If you’ve ever wondered what the current American political scene looks like to outsiders, take a look at this long but worth-reading article by Markus Feldenkirchen, Veit Medick and Holger Stark in Spiegel Online International. It’s titled “America’s Agitator: Donald Trump Is the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”
Here’s a sample.
New Yorker writer George Packer’s book “The Unwinding” describes the gradual economic and, more importantly, moral decline of the United States. It is perhaps the most astute book about the country’s condition today. Sitting at Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Packer says that Trump now exhibits several of the characteristics of a fascist.
In the past, as a reality TV star, Trump had to come across as somewhat likeable, says Packer. But now that he is playing the fascist, he suddenly resembles one, with his grim face, his pursed lips and the threatening and intimidating look in his eyes.
It’s no accident that Trump expresses great admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who seems to impress him far more than politicians seeking to champion the values of democracy with their painstaking and often vain search for compromises.
“He is a nicer person than I am,” Trump said of the Russian president. “In terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.” The reason, according to Trump, is that Putin is “making mincemeat out of our president.”
Putin returned the compliment in December, when he said: “He’s a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt. He is the absolute front-runner in the presidential race.” Trump, who judges people purely by whether or not they praise him, promptly shot back: “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”
Packer says many Europeans are currently looking at Trump’s success and thinking: “Those Americans are crazy!” But Trump isn’t some strange US mutation, says Packer, who instead sees him as being evocative of European right-wing populists, à la Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orbán in Hungary.
While politicians like Le Pen and Orbán inveigh against “Brussels,” Trump rails against “Washington” as the symbol of a degenerate political system “that doesn’t get things done anymore.” Just like his European counterparts, Trump is calling for isolation in the form of protective tariffs, entry bans and border walls. He inflames tensions against ethnic minorities and offers anxious citizens the authoritarian vision of a strongman who will solve all problems on his own — while ignoring democratic conventions. Trump is presumably only the shrillest and most prominent embodiment of a trend that is becoming pervasive throughout the Western world.
Packer sees the 2008 financial crisis, which caused parts of the US economy to unravel and deprived millions of Americans of their economic foundation, as the main reason many Americans are receptive to a man like Trump. The economy has been growing again since then, but in absurdly unfair ways, says Packer, as inequality becomes more and more glaring. According to Packer, many Americans feel they have been left alone with their concerns, and they feel disconnected and betrayed.
The current primary race underscores how much this frustration has already changed the country. It has enabled Bernie Sanders, an extreme leftist by American standards, to become a serious threat to Hillary Clinton. And it is preparing the ground for Trump’s campaign against all the elites, even though Trump himself has spent his entire life as a member of the country’s economic elite.
Many Americans, especially whites and those with relatively little education, are now more receptive than ever to audacious promises and simplistic solutions. But they are also receptive to a form of politics that blames immigrants and minorities for their own fate, and for the race-baiting that has been part of every authoritarian movement to date. Trump offers all of these things, and he offers them more skillfully, professionally and self-confidently than all other candidates.
If the most powerful office in the world wasn’t at stake, all this wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous. Germany has been too busy dealing with the supposed threat posed by refugees in recent months to appreciate what’s really been going on across the Atlantic. Despite their differences, the US and Germany share an unshakeable faith in democracy and freedom. But nothing would be more harmful to the idea of the West and world peace than if Donald Trump were to be elected president. Compared to that, the America of George W. Bush would seem like a land of logic and reason in retrospect.
Bush, to his credit, never compared migrants to poisonous snakes — something Trump did recently at a rally in Pensacola, Florida. Later that night, Trump addressed what has been one of his favorite topics lately: Europe’s refugee crisis. “Just talk to the folks over in Germany,” he said. “Europe is being destroyed.”
When he puts on his reading glasses, the audience goes quiet. “Just listen to this,” he says, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket. He printed out the lyrics to “The Snake,” an old soul hit from Al Wilson. The song is about a snake, half frozen from the cold, that asks a woman to be let inside. The woman takes pity on the animal and holds it to her bosom, upon which the snake bites and poisons her.
Trump reads the lyrics aloud passionately, as if he were auditioning for a role. “Oh, shut up silly woman,” he says, imitating the snake: “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” The crowd cheers. They’re over the moon. Trump just stares back at them. “We’re gonna get bit.”
If there is any country in the world that understands the lure and the danger of fascism, it’s Germany. For them to be worried about what could happen here in the hands of the likes of Donald Trump is fair warning indeed.