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Trump and the Easy Analogy

As the Trump adminstration takes us into new terrain at a breathless pace—challenging our ideas about how a president should exercise his powers, or even our notions of simple decorum—many are looking at other world leaders, both past and present, to gain perspective. Are we witnessing the beginnings of an authoritarian, even fascist, regime? Attempts to explain Trump have resulted in comparisons not only to political strongmen like Hitler but even fictional villains like Darth Vader and Voldemort. 

Not so fast with the open and shut parallels, however. In a thought-provoking interview with WNYC's On the Media, John Patrick Leary, author of A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination, says that many of these comparisons are over-simplifications. Looking at Trump analogies with the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, Leary explains how such thinking relies dangerously on cultural stereotypes. Beyond the obvious problems of equating the capitalist Trump with the socialist Chávez, Leary points out that Trump has cultivated a racial divide where Chávez emphasized class—and reminds us that the anti-elite rhetoric that supposedly binds the two is fairly standard in American politics, going back at least as far as Reagan. Leary also sees the widespread characterizations of a Trump-led America as a "banana republic" troubling, the term being a vestige, of course, of a time when the U.S. meddled disastrously in Latin American affairs. He sees in the revival of this term a nostalgia for a time when Latin America and the U.S. each "knew its place."

Much food for thought in this interview. You may listen to this highly informtive, and quite entertaining, discussion here. John Patrick Leary's A Cultural History of Underdevelopment is available now.

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