NATIONAL OPINION

Far-right delirium hits reality

Argentina’s Javier Milei is the new star among Chile’s far right. But his local peers are writing a constitutional draft that’s highly unpopular. Refounding a system will inevitably clash with reality, as the left had to learn, too.

On the stage, the lights are turned on and, amid shouts and flashes, a euphoric man appears, dressed like a cartoon character who always wears the same clothes.

He raises his hands before a raucous audience and starts singing. But he is not a rockstar; his name is Javier Milei, 53, lawmaker.

He said he didn’t go to Congress a day in his life just “to show that shitty politicians do not work.” He’s single, has no children but defends the nuclear family. On stage, his sister watches his steps. The show begins in the style of US televangelism. Milei’s nickname is El Loco, or the Madman.

A delirious show

He disappears a few seconds and reappears disguised as a superhero, with a mask and a black cape. He raises his voice, shouts, insults, cries, but mainly promises to break everything, eliminate the state, sweep away politicians –  the Kirchners, the “fucking lefties,” the Central Bank, anything that crosses his mind.

Drenched in sweat, he said the Pope – an Argentine – is the representative of the devil, that he will break commercial relations with China, leave the Mercosur trade block and that in the name of the market and freedom human organs could be sold and bought. He even hints at selling children and the audience becomes ecstatic. The show ends with a majestic image of a lion, similar to that of the Lion King movie, taking over the stage. Milei raises his arms and is visibly exhausted.

But the man is not a preacher or a rockstar. He is a presidential candidate in a major Latin American country. An economist, Milei declares himself an anarcho-capitalist, abhors the state, denies global warming, admires Margaret Thatcher, who launched the invasion of the Falklands – what will the veterans think? – promotes legalization of drugs but opposes abortion.

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Bad company

These contradictions are typical of a profile that became well-known with the rise of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, and that are mirrored in narcissistic and fanatical traits of someone like Nicolás Maduro.

Despite the extravagances, rudeness, and intolerance – he decomposes when confronted with others’ opinions – more than seven million Argentines voted for Milei, giving him the biggest majority in the recent primaries. In Argentina, experiencing permanent crisis, massive corruption, and triple-digit inflation, politics is seen as the root of all evil, so it’s not strange that such characters emerge.

Milei represents those who are fed up, even though they may be wealthy enough to leave the country or have studied at a public university for free, or whose electricity bills were largely covered by the state subsidies Milei wants to abolish. These subsidies helped Milei’s father, a bus driver, to save enough funds to send him to a private educational establishment, which only a few can afford.

Root causes

When much of the population is angry and feels like drowning, the one who promises to throw a life jacket becomes a kind of messiah. It does not matter that many voters know in their hearts that Milei’s magical thinking won’t solve their problems and that his proposed dollarization of the economy implies handing over sovereignty to the US, that eliminating the health and trade ministries will leave them exposed and that cutting trade relations will bring ruin.

But is the anger so intense that they do not care that this man is crazy? Do they identify with someone like that?

Milei has even more vote potential in the elections in October and could become president, but to govern effectively, he would have to prove that he is emotionally stable, local analyst Carlos Pagni was reported as saying.

The Chile connection

Populism and extremism have consolidated the world over because of hopelessness. In Chile, a polarization cycle started with the political projects of Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera, which lasted 16 years as both oscillated into and out of power.

Then anger about inequality, collusion, and illegal political financing exploded in October 2019. As a result, a process to change the Constitution, imposed during the dictatorship, started and the People’s List won a majority in the body tasked with drafting the new Constitution, promising to rewrite the Magna Carta and refashion the country.

This project was smashed by 62 percent of Chileans, however, who voted against the constitutional draft. In May, elections for a new drafting body took place, leading to a supermajority for the far-right Republicanos party, which also managed to capture disillusionment.

Recently, Milei drew a raving crowd in Santiago. Participants were keen to vent their anger at the event and on social media with insults and calls to sweep everything away.

However, Chile’s right-wing is starting to grasp that calls to refound a system are crucial for the success of campaigns but not necessarily relate to reality. It’s hard to roll back social rights like abortion or divorce.

Republicanos know that their constitutional project is highly unpopular. Latest polls found 60 percent would vote to reject it in December, even though the text is not ready, just like what happened with the previous draft.

If the draft is rejected again, the far right will collapse just like their far-left peers last year.

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