8 Parallels between Trump & Chávez

Autocrat’s Playbook: The US capitalist and Venezuelan socialist

Christina Hoag
ILLUMINATION
Published in
10 min readJun 10, 2020

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Trump by Library of Congress on Unsplash, Chavez by Christina Hoag

On the surface, U.S. President Donald Trump and deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez are polar opposites.

Trump is the right-wing multimillionaire scion of a real estate developer who dodged the draft before turning to politics while Chávez, an avowed socialist and the son of poor schoolteachers, was a career Army officer before leading a failed coup in 1992 and then taking up politics after his release from prison. No doubt they would’ve hated each other, but as leaders they’re surprisingly alike, starting with the fact that neither had held political office before being elected president.

Similarities between the two men have struck me every so often since Trump’s election in 2016. (Chávez was elected in 1998 and died in office in 2013.) But this year, with a pandemic, economic meltdown and sweeping protests over racial injustice in the United States, Trump is increasingly reminding me of Chávez, who I covered extensively and interviewed twice when I worked in Venezuela as a journalist from 1995 to 2002.

Keeping in mind that unlike Chávez, Trump is not a true autocrat and that the countries are very different politically, economically and demographically, here’s my take on how the two presidents stack up:

1. The Appeal of the Savior

Both political outsiders, Trump and Chávez appealed to electorates that felt disenfranchised, impoverished and left out. In Chávez’s case, it was 58 percent of Venezuela’s 24 million population living in intergenerational poverty. At the turn of the 21st century, the vast majority had little possibility of ever living in homes with running water. For Trump, it was largely the white working class that has seen well-paying, low-skill jobs offshored and automated and the overtaking of brawn power by brain power.

Winner: Chávez. He won in a landslide election while Trump actually lost the popular vote, eking his way into the White House thanks to the quirky Electoral College.

2. Nationalism to the Hilt

Both leaders use simple, similar narratives, summoning nostalgia for a better past and…

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Christina Hoag
ILLUMINATION

Journalist, novelist, world traveller. Author of novels Law of the Jungle, Skin of Tattoos and Girl on the Brink. Ex Latin America foreign correspondent.