With over 99% of the vote now counted, it’s clear that Trump admirer and self-described “anarcho-capitalist” Javier Milei will be the next president of Argentina. Considering the conspiracy theory-spouting Milei has claimed the only way he could lose is if the election were rigged, at least Argentina might not suffer the damaging riots that plagued neighbor Brazil after Trump-supporting former President Jair Bolsonaro lost his reelection bid. But that may be the only good thing about Milei’s election.
Nicknamed “the madman,” Milei is a former TV pundit who gained attention with radical-right theories of economics—and detailed explanations of “the joy of tantric sex” that included informing the public of his ejaculation schedule. He has a pack of five huge Mastiff dogs, all of whom are clones. He has frequently campaigned as libertarian superhero “General AnCap” in a black and yellow costume. He has also appeared on stage with running chainsaws and singing Rolling Stones covers while wearing leather pants. He has suggested that Argentinians should be able to sell their internal organs, and once proposed a free market for selling babies. In a country that’s roughly 63% Roman Catholic, Milei has denounced Pope Francis as “a filthy leftist.”
Now he’ll soon be in charge of that nation of almost 47 million, and running South America’s third-largest economy. He intends to show the world a real Ayn Randian/Nietzschean dystopia where wealth and rights are synonymous.
The reason for Milei’s rise despite an unending list of extreme weirdness and seemingly disqualifying statements isn’t hard to pin down: Argentina is a mess.
Inflation in the past year has run at 143%. Current President Alberto Fernández has barely appeared in public over the past few months, and Economics Minister Sergio Massa, who was Milei’s biggest opponent in the election, was largely left holding the bag for an economy where 40% of the nation is in poverty, even though unemployment is less than 7%.
Argentinians are working. They are bringing home paychecks. But they can’t buy anything. Many younger workers are “informally employed” under a system that provides them little in the way of benefits or job protection—a kind of gig economy where salaries are decreasing even as inflation soars. Milei offered the kind of right-wing, populist, nationalist, follow-me-and-it-will-all-be-better option as Donald Trump and Bolsonaro.
That kind of economic crisis has always been a fertile ground for movements backing a strongman with proposals for radical change, and there may be no better place for a fascist revival than Argentina.
The nation has never quite shaken its post-World War II reputation as a friendly retreat for international fascists, or as a nation where democracy is on shaky ground. Until 1983, the country was under the boot of neo-fascist Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, who “disappeared” at least 15,000 of his political enemies. After democracy was restored, several elections were followed by coups, government collapses, and riots. It wasn’t until 1999 that there was a transfer of power between parties in democratic elections, and even that turnover happened during the Argentine great depression, which saw the country’s economy shrink by 28%.
Instability, wild swings in policy, and the constant threat of another military takeover still mark Argentine politics. In Buenos Aires, there is a “Kyle Rittenhouse Cultural Center,” which appears to serve as a meetinghouse for those who believe the best way to enact political change is through assassination.
Trump supporters may be celebrating Milei’s win because he endorsed Trump, appeared with a “don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag in some campaign appearances, called for making guns readily available, is a climate change denier, and has promised to “make Argentina great again.” But for Argentinians, the immediate result of Milei’s election is likely to be further pain. Milei promises to destroy what little remains of Argentina’s economic safety net, replace the national currency with the American dollar, and close the nation’s central bank. All these measures can be expected to massively disrupt Argentina’s already fragile economy.
The instability has not exactly made Argentina the top target of international investors (though it would not be surprising to see techno billionaires lauding Milei’s calls for a financial Wild West). Should Milei get his way, Argentine citizens could find themselves in a situation that makes their existing funds worthless while removing the protections the government currently provides.
However, despite his sizable victory at the top of the ticket, Milei’s Liberty Advances party ended up carrying only seven of 72 seats in Argentina’s Senate and 38 of 257 in the House. That means Milei may need to pull back on his wild claims and find compromise with his opponents if he wants to pass any legislation.
Or he might just gain the support of the military and do what he wants. This is, after all, Argentina.