Since Donald Trump's astonishing rise to power, there is only one other public figure I can recall that has drawn such extremes of loyalty and loathing: Fidel Castro in his prime.
I will no doubt get an avalanche of criticism from my fellow Cuban-Americans for making this observation. But that simply proves my point. Although at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both men are lightning rods for polarization. Their similarities are in political style, not ideology.
"...THEIR IMPULSIVE PERSONALITIES WERE CATNIP TO THE MEDIA."
Their resemblance begins with their relationship to the media. Like Donald Trump, Fidel Castro in his prime was a political figure who worked without a net. Both men had the confidence--some would call it arrogance--to speak so bluntly to the press. Both were unscripted and unpredictable. Reporters will trip over each other trying to get an interview with politicians like these knowing that you might get a headline from an off-the-cuff remark. Unlike Trump, Castro was friendly to American reporters and courted their attention. But both men understood full well their impulsive personalities were catnip to the media.
Another likeness is their public personas. As an eleven-year-old, during my last summer visit to Cuba, I was taken to several of Castro's public appearances. Virtually every other line of his speeches was punctuated by wild cheers from the crowd. Even as a child, I could clearly see this man reveled in the adulation. His remarks were long, rambling and mostly improvised. Nonetheless, the effect was electrifying. I have never been to a Donald Trump rally. But judging from the news videos I've seen, both men love firing up a crowd and forego a script most of the time.
"WHAT WHIPPED THEIR FOLLOWERS INTO A FRENZY WAS WHEN THEY TOOK THEIR PERCEIVED ENEMIES TO TASK."
My final comparison is going to raise the most hackles: Both Castro and Trump stirred passions among their supporters by scapegoating.
Sure, both have their vague platitudes. No one is going to forget Trump has promised to "make America great again." Meanwhile, Fidel Castro ended every speech with "Patria o muerte! Venceremos" (Fatherland or death! We shall prevail!) But what brought the crowds to their feet for these men was not their visionary words about a glowing future. What whipped their followers into a frenzy was when they took their perceived enemies to task.
Castro's bogeyman was "Yanqui imperialism." In Castro's mind, the United States was the source of all of Cuba's problems and a threat to the entire world. As a kid I watched tens of thousands around me, their throats straining with rage, repeatedly chant, "¡Cuba, si! ¡Yanquis, No!" And yet, having already lived in the United States five years, none of the Americans I knew seemed like the demons Castro was raging against from his lectern.
Trump's chosen enemies have evolved over the course of the campaign. They began with Mexican illegal immigrants whom he inferred were "rapists" and "criminals" during the launch of his run for president. "Build a wall!" became a favorite chant as his early rallies. As Trump's political goals changed, so did his enemies. Lying Ted, Little Marco and Low Energy Jeb were replaced by Crooked Hillary. "Lock her up!" then became the mantra of malevolence at Trump rallies. Finally, when his chances of winning seemed bleak, Trump's enemies became a global conspiracy that included Wall Street, international bankers, the media, and career politicians of both parties--all determined to rig the election against him. He's waffling a bit on that one these days, now that he's president-elect.
HOW WILL DONALD TRUMP GOVERN?
So far, we only know how one of these men has governed. Fidel Castro's regime has been a disaster for Cuba's economy and a nightmare for anyone on the island who dares to publicly oppose him.
How will Donald Trump govern? That remains to be seen. For the sake of all Americans and the world, let's hope the comparisons between Trump and Castro end here.