President Trump rode a wave of new American populism to office, drawing support from both traditional conservatives and disaffected blue-collar workers yearning for a change in the economic system. In an effort not to produce another Trump think-piece, I can provide some fresh commentary on similar political events where I’m studying abroad in Argentina: a comparison of Presidents Donald Trump and Mauricio Macri.
So, here’s the obvious one: Macri and Trump both held political rivalries with formerly beloved left-leaning female politicians who happened to be married to former presidents. Macri’s predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, had already served two terms when Macri ran in 2015 and did not run again. Still, her chosen successor Vice President Daniel Scioli faced a narrow defeat, ending the 12-year legacy of “Kirchnerism.” Although Hillary Clinton was the first woman nominated by a major party in a presidential election in the U.S., Argentina has a curious history of presidents’ wives entering politics, especially in the role of president, after their husband’s tenure. An interesting phenomenon, but one for another time.
Trump and Macri both have a background in business spurred by the success of their fathers. Macri worked in banking, construction, and the automobile industry before moving into politics. At one point, he led Sevel Argentina, a firm that makes Peugeot and Fiat cars (two of the most popular makes) in the country. Trump, of course, had familial ties to New York real estate and entered the industry himself. Trump in fact purchased land in the Upper West Side from Francisco Macri in 1985.
Given their backgrounds in business, it is not surprising that both politicians ran on a conservative ticket. Additionally, both rode to power a wave of dissatisfaction with corruption and routine politics, though their approaches to this attack were distinct. Macri ran against the historically populist Peronist party, which faced widespread charges of corruption, drastically increased Argentina’s public debt and had recently started to lose support of core groups such as labor unions. Trump seemingly at first ran against all parties when he inflamed establishment Republicans and vowed to breathe fresh air into tired Washington party politics. He eventually targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democrats specifically, citing the party’s playing favorites, Clinton’s business and philanthropic endeavors, and the notorious email scandal.
On a specific policy, both have inspired a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction in the education community since their coming to office. Trump nominated millionaire campaign donor Betsy DeVos, who did not go to nor send her children to public school, as Secretary of Education. Macri angered teachers in his first month in office when he cut funding for public education (which had previously been earmarked at 6% of GDP) and eliminated a mandatory high school law. The result was widespread strikes by teachers’ unions. Right now it’s summer in Argentina, but my host family’s two high schoolers don’t know when or if they’ll go back to school. If the teachers are still on strike, summer lives on.
Unsurprisingly, actions by Macri and Trump have inspired widespread protest in Argentina and the U.S. In Argentina, protest appears to me to be more sustained, even more frequently extreme; it is not uncommon nor surprising for all banks to be closed for days at a time when tellers have cause to strike. Teachers walked out of schools and gave some nine million students a free day in August of 2016 to protest Macri’s actions. In the U.S., Trump has inspired increased protests across the country, such as the global Women’s March that publicly denounced many of his positions. Since then, people have turned out in greater numbers than many can recall in recent history to voice their discontent.
Now, for a few notable differences. Considering these are two different people who are presidents of two different countrie, this section could go on for a while. However, in the interest of keeping this relatively short, I’ll just mention two of what to me are the most significant distinctions between Trump and Macri.
First, Macri has a background in politics. He first became involved in politics in 2003 when he founded the center-right party Compromiso para el Cambio and ran for mayor of Buenos Aires. He lost the election, but later co-founded a new party, Propuesta Republicana, which aimed to provide a third option outside the “outworn rivalry” between the Peronists and Radical Party. He remained active in local Buenos Aires party and ran again in 2007, winning 60% of the vote over his Kirchner-backed opponent. While mayor, Macri sparred with President Cristina Kirchner over city-versus-national authority, but was successful in rejuvenating the city’s public transport and reducing traffic.
Finally, their relationship to populism: Macri ran against and defeated Argentina’s populist Peronist party, while Trump is widely considered to be the populist candidate. Although Macri enjoyed the support of some groups of disaffected Peronist supporters, his candidacy focused foremost on offering a new alternative to over a decade of Peronist populist rule under the former Presidents Kirchner. Trump was a distinctly anti-establishment candidate, who, despite enjoying the nomination of the Republican Party, represents values different from traditional Republicans in many ways, and rode a wave of support among individuals dissatisfied with establishment politics.
Even still, there’s a similarity to be noted here. Both Macri and Trump represent an alternative, a change to traditionally two-party politics as they stood. One may be more extreme than the other in their diversion from the norm, but they still represent a serious challenge to political order as a result of economic dissatisfaction within their countries. Whether they will be able to restore faith in their frustrated constituents remains to be observed.