Trump = Chávez - Impulse Control

The parallels between Hugo Chávez and Donald Trump are so obvious, they can be hard to resist. But as Juan explains, they're also facile, and miss the thing that made Chávez ultimately so destructive: his capacity to play the long game.

Juan Nagel’s writes in Latin America Goes Global this week arguing that the comparison between Trump and Chávez is kind of silly. It’s a pretty good read.

As Juan puts it:

The insulting and divisiveness were not the worst of Chávez; the worst came later in how the former lieutenant colonel dismantled the checks and balances of democracy and corrupted the State. The caricature of Chávez as just a uncouth blowhard to make a political point is downright insulting to those of us still suffering from Chávez’s toxic legacy. […]

Chávez was not always an uncivil loudmouth. In 1998, when he first ran for president, he ran a disciplined campaign that drew many disaffected moderate voters to his fold. He also disguised his radicalness, saying that Cuba was a dictatorship and packaging himself as some sort of Tony Blair-Third Way moderate leftist.

I think Juan’s getting at something very real here. Say what you will about Chávez, but he had Long Game. He knew how to delay gratification. The Comandante was entirely happy to wait for years, over a decade in some cases, for the right time to implement some part of his master plan. Some people would call that strategic acumen, but I think it’s much simpler than that. It’s impulse control. His outbursts were controlled, planned, designed for a particular purpose. Chávez ad libbed constantly, but he never exactly improvised.

By contrast, one of Trump’s abiding traits seems to be a catastrophic inability to delay gratification. Ever. At all.

The realization crystalized for me Friday, after Trump’s epic press conference after the Republican Convention, in which he insanely rehashed every beef he ever had with Ted Cruz and threw in some added musings on the respectability of Melania posing nude for GQ, just for good measure. It was pure id, a rant so plainly counterproductive and devoid of strategic sense you sort of had to rub your eyes. It’s as though the strain of reading a prepared text just 12 hours earlier speaking to the convention had sapped all his will power, all his capacity for restraint. It’s, as Jon Favreau has mused, as though you can forecast a Trump eruption with eerie precision to the 24 hours after he’s forced to read a script from a teleprompter.

All this makes Trump much more erratic, but in some senses much more error prone and less ultimately dangerous. Because it would take not just charisma but enormous self-discipline and self-control to carry out the multi-year plan it would take to actually dismantle the institutions of the American republic the way Chávez dismantled ours. And there’s just zero sign that Donald Trump has any of that.