Andres Oppenheimer

Trump’s ‘authoritarian genes’ trigger world fears

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on June 14.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. on June 14. AP

One of the things that caught my attention when I recently interviewed former Mexican president Vicente Fox was that he seemed more worried about Donald Trump’s authoritarianism than by the presumptive Republican nominee’s constant Mexico-bashing.

In much of the world, Trump is seen as a potential tyrant, and has even been compared — probably unfairly, at least for now — to Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. Many critics stress that these and other tyrants were at first regarded as eccentric politicians whose racist statements were not meant to be taken too seriously, until it was too late.

The respected British magazine The Economist recently cited a potential Trump presidency as “one of the top 10 global risks.” Germany’s most influential magazine, Der Spiegel, carried a cover story titled, “Donald Trump is the world’s most dangerous man.”

Fox, the former Mexican president, stressed repeatedly during our interview that Trump shows a blatant disregard for the independence of Congress, the judiciary, and the media, and the rule of law in general.

Fox cited Trump’s call for disqualifying U.S.-born judge Gonzalo Curiel from hearing a case involving the failed Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, as well as Trump’s ban on journalists he doesn’t like from covering his campaign, as he did this week with Washington Post reporters. Fox also cited Trump’s vows to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, slap 35 percent import duties on Mexican goods, confiscate Mexican immigrants’ remittances, and several other drastic measures that in many cases require congressional approval.

These are just some of many examples of Trump’s “authoritarian genes,” Fox said. He added that “in Latin America, we learned the hard way what these messianic leaders are like. We can see these people’s genes. We have the capacity to see the genes of a person who won’t change, because that’s what they are.”

Asked whether these may not be just campaign slogans to make headlines, Fox said, “If something walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and looks like a duck, it probably is a duck.”

He added that he himself — much like Trump — was a businessman before becoming a politician, and that the worlds of business and the world of politics are very different.

“It took me a couple years to find out that the two jobs are very different,” Fox said. “This guy is used to giving orders in an authoritarian, vertical way. In politics, things don’t work that way: You have to negotiate, you have to seek consensus, or a majority that backs you. This guy must start by realizing that.”

When Trump announced this week that he would bar Washington Post reporters from covering his campaign, the Inter-American Press Association sounded a similar alarm. IAPA Freedom of the Press Commission chairman Claudio Paolillo said, “At times, Trumps looks like Hugo Chávez, but speaking in English.”

Many senior U.S. foreign policy pros in Trump’s own Republican Party share the same fears, as we reported in this column last week. And after Trump’s reckless remarks following the Orlando mass shooting that left 50 people dead, in which he reiterated his suggestion to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, there is even more anxiety in U.S. foreign policy circles.

The Foreign Policy magazine website’s June 13 edition’s headline read, “Donald Trump’s response to Orlando plays directly into the hands of terrorists.”

The story by the magazine’s editor, David Rothkopf, said that “it is hard to imagine a more effective ally of extremism than Trump, who uses his global platform to trumpet views that are a caricature of the ignorant, hateful American.” It added, “His words seem designed to support the narrative that the United States is intolerant, racist, and at war with the people of Islam.”

My opinion: It’s not right to compare Trump with Hitler or Mussolini. Such comparisons are highly speculative, and trivialize the horror of World War II’s Holocaust by Nazi Germany.

But, having interviewed Chávez and most other of Latin America’s messianic leaders in recent decades, as well as Trump, I agree that Trump is — to put it in Fox’s terms — genetically authoritarian. He won’t change his ways at age 70 after spending his entire adult life bossing people around, and boasting about it. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español