Opinion: The Trump Bunch

Cleveland, Ohio. July 18, 2016. A Donald Trump bobblehead with his signature "thumbs-up" and the "Make America Great Again" hat was one of the many items available for purchase on Monday outside the Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the Republican National Convention. Photo by Pankaj Khadka/BUNS
Written by Landry Harlan

By Landry Harlan
BU News Service

You can beat the pollsters. You can beat the commentators… Remember, anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”

“Time’s up for denial and hypocrisy. The absolute rejection of Islamic Fundamentalism must be proclaimed loudly and clearly.”

“Many people are increasingly feeling unsafe. Every law-abiding citizen should be in a position to defend themselves, their family and their friends.

Do you get a sense of déjà vu when you read these quotes? They tend to, in one form or another, pop up frequently at rallies for Donald Trump when the time comes to rile the crowd. Trump rode the coattails of white nationalism and fear-mongering all the way to the Republican presidential nomination and shows no signs of letting go with about a month until the election.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that such a singular man must be a singular phenomenon. Electing a business mogul with a penchant for demagoguery as president? We must be the laughingstock of the world! Our cultured European neighbors must have it all figured out, right? Troublingly, xenophobia and incendiary speech knows no borders, and across the Atlantic a terrifying pattern is forming. The Far Right is gaining power. Nationalism is spreading like a virus. Other Donald Trumps are emerging from the shadows.

The three quotes above are from speeches given by leaders of growing Far Right political parties in the United Kingdom, France and Germany, respectively.

The first was said by Nigel Farage, leading pro-Brexit (i.e., screw you E.U.) politician and former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, speaking to a uniquely non-British audience in Jackson, Mississippi, in August after the narrow Brexit victory in the UK in June.

The second was from a fiery speech given by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front (FN) party, after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris in January, going on to condemn Islam fundamentalism as an “odious ideology.”

And lastly there’s Frauke Petry, chairwoman for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, speaking to the Funke Media Group in August, responding to Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s defenses of her “open door” immigration policy.

Admittedly, there is one large difference between Trump and the three politicians listed above. Yes, they’re politicians. Trump is a reality show star (let’s not call him a successful businessman). Yet, a key element fueling each is an “outsider” status. Trump and Petry take aim at those in power nationally, with Trump saying he’s going to fix a broken Washington corrupted by entrenched bureaucrats, and Petry, a former businesswoman with a Ph.D. in chemistry, arguing that “right and left are terms that haven’t fitted for a long time.” Farage and Le Pen look to the supposed economic and political stranglehold of the European Union, with Le Pen calling it “deeply harmful” and “an anti-democratic monster” in calls for a possible “Frexit”, a split that could end the E.U. altogether.

With a strong base of disgruntled populist voters, Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. Farage’s support came from a similar group, harnessing a bloc of older, rural and less-educated voters to win the Brexit vote by four percentage points before promptly resigning just over a week later, declaring that his “political ambition has been achieved.”

In the last regional election in France in December, the FN led by Le Pen stunned with the highest percentage of support in national polls at 28 percent. However, similarly to Trump, polls (this one taken last month) also show a strikingly low 35 percent positive view of her from voters. The next French presidential election is set for April 2017, where she is leading incumbent Francois Hollande by as much as 15 percentage points in a recent survey.

The AfD, at a mere three years old, became a major player after winning almost 22 percent of the vote in a state legislature election in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This may seem minor – and a mouthful to say – but the victory comes in a region regarded as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “political base”. The next German federal election will be held between August and October next year. Merkel is still heavily favored, but the AfD’s opinion polling is on the uptick, moving from sixth to third place since July 2015.

To pinpoint the reasons for the growth of these parties, one must dig to the roots. The U.S. and Europe still face economic stagnation after the global meltdown of 2008. Terrorist attacks have increased by 35 percent with an 81 percent increase in fatalities from 2013-2015. Some of the deadliest and most widely known attacks were by terrorist organizations connected to the fringes of Islam. The refugee crisis has forced an estimated 11 million Syrians from their homes with approximately one million requesting asylum in Europe, the vast majority of which are law-abiding Muslims.

Each intertwines to form political movements that seem reasonable on the surface, but are rotten to the core, filled with addictive hate disguised as “patriotism.” This most often takes the form of anti-Muslim sentiment, trying to make frail connections between weak economies — “immigrants are taking the jobs!” — and the rise in terrorism — “blame the rise on refugees!” —  though, at least in the U.S., only a small percentage of terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by Muslims — only 10 percent from 1980 to 2005, according to the FBI database.

These international nationalist movements can quickly become breeding grounds for charismatic, usually white, firebrands stoking the coals of political upheaval, sometimes more for their own personal gain than any kind of moral compulsion. The new gang of far right leaders may seem an unlikely bunch, but they run the same circus campaigns. To garner support, Trump uses deflection, Farage uses “dirty tricks”, Le Pen spouts falsities and Frauke just doesn’t answer questions she doesn’t like. Well, actually, they all do that. Spot the pattern?

Just ask the others what they think about Trump.

Farage: “Trump was MY warm-up man… but I gave him a bounce — and he’ll be the new Ronald Reagan.

Le Pen: “If I were American, I’d vote Donald Trump … but God bless him!”

Frauke: “(Trump is a) refreshingly alternative apparition.”

Yikes.

They deserve each other.

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