María Clara Medina | 11 December 2023
"The chainsaw madman", "a dog whispering lunatic", "the self-proclaimed 'king of the jungle.'" That's how the international press and globalized social media refer to Javier Milei, the elected president of Argentina, characterizing him as a two-faced political leader: one side portrayed as outrageous, demonized, and feared, and the other, simultaneously, seductive and attractive due to his wild exoticism, suitable for the mainstream Western media’s stereotyping of Latin America as a barbarian, irrational and undeveloped region. These and other criticisms and disqualifications of Milei, attributing his exaggerated campaign style to his alleged weak mental health, are not only ethically reproachable for the public stigmatization of mental illness but also pose a global political problem: The concealing of a specific political rationality of extreme right-wing ideologies behind the growing trivialization and stereotyping of mental illness in politics.
In the past, figures like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, more recently Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, as well as Giorgia Meloni in Italy, the hegemony of Vox in Spain, or the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, serve as clear examples of the press reducing far-right policies to cases of madness or collective irrationality. In the case of Milei in Argentina, the disqualification of the elected president as "crazy" easily extends to his voters. Consequently, attention tends to morbidly focus on the spectacular or anecdotal aspects of his seemingly insane gestures and speeches rather than revealing the cold rationale of his political logic, which is anti-democratic in nature.
Milei, like Meloni or Trump, embodies the scandalous, spectacular, and megalomaniacal presentation of an individual who recognizes no limits in articulating an anti-rights project where verbal violence and the threat of physical violence, symbolized by a crazed chainsaw, undermine democratic coexistence and propose the destruction of the principles of the exhausted liberal democracy that they, paradoxically, have used to gain power, and dismantle the central protective functions of the same democratic system. Empowered by his own messianic ecstasy, what Milei agitates and radiates to the masses is not madness but simply and plainly extreme right-wing populism; in other words, fascism.
As with other current regimes with fascist components within—such as in France, Italy, or Sweden—the most concerning aspect in the Argentine case is not the histrionic overflow of mad candidates or Chiefs of State. What is truly alarming is the social indifference and lethargy, the lack of empathy for the less privileged; to restate, the widespread cruelty as a form of coexistence. Today, the major threat against democracy lies in the massified multitude of ordinary individuals who can consent to the praise of dictatorship and its crimes or to the cheerful announcement of mass layoffs and savage privatizations—measures that were already implemented in Argentina and led to the great crisis and violent repression of social protests in 2001. This complacent civic "normality" to absolute free-market freedom associates indebtedness, poverty, suffering, and even death with the spectacle of "what will not happen to me but to others" (the poor, the working class, women, non-binary sexualities, indigenous peoples, or simply those who think differently), defined as undesirable or misfits by the neoliberal conservative policies of austerity, repression, and destruction of the State and the national economic apparatus.
The magnitude of the genocide during the last civic-ecclesiastical-military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983) was only possible thanks to a coldly devised and executed plan. Today, Milei's necropolitical project in concordance with reactionary forces in Argentina is not only about the destruction of the State and the rights gained through the rule of law since 1983. It is also a plan to create means, technologies, and mechanisms to carry it out. To be clear: The ground of this project is not madness but human intelligence and sanity, lucid, oriented in time and space, and unaffected by delusions or hallucinations. In essence, it is the precise, elaborate, and carefully designed display of fascist overflow, based on its spectacular media representation that attracts and seduces with its hypnotic power. This fascist necropower, now dressed in an exotic show that attracts the morbid curiosity of both locals and foreigners, relies on today's most sophisticated technology and political engineering to impose its well-trained and effective rationality.
Milei’s voters are not crazy. But they believe that the end justifies the means, such as imposing violent hatred and fear, even if it entails the self-destruction of democratic coexistence norms. The authoritarianism of the extreme right represented by Milei is not the project of a few madmen but a government project for rational beings, for "normal" and "good people," always functional to the most entrenched conservative power.
What to respond to the recurring question from Swedish journalists and colleagues in recent weeks about how it is possible that the same country that gave the world "Nunca Mas/Never Again" and the trials against perpetrators of crimes against humanity has now chosen a president who vindicates the dictatorship and its violence? Perhaps we have underestimated the constant strength of Argentine reactionary thinking that has violently permeated the country's history since colonial times. Now it advances disguised as a libertarian slogan, like a grand open-air and loud spectacle, gradually naturalizing itself as "democratic" and co-opting discourses and subjectivities in the civilian population, especially in younger Argentineans for whom the experiences of the dictatorship and the successive failures of past neoliberal policies are not even familiar memories.
No, the greatest danger threatening social democracy in Argentina today is not madness but fascist sanity and its necropolitics.
María Clara Medina is lecturer and researcher in the fields of Human Rights, Gender Studies, and Latin American Studies at the School of Global Studies (GU) since 2007. Her current area of research and recent publications focus on sexual and reproductive rights as human rights, contemporary feminist movements as resistance movements, and gender-based violence in a context of precariousness and master suppression techniques.