Trumpillo: How Donald Trump resembles Rafael Trujillo

Today in the US election, Donald Trump tried to “revoke” the Washington Post’s press credentials. This affront to the free press – one of the basic norms of democracy – comes on the heels of Trump’s other unprecedented anti-democratic attack this month, against an independent judge, Gonzalo Curiel. Trump’s behaviour, while shocking, is perfectly consistent with other historical narcissist, would-be dictators’. They often want to ban a free press (as much as they can) and attack the independent judiciary because they see the State as an extension of themselves. An attack on the leader as an individual is indistinguishable from an attack on the State, and in their minds it should be treated as such. But to call these positions ‘fascist’ is to overstate their coherence as ideology. Trump is no right-wing ideologue with a grand and aesthetic world-view built on deep-set hatreds. His tradition is in the smaller, sordid, New World tradition of a closer neighbour. Trump is more like the infamous Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

Whereas Hitler tried to maintain an ideological consistency along side of his rampant narcissism, Trump, like Trujillo, cares about only two things, both of which are inexorably tied to his myth of himself. Trump values strength and wealth, and not much else. The particular aspects of his political ‘program’ are secondary to his two cornerstone values. His hatred of Muslims and Mexican immigrants could easily switch focus towards any other group or class of people if need be, if circumstances change. Muslims and Mexicans aren’t the point for Donald Trump – all that matters is that they are ‘other’, that they are here, and that he can act strongly and decisively against them. A similar crass narcissism can be found in Trump’s economic ‘program’. Donald Trump is no believer in capitalism as a system; he certainly does not have any faith in the free-trade global capitalism that so many neoliberals espouse. He is interested in wealth, only wealth – not free flowing capital or open markets per se. Donald Trump doesn’t care where the wealth comes from or how it was made, as long as he and ‘his’ country can have it. He would just as easily support feudalism or outright theft as global capitalism, as long as he can personally get rich from it. Again, Trump’s classic narcissism allows him to understand his own, personal success and/or failure as the same as the State’s. Personal wealth acquisition is the root of his ‘system’. If he can get rich doing something, it must also be good for the country, right?

Strength and wealth, as Donald Trump understands them, are essential qualities of a successful man – and that’s why Trump’s mythologized masculinity is, in fact, his single-most defining feature. In Trump’s mind, great men are always ‘strong, powerful and rich’. They are patriarchal and paternalistic; they protect women and kids and lesser men. Trump imagines that a great man who exhibits these ‘strong’ qualities in business and in his personal life is entirely qualified to lead his nation.

Trump’s comic vanity (whether in his clothes or hair or his buildings’ décor), his glorification of wealth over any functional economic system, his racist hatred of some ready and easy ‘other’ (but mainly to show his own ‘strength’ in protecting lesser citizens, without much regard for any internal qualities of the people supposedly hated) – all these qualities Trump shares in abundance with Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo was another right-leaning, wealth-obsessed, ‘strong-man’, who despised (and murdered) those darker skinned Haitian immigrants encroaching into the Dominican Republic from across its only border. Like Trump, Trujillo was not an ideological person; he was more pragmatic: an over-masculinized narcissist. That leads to the key similarity between the two men. The primary way Trujillo’s toxic masculinity manifested itself was in the way that masculinity always manifests itself: extraordinary misogyny.

Rafael Trujillo’s sexual abuse of young women was infamous and extreme. By the end of his 30 year reign of terror, Trujillo was capturing and raping a different young girl every night. He raped someone new, every night, for years on end. (Shocking dramatizations of Trujillo’s endless rapes can be read in Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, in Julia Alverez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, and in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, as well as in “Bottlecap”, my own story about Trujillo’s adolescence in The Iron Bridge). Trujillo’s misogyny wasn’t some terrible by-product of his entitlement and absolute power; misogyny was his foundation as a person and a leader. When authoritative masculinity is believed to be the only quality necessary for real leadership, daily misogyny is the most powerful way to exercise and practice that all-important ‘skill’. Men who value masculinity above all have to be misogynists. Control and abuse of women is never a by-product for men who believe in masculinity with such faith.

It almost goes without saying that Donald Trump is another rampant misogynist, although not quite in the Trujillo tradition, and that his life-long misogyny is tied to his own shocking ideas about strength and leadership. The best document of Trump’s misogyny that I’ve read is right here, Franklin Foer’s piece for Slate. Foer’s piece should be read closely, along side of any brief biography of Rafael Trujillo. The similarity will be clear. Trumpillo.