Pests Of Populism: Latin America Knows Why Trump Won't Go Away

Like former presidents Álvaro Uribe and Evo Morales in South America, Donald Trump may keep infecting public life, even after he exits the White House.

A person with a mask walking next to the image of former president Alvaro Uribe Velez in Bogota
A person with a mask walking next to the image of former president Alvaro Uribe Velez in Bogota
Alvaro Forero Tascon


No one has invented a cure for populism. It can be held at bay, temporarily, but never fully eliminated. Still, by detecting the symptoms and attacking the malady early on, we may substantially cut the risk of its reappearance. If, on the other hand, populism can progress unchecked, it will spread rampantly.

In the United States, the much-maligned institutions have won the battle against Donald Trump, at least for now. Trump will leave power in January, but only after feeding the enormous tumor of a supposed fraud that deprives the incoming Biden administration of legitimacy in the eyes of a big portion of the American electorate.

The real symptoms of populism first appear only when it is already well advanced. At first it seems laughable, a fight between one man and the great political and economic powers. But the populist has correctly identified a wound in society that is much deeper and more painful than the establishment realizes, because they have largely caused it. And it is almost always the result of inequality, which means certain problems disproportionately affect a particular sector of society.

The populist identifies this and defines it as corruption. Populists will attribute it to the elites, declare that they must be replaced, and present themselves as the solution. Using this simple formula, they achieve something profound, namely to rob their political adversaries of legitimacy for being members of the "corrupt" upper-echelon. Society thus becomes divided into the "phonies," on the one hand, and "the people," whom the populist claims to represent.

A Trump election rally in Pennsylvania — Photo: Reporters via ZUMA Press

The populist manages to politically reengage and revive social sectors that have been sidelined by democracy, and mobilize the institutions of state — or so it seems — to address their grievances. But all the populist really does is activate disenchanted citizens on the basis of rage, fear, division and exuberant promises that then generate collateral damage.

This makes it difficult for a newly enraged and divided society to reach necessary consensus to apply real solutions. In delegitimizing their adversaries, populists delegitimize democracy, which rests on pluralism. And by delegitimizing democracy, they open the way to abuse it by attacking and coercing the institutions blocking their way.

It's at this point that the authoritarian vocation of every populist emerges, with personal rule seeking to replace legality and the rule of opinion taking the place of the rule of law. These help the leader keep power.

Societies with more robust institutional immune systems, like Colombia or the United States, can successfully expel them from power though without fully curing themselves from the infection. The sickness keeps trying to return to power and continues to fiercely delegitimize institutions and opponents, as exemplified by figures such as Peru's Alberto Fujimori, Colombia's Álvaro Uribe and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Using fraud as his "trump" card, Trump still has the ammunition to dominate politics from the opposition, as Uribe did against the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018). If Trump keeps imposing his agenda on the media through fake news, he will push the Biden administration up against the wall and keep the Republican Party at his mercy. And as a result, U.S. politics will be reduced to one man's irrepressible quest to return to power.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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