© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

We've Seen The Trump-Chávez Comparisons. How About Clinton And Rousseff?

Eraldo Peres (left) and Molly Riley (right)
AP via Miami Herald
Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (left) faces impeachment this summer. U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (right) dodged FBI charges this week.

Hillary Clinton shares many of the political flaws, and is battling the same sexist attacks, that have Dilma Rousseff sitting in the dock of an impeachment trial.


We’ve seen enough media comparisons of Donald Trump and Hugo Chávez to make us think they had the same father.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the late Venezuelan president are indeed nifty portraits of egomaniacal demagoguery. But if 2016 election pundits are looking to Latin America for ominously useful parallels, they might give the Donald-Hugo chatter a rest now and consider Hillary-Dilma.

As in, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and recently suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

RELATED: Trump-Chávez Comparisons Are Fashionable. They're Also Flawed.

If Clinton can lose in November – and she certainly could – a big reason is that she shares many of the same toxic political flaws, and at the same time is battling the same unfair sexist attacks, that have Rousseff sitting in the dock of an impeachment trial this summer.

Clinton’s not facing a trial because the FBI said this week it won’t recommend charging her for improperly using private e-mail to handle classified information – some of it “top secret” – when she was Secretary of State.

The FBI call was right. But Clinton still has to answer to the cacophonous court of public opinion and political attack ads. Not just for being “extremely careless,” as FBI Director James Comey put it, but astonishingly arrogant.

The Chávez comparisons remind Republicans why Trump is running behind Clinton – but the Rousseff comparisons warn Democrats why Clinton isn't running as far ahead as they'd hoped.

We can get better clued in to Hillary by checking in with Dilma – who, like Hillary, is a righteous liberal icon who thought she was above it all because, well, she’s a righteous liberal icon.

Though she’s a product of middle-class affluence, Rousseff joined a leftist urban guerrilla group in the 1960s during Brazil’s 25-year-long military dictatorship – a regime that tortured her in prison.

She is without doubt a courageous woman. But she's not charismatic. Rousseff is in fact so charisma-challenged that officials in her Workers Party convinced her, in pretty sexist fashion, to get a facelift since they couldn’t give the dour economist a personality transplant. But her pluck and administrative brilliance moved popular outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to tap her to succeed him. She was elected Brazil’s first female president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

Meanwhile, Clinton's Midwestern Methodist upbringing gave her an earnest sense of social and moral responsibility that's made her a poster pol for progressives in the U.S. (At least until Bernie Sanders showed up.)

Clinton too is an admirably brave woman. But she too has a charisma deficit; in public at least she radiates all the personal authenticity of a sorority rush director. Still, her own remarkable drive and acumen have her poised to become America’s first female president.


Either way, what worries many voters – even those who would rather watch marathon reruns of “The Apprentice” than vote for Trump – is that Clinton could be the same kind of leader Rousseff turned out to be.

Clinton’s e-mail blunder – and her husband Bill Clinton’s foolish meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week as the case was still being investigated – make her vulnerable to the same charges of dishonesty and untrustworthiness that smacked Rousseff when she cooked her government’s books to hide mushrooming deficits. Brazil’s Congress OK’d her impeachment trial for that infraction.

Credit AP (left) and Ariana Cubillos (right) / AP via Miami Herald
AP via Miami Herald
Comparisons of the late Hugo Chavez (left) and Donald Trump keep the GOP awake at night.

Sexism of course played a role in that controversial impeachment, especially in the person of right-wing evangelical Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha, himself facing corruption accusations. But folks who've worked for Rousseff at Planalto, the presidential palace in Brasília, would have told you long ago that an equally large factor was her Amazon-size hubris. Not her liberal righteousness, but the self-righteousness it spawned.

The glow from Rousseff’s socialist halo seemed to blind her to malfeasance like the epic corruption scandal that has all but ruined Brazil’s state oil firm, Petrobras – and which started while she chaired the company in the 2000s. Rousseff herself has not been charged in the multi-billion-dollar scheme; but you could call her stewardship “extremely careless.”

As President, Rousseff’s more common moniker was “extremely tactless.” She was best known for alienating allies – which, ironically, undermined support for her own anti-corruption efforts and other reform initiatives Brazil desperately needs.

Sexism admittedly clouds too many voters' opinions of Clinton as well. But so, for example, does her imperiously botched handling of healthcare reform back in 1993.

The Chávez comparisons may remind Republicans why their man Trump is running behind Clinton in most polls. But Rousseff might remind Democrats why their woman Clinton isn’t as far ahead of Trump as they’d expected.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.