Open­ing Re­marks

The Trump style is re­ally quite Euro­pean

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents - By Stephan Faris

From the vol­ume of the out­rage, you’d think Euro­peans had never dealt with the likes of Don­ald Trump be­fore. The French news­pa­per Libéra­tion called him “the Amer­i­can Night­mare.” The Ger­man newsweekly Der Spiegel slapped his face on its cover in front of flames crawl­ing up an Amer­i­can flag. (On­line, the fire was an­i­mated.) Wher­ever one looks in the con­ti­nent, there’s ris­ing alarm in the me­dia about the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump could be­come pres­i­dent of the U.S.

And yet, as much as the head­lines make him out to be an Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non, in Europe, Trump would fit right in. His mix of na­tion­al­is­tic na­tivism and eco­nomic pro­tec­tion­ism has proved a win­ning for­mula for far-right par­ties across the con­ti­nent. Trump’s rise is rem­i­nis­cent of Jean-marie Le Pen’s, which stunned the French me­dia and political class when he made it to the se­cond round of his coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2002. A for­mer para­trooper who’d ques­tioned the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the Holo­caust, he was widely con­sid­ered far too un­con­ven­tional, far too crude—and, frankly, far too racist—to ever be granted a shot at the coun­try’s high­est of­fice.

Vot­ers de­cided dif­fer­ently. By the time the bal­lots were counted, the can­di­date dis­missed as a joke by the es­tab­lish­ment was one of two pres­i­den­tial con­tenders. “I kept say­ing, ‘ Be care­ful, he could win,’ ” re­calls Chris­tiane Chombeau, who at the time cov­ered the far-right political move­ment for Le Monde. “But no­body be­lieved me. They would say, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen.’ ”

Le Pen lost the elec­tion, but his party has only gained in pop­u­lar­ity since— es­pe­cially af­ter he was re­placed as its leader in 2011 by his me­dia-savvy daugh­ter, Marine Le Pen. (She kicked him out of the party last year af­ter he be­came even more in­cen­di­ary.) The el­der Le Pen likes what he sees across the At­lantic. On Feb. 27 he tweeted what amounted to an en­dorse­ment of the New York de­vel­oper-turned-re­al­ity-tv- star: “If I was Amer­i­can, I would vote for Don­ald TRUMP … May God pro­tect him.”

The emer­gence of what might be called the Euro-trumps has been driven by the grow­ing im­por­tance of im­mi­gra­tion as a political is­sue, nur­tured by a feel­ing that the Euro­pean Union has be­come un­re­spon­sive to the will of the peo­ple. Th­ese na­tion­al­ist politi­cians have been pushed into promi­nence by the long eco­nomic stag­na­tion that’s fol­lowed the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Trump’s Euro­pean coun­ter­parts draw their sup­port from glob­al­iza­tion’s losers—work­ing- class vot­ers who feel squeezed be­tween an elite that doesn’t have their in­ter­ests at heart and a grow­ing class of im­mi­grants they worry doesn’t share their val­ues. “It’s peo­ple who feel that lib­eral democ­racy has failed them,” says Dun­can Mcdonnell, a pro­fes­sor of political sci­ence at Grif­fith Univer­sity in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, and coau­thor of Pop­ulists in Power. “They feel aban­doned, and they’re ready to ex­plore other op­tions.”

So com­mon are po­si­tions like Trump’s in Europe that it might be eas­ier to count the coun­tries that haven’t seen Trump-like politi­cians than to list the ones that have. In Italy, the anti-im­mi­grant North­ern League is an im­por­tant power bro­ker; its Se­nate leader, Roberto Calderoli, once pub­licly and un­apolo­get­i­cally likened Cé­cile Kyenge, the coun­try’s first black cab­i­net mem­ber, to an orangutan. In Fin­land, the Finn Party’s soft brand of Nordic na­tion­al­ism has el­e­vated its leader into the govern­ment as for­eign min­is­ter. Aus­tria’s Free­dom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the Dan­ish Peo­ple’s Party, the Swe­den Democrats, the U. K. In­de­pen­dence Party, and the Swiss Peo­ple’s Party are all fan­ning the flames of xeno­pho­bia into elec­toral suc­cess.

The Euro­pean politi­cian to whom Trump is most of­ten com­pared is for­mer Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni. But while the two men share a sim­i­lar style of pre­sen­ta­tion, the com­par­i­son falls short when it comes to pol­icy pro­pos­als. Per­sonal be­hav­ior aside, Ber­lus­coni is—in his mes­sag­ing, at least—a tra­di­tional, free-mar­ket con­ser­va­tive. Trump is fuzzily mod­er­ate— if not al­to­gether left- wing— when it comes to the econ­omy, op­pos­ing cuts to So­cial Se­cu­rity and pledg­ing to pro­tect Amer­i­can jobs from free-trade agree­ments even as he lumps Mex­i­can im­mi­grants to­gether with rapists and prom­ises to ban Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the U.S.

Trump’s place on the political spec­trum is more sim­i­lar to that of Geert Wilders, a Dutch par­lia­men­tar­ian who’s built his ca­reer on at­tack­ing im­mi­grants in gen­eral and Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar. “Trump’s strat­egy is ex­actly the same as Wilders’s. He never re­treats. He never apol­o­gizes,” says Mein­dert Fen­nema, who’s writ­ten a bi­og­ra­phy of the Dutch politi­cian. “Jour­nal­ists give them a lot of at­ten­tion be­cause they would like to kill them.” Like Trump among Repub­li­cans, Wilders’s party is far ahead in the polls. With elec­tions ex­pected to take place in the Nether­lands within a year, it

The lead­ing Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has coun­ter­parts from Paris to Am­s­ter­dam to Bu­dapest

could re­ceive twice as many votes as its near­est ri­val.

Wilders’s political his­tory is in­struc­tive. He en­tered pol­i­tics in 1997 as a ra­bid cham­pion of the free mar­ket. But as the years pro­gressed, he swung to the left eco­nom­i­cally, re­al­iz­ing that the vot­ers he was court­ing were more in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing their pock­et­books than rip­ping up reg­u­la­tions. Most re­cently, Wilders has be­gun to cast the Dutch wel­fare state as some­thing to be de­fended against im­mi­grants.

He and Trump share a mas­tery of gut­ter pol­i­tics and a gift for the well­timed in­sult. Wilders once de­scribed the head of the par­lia­men­tary op­po­si­tion as “a cor­po­rate poo­dle … yelp­ing and pee­ing on a tree, but when the prime min­is­ter ar­rives he jumps up in his lap.” In a Dutch political cul­ture usu­ally char­ac­ter­ized by cour­tesy, he’s dis­missed speeches in Par­lia­ment as “di­ar­rhea” and de­scribed mosques as “places of hate.”

And then there’s the hair. Wilders sports an im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able bouf­fant, with curly blond waves that look as if they were painted by Vin­cent van Gogh. “It’s a re­ally smart political tool for him,” says Tom-jan Meeus, a political colum­nist at NRC Han­dels­blad, one of the coun­try’s largest news­pa­pers. “It brands him as a political out­sider. He’s one of the long­est-serv­ing mem­bers of Par­lia­ment in the coun­try, but be­cause of his hair­cut, no­body is go­ing to no­tice.”

Wilders, too, has en­dorsed Trump. On the day af­ter the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date pro­posed a tem­po­rary halt to Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion, Wilders tweeted: “I hope @re­aldon­aldtrump will be the next US Pres­i­dent. Good for Amer­ica, good for Europe. We need brave lead­ers.”

Europe may also of­fer a peek at what a Trump pres­i­dency could look like if he makes it to the White House and de­liv­ers on his cam­paign prom­ises. In Hun­gary, Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­bán’s govern­ment has be­come in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian. Re­cently, he’s po­si­tioned him­self as a de­fender of Chris­tian­ity against an in­flux of Mus­lim im­mi­grants, re­spond­ing to the big­gest refugee cri­sis since World War II by build­ing a fence along the bor­der with Ser­bia and pass­ing a law that makes il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pun­ish­able by three years in jail. Once a cham­pion of democ­racy—he called for the with­drawal of Soviet troops five months be­fore the fall of the Ber­lin Wall—or­bán has swung far to the right. As prime min­is­ter, he’s curbed press free­doms, un­der­mined his coun­try’s checks and bal­ances, and de­cried the fail­ure of “lib­eral democ­racy.”

To be sure, the political sys­tems in the U. S. and Europe are very dif­fer­ent. The sys­tem of pro­por­tional vot­ing in many Euro­pean coun­tries, for in­stance, makes it eas­ier for a small party to co­a­lesce and sur­vive. (As in a crowded pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, pro­por­tional vot­ing fa­vors the emer­gence of strongly held mi­nor­ity views.)

And yet, the les­son for Amer­i­cans from across the At­lantic is clear. Even if Trump doesn’t win in Novem­ber, the political ide­ol­ogy he’s un­leashed— or per­haps ex­posed—is un­likely to shrivel away af­ter the votes are counted. If, of all places, the na­tions of Europe haven’t de­vel­oped an­ti­bod­ies to the rad­i­cal right, no coun­try can ex­pect to be im­mune. Should Trump’s bid for the pres­i­dency fall short, it’s hard to imag­ine that he’ll con­tinue to cam­paign for decades, wait­ing for an­other shot. But the con­stituency he’s build­ing is likely to stick around. <BW>

If Europe, of all places, hasn’t be­come im­mune to the rad­i­cal right, no place can

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