Monday, March 14, 2016

European Perspective on Trump: Have Americans Lost Their Minds?

by Nomad

And it is very possible they might be correct.

A Most Dangerous Man

Certainly the support for Donald Trump has a lot of people scratching their heads. For some Americans, he is a source of worry, for others a reason to cheer "USA! USA!" Still others have come to the conclusion that he represents a Republican party past its expiration date, incapable of producing a sane vision for America.
But what do Europeans think?

Attempting to capture that European bewilderment and concern a recent BBC article explained:
Here's a sample of the public disapproval. Germany's Der Spiegel has called Trump the most dangerous man in the world. Britain's David Cameron says his plan to ban Muslims is divisive and unhelpful.
The French liberal newspaper Liberation has described him as a nightmare turned reality. JK Rowling tweeted that he's worse than Voldemort. A recent Economist cover has a picture of Trump dressed as Uncle Sam with just one word, "Really?" That pretty much sums up the mood of global elites.
It's not just the elites. Common folk have also made their opinions felt.

A petition to have him banned from the U.K. it gained 500,000 signatures. That was more than enough to force Britain's parliament to consider a debate on the issue.
The members did discuss the petition but eventually concluded such a ban would violate Trump's free speech.
Ironically, the same free speech he uses to stir up Islamophobia. 

According to Newsweek, Trump elegantly confirms European's anti-American attitudes. 

It is a stereotype that has long existed among some Europeans: all Americans are arrogant and loud, unable to listen, rude and ignorant, and bullies to all who may have differing opinions. They see Americans worshiping money and the power and privilege that comes with it.  It's frankly hard to not to see Trump as a poster boy for all those prejudices.

As unfair as it might seem, for many Europeans, the entire US political scene can be summed up by watching an hour of Fox News. For them, that's what the real heart of America looks like. Bill O'Reilly.

Probably only a landslide rejection of the Republican Party by American voters could alter that misperception.  
“Trump hits every negative stereotype of Americans that Europeans love to hate. He is superficial and un-nuanced. In Germany, they are deeply suspicious of this kind of big money. In France, what he says may be illegal. He doesn’t have a deep or even a coherent foreign policy. In the past, politicians were risk-averse. Trump shows that you can go out and make up facts and people will believe them.”
Like a lot of Americans, the days of Trump as a source of amusement and mockery have faded for many Europeans. After the first series of primaries, it has largely been replaced by a sense of shock, dread and outrage. 

Worst of all, (for foreign policy) Trump and the people who support him seem to think that military might makes everything right. Brute force and intimidation (even of allies like Mexico) is the way to get things done. 

Trump's "solutions"- at least, the ones he has offer to the public- seem remarkably backward and child-like.. and extraordinarily dangerous. 

Le Pen: Europe's Glass House

Bloomberg offers a different point of view which I think could be helpful too.

Europe isn't in much of a position to criticize US right-wing politicians. It has its own share for European liberals to fret about. 
It's another example of Europeans in glass houses.

What Trump had to say should feel outrageously familiar, says writer Marc Champion.
Populist bigotry about Muslims has already mainstreamed in Europe. Europeans haven't been outraged enough about that.
Take Marine Le Pen, whose National Front just won 28 percent of the vote -- more than either of the main parties -- in the first round of elections to run France's regional governments. Arguably she now has a better shot at becoming president in France than Trump has in the U.S. 
Her use of outrage and hate for Muslims has been instrumental in her rise in the polls. Compared to Trump, Marie Le Pen may be a prettier package but the rhetoric is probably worse. It is certainly more subtle. 
Okay, a blast from a foghorn is more subtle than Trump.  

For instance, Madam Le Pen can get away with claiming there are certain area where sharia laws trump French law. This, in a country where where hijabs are banned from schools. 

In her speeches Le Penn can charge that the Muslim immigration is an invasion without tanks and soldiers. She has shamefully used an analogy of Germans invading France as a dog whistle to nationalists.
Shockingly she supports a ban not only on all immigration into France but a ban on humanitarian aid to African countries, betraying France's long and proud history of international assistance. 
That's the crux of the problem with both Le Pen and Trump, they are trying to force us to betray the very things we ought to take pride in.
So France and other Europeans who fear a fascist takeover of Western democracies have more than one direction to look. 

Where the Problem Lies

The Bloomberg article goes beyond pointing fingers and saying "Ah, you do it too!" The rise of fascist type leaders is, the op-ed points out- not just an American, (or a Turkish, North Korean Russian or European) problem.

The trend, based on populist outrage, is caused by a failure of party leadership to establish limits.     
What is needed on both continents is for politicians to be relentlessly clear about where caution and realism end, and bigotry begins. Le Pen has exploited a gray area, cleaning up her party's once openly anti-Semitic and neo-fascist language to make it Islamophobic and anti-immigrant instead. That is a genuine challenge for the traditional parties, because populism can galvanize a significant chunk of the population in today's isolationist, post-financial crisis world. But trying to outflank the extreme right is futile unless you become them, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who recently called for schools to stop offering halal meals to Muslim students -- is finding out..
It could also be argued that Western liberal democracies have lost the fundamental loss of raison d'être, a reason for existence. 

We see also a failure on the Right to control itself, even in a very basic way. Instead, certain leaders use irrational prejudiced anger (and hate and ignorance) without offerring anything close to a constructive approach or a reasonable and dignifed alternative. 

That's true on both sides of the Atlantic.  

Trump's Challenge to the Right

The New York Times last month asked Jakob Nielsen, the online editor and former Washington bureau chief of Politiken, an popular Danish newspaper, what his take was on the mood in his country.
“As Trump has risen and as he has won the first primaries, the coverage has gone from fascination to outrage...There is a sense of shock here after we have seen Trump rallies with almost fascistlike rhetoric.”
In an article for European consumption, Nielsen observes that Trump's appeal may be limited but it is loud and, for some people, resonant. 

His assesment is surprisingly accurate. The Republicans, he writes, gave up taming racism after Obama became president. Now they’re paying the price. For years, Trump has fanned the flames of ire among many white Americans, who feel that their country is being taken away from them. Republican reaction to Trump's nonsense was, at best, muted, and at worst, encouraging.

Neilsen blames the Republican Party for its past opportunism and its unwillingness to distance itself from the implicit racism that lurked behind some of the Tea Party candidates who constantly tooted dog whistles. The GOP reaction was always the same: "There you go again. Playing the race card."

Now the Republican party is living the nightmare of Dr. Frankenstein, unable to take control, unable to lead or even attempt to offer a suitable alternative.
Now the Trump juggernaut rumbles over all of the other candidates who- if the last debate is any indication- have given up fighting and are trying to enjoy the moment with gritted teeth.

Europeans- at least, America's allies- are hoping that American voters do not make the same mistake that so many made in 2000 and again in 2004. Particularly when the right kind of leader has been met with absolute  and pointless obstruction.
The record doesn't inspire one with confidence.

The question is, of course: can the electorate and the American election system actually be relied upon to prevent a person like Trump for taking over the leadership position of the most powerful nation in the world? 

What Do We Care?

So who gives a hoot what Europeans think? a proud Trump support might challenge. They are not the boss of us. 

A calamity in November would produce at least one predictable result. Should Trump be elected president- by some unfortunate miscalculation- America's relationships around the world- even its most enduring and intertwined- will very likely  undergo a serious reevaluation.
It is hard to imagine Europeans ever following another fascist into the abyss ever again. Even a billionaire. 

In short, it could be catastrophe for US influence on an international scale. Not only for the US but, playing fast and loose with presidential elections could produce the perfect set of factors for a greater problem than just the loss of  US prestige. 

Given the complexities of international affairs, with flashpoints breaking out around the globe,  this is the time for rational and well-considered approaches. Rushing in with the military could- with no exaggeration- could easily spark a World War, the likes of which we have not seen in all our time on this planet.  

If nothing else, it would surely be the end of the interlude of sanity under Obama and make the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush seem like a day at the Euro Disney.