Nov. 6, 2016

My Vote; Part 2

As an American, I confess that the 2016 Presidential campaign has been deeply embarrassing. And yet I find that the ugly phenomenon of Donald Trump is similar to political situations in other Western nations.

It has been no surprise that Trump has strongly supported Brexit, or Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Brexit was fueled by anti-immigration sentiment and calls to “take back control” of Britain from an international elite. While supporters of remaining in the EU had much stronger economic evidence to support their arguments, they were never able to successfully address voters concerns over immigration. Many British voters thought that the political and economic elites of Britain were happy to let in a large number of immigrants (usually from Eastern Europe) that would take jobs away from working-class Britons. Similarly to Trump, Brexit supporters wanted to put Britain first while rejecting globalization. The most prominent pro-Brexit politician, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, has actually campaigned in America with Trump and blasted Hillary Clinton.

It has also not been a surprise that the leaders of the French National Front have praised Trump. The FN (its initials in French) has been the largest far-right party of the French Fifth Republic. Its current leader, Marine Le Pen, is very likely to be one of the two candidates that will advance to the Presidential election run-off in next year’s election. Le Pen combines a xenophobic French nationalism (which is particularly critical of Muslims) with opposition to the EU along with a populist economic agenda that rejects globalization. Like Trump (who Le Pen has endorsed,) Le Pen has been able to attract support from the white French working class in post-industrial regions. Like many Trump voters who were traditionally working class Democrats, regions with strong FN support were previously strongholds of the French Communist Party (and the French left in general.)

In Central Europe, the nationalist right now leads two countries. Since 2010, Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have led Hungary. Orban has dominated Hungarian institutions and weakened checks on his government’s power. He has openly praised authoritarian governance in Russia, China and Turkey while proclaiming Hungary to be an “illiberal democracy.” Orban has cleverly picked fights with the EU to maintain political support in Hungary, most notably in opposing the acceptance of refugees into Europe. Orban has also been a rare world leader to publicly endorse Trump. Since 2015, Orban’s ally Jaroslaw Kaczynski has been the dominant political figure in Poland. Kaczynski is the leader of the right-wing Law and Justice Party (or PiS in Polish.) Kaczynski is neither President nor Prime Minister of Poland, but PiS underlings who are widely known to be carrying out Kaczynski’s agenda have filled those roles. This agenda has included an attack on the Polish judiciary and democratic institutions while picking fights with the EU over issues such as refugees (similar to Orban.) Like Le Pen in France, Kaczynski has pushed a populist and anti-globalization agenda. PiS have also allied itself with a traditional Catholicism that is still strong in Poland, as seen in a recent bill that tried to make Poland’s anti-abortion laws even harsher.

Populist and nationalist politicians have also gained popularity in Austria, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Alternative for Germany, a right-wing party whose leaders support Trump, is almost certain to enter the German parliament in next year’s general election. These nationalist European parties all share with Trump a xenophobic rejection of immigration and a belief that a global elite has run a conspiracy to repress the “real people” of their countries. They are all economic populists and do not care for strong institutions that enforce the rule of law. Trump and his European allies also look up to Vladimir Putin as a role model (with the exception of Kaczynski in Poland, due to Poland’s history of being on the front lines of Russian aggression.) Trump, Le Pen and others repeat Russian propaganda while gazing longingly at a Russia that Putin is able to ruthlessly dominate.

Thus, Trump is not only harmful to America. The United States has, at least since the end of the Second World War, been the central nation of the free world and, even with its blemishes, a democratic model. Trump has rejected this role for America, but it is time for American voters to reject Trump and his dangerous vision for our country and our world.