure of clickbait and higher TV ratings.

Trump might have heralded in a new world order. Image: Astroawani

Despite the multitude of would-be Donalds, the linkages between Trump and other right-wing politicians all over the world are fractured at the core. Trump is a unique phenomenon born out of an array of resolutely American factors: the cult of celebrity, the multi-billion dollar campaign finance industry, widespread political disillusionment born out of a opaque bipartisan system and most importantly, the encroachment of the most expansive national security apparatus the world has ever seen into every facet of political life.

The unprecedented dangers posed by his administration is born precisely out of Washington’s unparalleled sway at home and abroad. To perceive Trump as a linear equivalent of demagogues past and present only inflates the boisterous egos of fascists across the globe. Crucially, it  also serves to mythologize previous US administrations that prioritized private interests over the public good, enacted vast surveillance programs in blatant disregard of the constitution and incentivized the use of torture and drone warfare amidst minimal public scrutiny.

Instead of accounting for the moral bankruptcy of the American republic, the oracles of the modern age insist on depicting Trump’s political success through an exceptionalist outlook that reinforces the inept narrative that the degeneracy of the rest of the world has reached American shores. By comparing the US to an ‘Arab country’ and Trump to a Latin American caudillo or African dictator, media outlets perpetrate a bigoted worldview that rivals the president’s tenuous grasp of international affairs.

The backlash against democratic norms occurring across the globe is undeniable and Trump’s actions since taking office are extraordinarily dictatorial. Hence, trivializing the Trump presidency as a surreal rendition of ‘Third World tyranny’ only blights genuine attempts to resist incipient fascist forces. Crucially, it also diminishes the Global South’s tangible, albeit discrepant, democratic progress. The same countries being belittled as the precursors of Trumpism are also superseding the US and other industrialized countries in achieving expansive voter turnouts, gender equality in the legislature and veritable transparency mechanisms.

It is evident that Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric and minimal regard for checks and balances are crucial tenets of dictatorships anywhere. Consequently, Americans should learn lessons from other political systems that have also been hijacked by despotic rule. Simultaneously, they must acknowledge the exceptionalist undertones that underlie such comparisons, as political discourse still finds it far too easy to create caricatures out of the excesses of Third World dictators.

As Trump demonstrated to devastating effect throughout his campaign, exceptionalism remains an effective conceptual tool capable of glossing over a nation’s political decay. In taking advantage of entrenched exceptionalism in the US, his campaign was able to remould the glory of the past and distort the horrors of the present.  Hence, the enduring depiction of the Global South as a hotbed of instability and extremism does not just add further kindling to America’s nationalist fervour; it also placates potential political opponents who refuse to resist Trump in the illusion that Washington’s institutions remain as strong as ever.

Thus, comparative analyses of Trump and the tyrants who rule the ‘margins of civilization’ trivializes both democratic developments of the Global South and the incredible threats posed by the new administration. Moreover, the persistence of exceptionalism only exposes the incorrigible malaise at the heart of contemporary Western political thought. Capitol Hill, Westminster and the Elysee Palace have long ceased to be the fulcrums of vibrant democracy. Nonetheless, the allure of belittling those who have historically been in the shadows of Western political innovation persists and efforts to scrutinize the reasons behind political apathy and ideological dwindling are stalled.

Instead of focusing on how Trump is as ostentatious as Mobutu or as unscrupulous as Pinochet, it is imperative to dissect the distinctive trends that have led to this treacherous juncture. Trump was not the first occupant of the Oval Office to undermine and delegitimize the Constitution, even if he has taken to the role of destroyer-in-chief with unquenchable gusto. He now controls a vast technocracy, one that dictators elsewhere can only dream of, with which to strengthen his tyrannical strappings.

Despite the current bleakness, Trump’s rise to power offers an opportunity to confront America’s gradual authoritarian shift in order to finally establish viable pathways to democratic resistance. The task is far from easy but a nation that is capable of questioning its own faltering myths can also muster the will to defy repressive mechanisms of power. Meanwhile, the Global South has had its fair share of virulent dictators. There is no need to add Trump to that inglorious list.


Gabriel Funari

Gabriel Funari

Associate Editor, Latin America at InPRA
Gabriel Funari  is a Brazilian by birth and an internationalist by circumstance. He has lived in the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany and the UK prior to attaining an International Studies degree at American University in Washington, DC. Passionate about Brazilian politics, Latin American regional integration, New Left movements and post-colonialism, he aspires to challenge conventional narratives surrounding international politics and seeks to contribute to the crucial issues of our times through vibrant dialogue and debate.
Gabriel Funari

Latest posts by Gabriel Funari (see all)