MAGA, Argentina Style

It’s too soon to say whether Javier Milei’s astonishing electoral victory will introduce the beneficent course correction that Argentina so desperately needs.
MAGA, Argentina Style
Argentine president-elect Javier Milei addresses supporters after winning Argentina's runoff presidential election, on Nov. 19, 2023, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Reuters/Agustin Marcarian)
Roger Kimball
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Commentary

So, Javier Milei was elected president of that troubled South American country on Nov. 19.

That couldn’t happen.

Everyone who was anyone knew that the expletive-spewing, chainsaw-wielding “anarcho-capitalist” couldn’t possibly win the presidency.

The 53-year-old economist (he had been chief economist for Argentina’s airport system) and talking head was too wild, too extreme, too unruly to be taken seriously.

He was also too radical in his proposals.

But then the impossible turned into the inevitable.

And note that Mr. Milei didn’t just win.

He won in something close to a landslide, with nearly 56 percent of the vote to 44 percent for his opponent, Economy Minister Sergio Massa.

Argentina may have a mellifluous name reminiscent of money (“Argentum” is Latin for “silver”).

But it has been an economic disaster for decades.

You think inflation is bad in the United States?

Well, it is, as a trip to the grocery store or gas station will remind you.

But inflation in Argentina is currently running at an eye-watering 142 percent.

Meanwhile, the value of the peso, the national currency, has been in free-fall.

Just last year, it lost 60 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar.
The average monthly salary in Argentina is 45,200 pesos, about $199.

Did I mention that Argentina has been run by bureaucratic socialists?

They love spending money they don’t have.

They delight in larding the government with new programs, new agencies, new initiatives, and new rules and regulations.

Sound familiar?

The people, as distinct from the bureaucrats, are sick of it. They want “economic shock therapy.”

Mr. Milei is poised to deliver it.

The first order of business will be to dismantle, cut apart, and cut out the sclerotic underbrush of Argentina’s administrative state.

Hence, the chainsaw, a custom model with “Milei 2023” and other campaign tidbits stenciled onto its guide bar.

Standing before a large whiteboard bedizened with a neat line of tags, each bearing the name of a government agency, Mr. Milei proceeded down the line, called out the name of the department, tore off the tag, and shouted “Afuera,” “Out!”

Ministry of Sports and Tourism: Gone! Ministry of Culture: Poof! Ministry of Environment of Sustainable Development: History!

It was a gratifying performance.

“The politics of thievery is over,” Mr. Milei insisted.

Can Mr. Milei succeed?

Everyone who is anyone says no.

Of course, they—everyone who is anyone—said the same thing about Donald Trump before he was elected.

And that tells us—what?

Mr. Milei’s campaign seems to be at least in part modeled on President Trump’s “America First” initiative.

It’s zanier, more Latin in its extravagance, even more in your face than was President Trump.

But Mr. Milei and his followers glory in the Gadsden flag, the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” symbol of populist resistance.

Noting that “Argentina,” like “America,” begins with the letter “A,” he even appropriated President Trump’s defining acronym, “MAGA,” giving it a local habitation and a name: “Make Argentina Great Again.”

Mr. Milei wants to substitute the U.S. dollar for the battered Argentinian peso.

He has declared war on the corrupt “political caste” that has been running, and ruining, Argentina.

He will drastically cut spending, contract welfare programs, and put a premium on individual liberty and initiative.

Naturally, the entrenched forces of the establishment are horrified.

As far as I have been able to determine, though, Argentina isn’t saddled with an intelligence service and department of injustice bent on destroying any politician who challenges the status quo.

Mr. Milei will face plenty of opposition, but it doesn’t seem that he will have to face Argentinian versions of James Comey, Robert Mueller, Hillary Clinton, and Christopher Wray.

It’s far too soon to say whether Javier Milei’s astonishing electoral victory will introduce the beneficent course correction that Argentina so desperately needs.

The forces arrayed against fructifying change are many and potent.

“Argentina’s new president Javier Milei is against abortion, pro-gun, vowed to cut ties with China, insulted Pope Francis, and says humans are not behind climate change,” whined one media site.

Some might regard those positions as a feature, not a bug, but they nonetheless indicate the ideological obstacles he faces.

But even many who are skeptical of Mr. Milei’s chances of success and who recoil at his untamed populism hope that he can succeed.

Then there are his spiritual brothers-in-arms who have witnessed Mr. Milei’s victory with what we might call transitive satisfaction.

Brexit happened in England on the veritable eve of Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

Was the victory of Brexit a sign or portent of populist potency in the Americas?

Maybe.

And maybe Mr. Milei’s triumph in Argentina is a sign of things to come in the United States in 2024.

The palpable enthusiasm of Donald Trump’s congratulatory message might seem to suggest as much.

“Congratulations to Javier Milei on a great race for President of Argentina,” President Trump wrote. “The whole world was watching! I am very proud of you. You will turn your Country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again!”

To which I can say only, “Amen.”

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads.”
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