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American Caudillo

Trump and the Latin-Americanization of U.S. Politics

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he is introduced during a campaign event in Concord, North Carolina, March 7, 2016. Chris Keane / Reuters

For those of us who study Latin America, it has been fascinating to watch the gradual but certain Latin-Americanization of U.S. politics. The latest and most compelling sign yet is the rise of Republican presidential contender Donald J. Trump, whose braggadocio, demagoguery, and disdain for the rule of law puts him squarely in the tradition of El Caudillo (loosely translated into English as “the leader” or “the chief”), a mainstay of Latin American politics. Although difficult to define, the phenomenon of caudillismo is easy to trace through Latin American history. During its golden age—the nineteenth century—the typical caudillo was a charismatic man on horseback with a penchant for authoritarianism. Early caudillos such as Argentina’s Juan Manuel de Rosas and Mexico’s Antonio López de Santa Anna ruled their countries by the sheer force of personality as they sought to negotiate the rough-and-tumble world of politics

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