Argentine Fever

Nowhere to Retreat: Milei, Trump and the hopes of destroyed nations

There’s no question that the meteoric rise of Javier Milei in Argentina mirrors the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. Channeling his past life as the singer of an indie rock band, Milei’s bombastic attitude, rockstar-style entries to rallies and demonstrations, and his theatrical use of a chainsaw all have an undeniably Trumpian tone. But the situation of Argentina itself is above all a warning. As Bronze Age Pervert recently put it, Argentina is “a nation competing with Venezuela when, given its natural endowments as well as its human capital, it should be competing with the United States.”

How did things get this bad? Since the return of democracy in 1983, Argentina has been governed mainly by Peronist governments. Peronism is the “national-populist” ideology of Juan Perón, first emerging in the late ’40s and refusing to die to this day. Its “nationalistic” face never obstructed its commitment to a policy of social justice, a term used by Perón himself since 1946. After the economic collapse of 2001, Argentina welcomed the 21st century with a new Peronist political dynasty in charge: the Kirchners.

Today, Argentina is a country that combines the worst aspects of European-style and Latin American-style progressivism. Half of the population lives under the poverty line, and mafias, drug cartels, and nepotism thrives on every level of government. At the same time, the political discourse is relentlessly driven by media and education toward themes of gay marriage, abortion and transgenderism. 

Both sides of the issue were exacerbated during the Covid pandemic. Argentina applied one of the most draconian pandemic regimes in the West, with police forces murdering one person every 20 hours in 2020 alone. Lockdowns ended gradually in 2021, but provinces governed by Peronists continued to demand masking deep into 2022. The effect of these years has seen inflation entering high Earth orbit and psychological health declining to a state resembling mass clinical depression. Especially in Buenos Aires, one can tell at a mere glance that the people are weary and resigned.

Opposition parties, now combined into the Together For Change coalition since their failure in government from 2015 to 2019, have done little to stop the destructions enacted by Kirchnerism. Before the pandemic, they did nothing to stop the formation of shanty towns in every major city in the country: hubs of crime, welfare, and loyal Kirchnerist voters. They also did nothing to stop the Kirchners from importing new clients from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, permanently changing the demographics of many Argentine cities. They did nothing to stop the Kirchners when they hiked up taxes on the middle class and placed militant organizations in charge of distributing welfare in the slums. And they did nothing to stop them when they turned the money-printing machine on, and never looked back.

As all this was happening, young people have seen the standard of living of their parents or grandparents becoming completely unattainable. As the reality of never being able to own a house, form a family, or even feed themselves daily hangs above them, they attend schools and colleges where resentful middle-aged women teach a curriculum dictated by a mixture of Peronists and Trotskyites and defined by the demonization of white middle-class men.

In a nation like the USA, where two parties dominate the electoral system, these disaffected youths would have flocked to the ineffective controlled opposition party and maybe succeeded in mitigating the worst excesses. This is what happened here between 2015 and 2019. But with Milei’s surge, and the taboo against the “right-wing” dying out in 2019 as the ineffectiveness of the anti-Kirchnerists became obvious, the incipient two-party system has thankfully been smothered in its cradle.

The most important point is that the Argentine Right is not retreating. Unlike in the United States, where retreat remains a popular and viable alternative, (retreat from the cities, retreat from academia, etc) the Argentine Right is defined by the recognition that there was nowhere to retreat to. The Argentine right-wing is a young, urban, intellectual movement, both in its recent creation and the group behind its growth. If we retreated from culture we would never get anywhere. So right-leaning figures have begun focusing on penetrating the universities, and spreading the message of “resistance movement” against the domineering, often violent far-left monopoly over education.

Together for Change was a moderate government, playing a game of milquetoast compromises because their voter base of clueless boomers feared the mass disruption that real reforms would cause to the country. Their government failed and now we’re worse off than ever. Milei, labeled a “madman” by the establishment, presents himself as a radical figure willing to do what must be done, no matter how much the establishment fights back. Although this rhetoric frightens the boomers, it brings more zoomers to his side. Everything has been so thoroughly destroyed that an actual civil war might be an improvement. The country is on its last legs. We’re standing our ground because we’re at the edge of the abyss, we cannot take one step back. There is only victory or total defeat.

They say we Zoomers vote for Milei because we’re ignorant, or filled with hatred. We are not ignorant. Despite Argentina’s ever-worsening education standards, the average young Argentine is still well-educated when compared with our Latin American cousins. We’re also very aware of our country’s history: we know that Argentina was one of the richest countries on the planet in 1910, when the same economic policies Milei is proposing were in place – back then immigration came from the Mediterranean rather than the Andean Plateau. We also see the historical pattern we’re living through today. Our parents took vacations to Brazil and Spain when they were our age: we on the other hand can barely scrounge together enough money to pay for public transport.

But on the second point, they are actually right. Every year of our lives Argentina has fallen deeper into poverty. Crime has become rampant and more violent, and we have started to learn to save on non-perishables, to hide our earnings from the taxman, to live on one meal a day. And we know that the people who have been running the country since at least the ’70s are responsible for all this. So yes, we are full of hate – towards them.

Argentina is often called, by the Argentines themselves, “the world’s ass”. We’re a faraway land, untouched by global conflicts, evading two world wars in serene neutrality and benefiting from the trade, and European immigration which they brought us. We were the last place on Earth to flee to, now we’re a place many want to flee from. But with Europe on the verge of war and invasion, the Anglosphere becoming increasingly totalitarian and the American Right espousing retreatism, will there be anywhere left to retreat to, if Argentina falls?

Today’s October 22 elections in Argentina fall on the same day as Javier Milei’s birthday. Milei has adopted the motif of “the madman” from his enemies in the media, and has also five dogs. In the Kabbalistic Tarot, Arcanum 22 is The Madman. The Madman is always depicted accompanied by dogs, and its card signifies the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Can we dare to dream?

Sudaca is an Argentinian writer.

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