Rise of Trump Elicits Shock, Outrage and Panic across Europe

Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Donald Trump (photo: Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

By Dan Bilefsky, New York Times


LONDON — He has been depicted as a snarling demagogue in France, equated with Donald Duck in Spain, and described as worse than Lord Voldemort in Britain.


In Europe, the birthplace of the Enlightenment, Donald Trump has been treated variously as a disturbing curiosity or an entertaining political show barker. His nearly every move and pronouncement have been reported from Paris to Berlin to Helsinki, even as commentators on both left and right have dismissed the notion of U.S. President Donald Trump as the stuff of fantasy, or, at worst, a momentary lapse of reason.


That is changing. With a series of wins in key Republican primary states, and with the billionaire’s strong showing Tuesday, the European media, like its American counterpart, is adjusting to the prospect of a seemingly unstoppable Trump juggernaut. The reaction is a mix of befuddlement, outrage and panic, along with admiration in some unlikely quarters.


And satire. The Spanish newspaper El País recently published an imaginary letter from the grave in which Philip II, a 16th-century Spanish king who ruled a vast empire, offers advice to Trump. Noting that his nation had also suffered from roguish subjects demanding free handouts, and Muslim terrorists masquerading as peaceful citizens, the king advises Trump to “consider bringing back the Inquisition.”


Trump’s often scowling face appears frequently on front pages, his success parsed daily on news bulletins and radio talk shows. Coverage tends to focus on his more outrageous statements rather than much serious examination of how a Trump presidency — still regarded with horror by many — might affect international diplomacy. Hillary Clinton’s name recognition and star power still fascinate, as does the surprising ascent of her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders. But it is Trump who is stealing most of the headlines.


Jakob Nielsen, the online editor and former Washington bureau chief of Politiken, an influential Danish newspaper, said that initially editors there did not take Trump’s candidacy seriously and were disbelieving when the paper’s U.S. correspondents started filing stories saying he might win the Republican nomination.


“As Trump has risen and as he has won the first primaries, the coverage has gone from fascination to outrage,” he said in a phone interview from Copenhagen. “There is a sense of shock here after we have seen Trump rallies with almost fascist-like rhetoric.”


Reflecting that disbelief, a cartoon in Politiken last week showed a couple on a sofa watching a CNN report asking “Will Trump make it all the way?” The incredulous husband tells his wife: “This is too unreal. Can we watch something more realistic like Star Wars?”


Trump’s toxic irreverence has helped fan the criticism. He drew the ire of the press — and officials in London and Paris — after he described neighborhoods in their cities as no-go zones for police. In Britain, his widely reported comments that foreign Muslims should not be allowed to enter the United States provoked such outrage that members of Parliament debated a petition, signed by more than 580,000 people, to ban him from entering the country. (He can still visit.)


In Germany, which has fashioned itself as the moral voice of Europe in recent months after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision not to limit the number of migrants who can apply for asylum, the front page of a recent issue of Der Spiegel, the influential German magazine, shows Trump with the American flag behind him engulfed in flames. “Madness: America’s agitator,” the headline says.


A commentary in Bild, a populist German tabloid, recently noted that most Germans could not say who was running in the German state elections in March, but they were following the election campaign in “distant” America.


For all the provocations by Trump, his deftness at tapping into the visceral anger of Americans shaken by economic doldrums and globalization has deep resonance in Europe, where citizens from Britain to France to Hungary have also been turning to insurgent politicians on the far right or the far left to express their disgust with the political mainstream.


Jaroslav Plesl, editor of Mladá fronta Dnes, a leading Czech newspaper, said in an interview that Trump’s willingness to take on the political establishment, even in his own party, had made him a folk hero of sorts in Eastern and Central Europe among people disillusioned with the post-1989 political order. Equating Trump’s appeal to that of Ronald Reagan, Plesl argued that Trump was drawing in fans with his showmanship and swagger.


“The elites in Prague will sneer at him for being dumb and a bad role model, but Czechs in general like underdogs and outsiders like Trump,” he said. “To many young people who worship American popular culture, Trump signifies American values like show business and working hard to achieve success.”


Others in the European news media, however, have expressed shock at Trump’s brand of incendiary politics, in particular the insults he has lobbed at minorities, Muslims, Mexicans, women and the handicapped. Europe has its own brand of immigrant-baiting far-right figures, from Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France to Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party.


Trump enjoys greater popularity in Russia, where the budding bromance between the American and President Vladimir Putin has won Trump praise. The Russian news channel Russia Today recently paid homage to Trump’s talents as a shock jock and published an interactive article “on the top ways to be offensive — Trump-style.” Among the insults highlighted was Trump’s off-color attack on former Rep. Barney Frank, referring to “protruding nipples.”


“Love him or hate him, the Republican has an uncanny ability to elicit an explosive response whenever he gets near a keyboard,” said the broadcaster, which is funded by the Kremlin.


Adding to Trump’s roster of fans in Europe, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the National Front, wrote on Twitter on Saturday: “If I were American, I’d vote Donald Trump ... but God bless him!”


Jean-Marie Le Pen, 87, has been convicted several times of inciting racial hatred.


By contrast, the left-leaning French newspaper Libération expressed puzzlement at Trump’s ascent. Under the headline “Trump, From Nightmare to Reality,” the newspaper recently noted that there appeared to be nothing to stop Trump from winning the Republican nomination. “And this, despite his thundering racist and sexist declarations.”


In Germany, Trump seemed too much even for Bild. It published a commentary recently by Franz Josef Wagner, a former editor of the newspaper, who wrote: “The ugly side of America is not dead, nor the ugly side of Germany.” Wagner compared Trump to a German politician, Frauke Petry of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, who has called for police to shoot at people crossing the border illegally.


“What kind of world will we live in,” he asked, “if these people come to power?”


To Learn More:

Twitter Still Trump’s Favorite Tool for Fear Mongering and Character Assassination (by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, New York Times)

British Lawmakers Debate Pros and Cons of Banning Trump from Britain (by Kylie MacLellan, Reuters)

Conservatives Decide Trump Qualifies as a Fascist (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Trump Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Emboldens Hate Mongers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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