The Problem With A 'Strongman'

Strongman
noun strong·man \ˈstrȯŋ-ˌman\: a politician or leader who uses violence or threats

When I hear the word used as a positive attribute in reference to Donald J. Trump, I shudder. I come from a country that was ruled by a strongman for fourteen years. Democracy was not made for "strongmen". Democracy in itself is flawed, in that democracy, without the inviolability of a strong constitution, is meaningless. Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, was elected by a democratic majority but as soon as he took office declared on national television that the constitution was just for reference. And so the assault on the Magna Carta began and it is now unrecognizable, as is the country.

We, in South America, are experts in "strongmen". Augusto Pinochet, Fidel Castro, Alfredo Stroessner, Hugo Chávez - left or right - the list is long. What is evident about the "strongmen", is that it's a cult to their personalities and not their policies. Hugo Chávez was not elected because of his policies, but because of is appeal to a huge swath of the population that felt mis- or under-represented and because he was an "outsider." But I will stop with the comparisons now, the United States is not Venezuela. But I thought something very similar when Chávez first ran, Venezuela is not Cuba. I can't say my foresight was very good.

"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception," Mr. Trump said in the second debate. He threatened to put Secretary Clinton in jail if elected. As Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security and head of the Justice Department's criminal division under George W. Bush, said in the New York Times, "It's a chilling thought. It smacks of what we read about tin-pot dictators in other parts of the world, where when they win an election their first move is to imprison opponents."

But what's unsettling about this situation, is the thundering applause of those he appeals to. Mr. Trump, with the support of his followers, has threatened the constitution and the rule of law in this country, and that should not be taken lightly. He has encouraged violence against demonstrators, he has proposed a ban based on religion, and attacked an American judge, issuing threats and falsely saying he was Mexican. He undermines the American democratic system by saying it's rigged and setting the stage for the "great fraud" committed upon him that will cost him the election. He is recruiting "election observers" to show up at the polls, reminiscent of Chávez's red-shirted "motorizados" circling the polls on their motorcycles in a threatening manner on election day.

Mr. Trump's support does not come from his policies, few and vague at best, but from his personality, his persona, his very troubling persona. Racism, misogyny, lack of general knowledge, all forgiven because he is an "outsider" and is rattling the establishment. This is very ugly, and it's rattling more than the establishment, it's rattling the moral and democratic core of this country.

Thankfully, though sometimes detrimental as shown in the last eight years, the American system has enough checks and balances to keep a president from achieving anything. I have issues with the American system, especially with the electorate college that disenfranchises millions every election cycle, where a Republican vote means nothing in California and Democratic vote means nothing in Alabama. But it is very strong when it comes to the branches of government, the checks and balances. Very, very strong.

So, I am not terribly worried about the American democratic system collapsing under the rule of an autocratic, megalomaniac. No, I'm worried about the effects of his emergence on the fabric of the country, pitting Americans against Americans, and dividing us based on race, gender, sexual preference or religion. This is the real danger, a terrible change that could last a generation. Chávez changed Venezuela by dividing its citizenry and it didn't turn out well. Venezuela went from an imperfect two-party democracy to a disaster, far worse than what we had before. The United States is not Venezuela, and Venezuela is not Cuba, but I've said that before...