Who could have foreseen that Donald Trump would become the undertaker of European right-wing populism 18 months ago? I guess not too many. But it’s the case. Since „The Donald is in office there are sincere indications of a bad future for AfD, Front National, UKIP and other European demagogues.
The defeat of Geert Wilders during the Dutch elections was a first but significant indicator that the longer the right wing administration of Donald Trump in the United States lasts the worse the chances of European right wing parties get. Norbert Hofer losing the Austrian presidential elections is another example for that ongoing trend. Why? Because Trump is the greatest indicator that right wing populism doesn’t work as government policy. Trump is too much for Europeans. By appearing close to surreal to us, Trump illustrates the stupidity of populism at an unseen scale. „The Donald“ puts a spotlight into the faces of Geert Wilders, Nigel Farage, HC Strache or Marine LePen and let even the angriest citizens among us see their true nature and the absurdity of their argument.
During the first 100 days of the Trump presidency we saw unprecedented turmoil. The two-times failed travel ban that was blown away by federal judges. A healthcare bill that couldn’t even convince Republicans. The ongoing allegations of connections of the Trump’s campaign-team with Russia. The avoidance of a handshake with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel in front of cameras during her White House visit. The absurd lies about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. The obscene Twitter-tirades on California’s former governor and Trump’s successor at „The Apprentice“, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The American President intervening in the fashion dealings of his daughter Ivanca with Nordstrom publicly. And many, many more incidents, scandals or bold pure stupidity.
Upon this development meanwhile the most angry and frightened Europeans realize what might sound good during a campaign-trail („Build a wall“, „Ban Muslims“, „Make Healthcare much better and cheaper“, etc.) looks much different (and maybe a little bit more complicated) when the idea once touches reality and campaigners are asked to deliver.
Let’s illustrate the matter on Trump’s healthcare bill. During the campaign Donald Trump promised that there would be much better healthcare for everybody („We don’t let people die in the middle of the street …“) at a much lower price. The promise sounds quite socialist for a Republican and it’s a bold, attracting statement for voters who face economic struggles as many of Trump’s voters do.
In reality it turned out that by raising the military budget by more than 50 billion USD (another campaign promise for a more influential and solvent target group, the weapons lobby) there’s not enough money left. The outcome is that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) came to the conclusion that 24 million people less will be health insured in the US within a couple of years with the healthcare-cill of Trump’s administration. And blue collar workers and elder people who have almost collectively voted for Trump are hit the hardest and will face a dramatic increase of their cost while rich people and executives can be happy about savings. Never before an administration turned so quickly against its own voters as the Trump team. Fortunately for American people that bill couldn’t even convince Trump’s party and until now the White House failed to gather enough votes to pass the bill in congress.
In Austria we saw a similar (not reaching that level of extensive unprofessional behavior) development at the beginning of this century when far-right FPO became part of the government. Socialist propaganda mixed with homophobic campaigning against foreigners made them winning elections and once they were in power they served their friends and worked massively against public interest. Many court-judgements and still ongoing investigations draw a clear picture of misconduct and corruption of tremendous scale. Many ministers and officials of those days faced trials and some of them went to jail.
But in regards of global publicity and influence Trump’s administration is quite different to Austria’s situation a couple of years ago. The world is looking to the US as world’s most influential power and as a spearhead of the western hemisphere and western culture. The country of Lincoln, Harvard or Microsoft is now led by a man who can be hardly taken serious. Despite the fact he has the nuke-codes and is the most powerful man on earth. The most important western democracy has voted for a man who was recorded when bragging about „grabbing women’s pussies“, who called his supporters for beating anti-trump-protesters during his campaign-trail, who seriously considers building a wall between the US and Mexico, and who proposed to ban 1,5 billion people (that’s the rough number of Muslim people around world) from entering the United States of America. The world is deeply concerned where this man will lead us from now. Austrian right-wing-populist didn’t have too much global impact. The president of the United State does.
The impact of Trump on European policies is surprising: A significant downward trend of right-wing-parties, especially far-right-wing as FPO in Austria, AfD in Germany, Front National in France or as we saw with Partij poor de Vrijheid of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands is taking place. European people seem to realize that they don’t want to have guys like Donald Trump and his surrogates being their leaders and forging their future by defining policies or lifelong assignments such as supreme court judges. European people are shocked about the unpredictable, provocative and strange behavior of the US president and they start to understand that they don’t want to have this sort of people in charge in their own country.
Any right-wing campaign works the same way:
First you define a group of people (minority) who you can blame responsible for the problems of a larger group of people (majority). The elites are guilty that working class is suffering. The foreigners are guilty that the life of the residents isn’t better as it is. The muslims are threatening the lives of Christians. And so on.
Second you create an obscure message how everything will turn cheaper, better, more free, more safe, more national once you are in power. It’s easy to be destructive and find populistic arguments since any country or social system has its inherent deficits.
Third you communicate an immediate threat. Refugees and fear of terror are the major trends these days. Fear creates social dynamics and let people become interested in your absurd proposals and utopia promises.
Until now hardly any right-wing populist in later Europe came to power and was forced to deliver on his campaign-promises. In US Donald Trump succeeded, won the electoral college and would be in the position to deliver on his promises now. The world is watching and he’s failing on huge scale. Despite his administration of billionaires and despite GOP controls congress as well as senate nothing seems to work fluently. During the attempt changing the healthcare-plan of the Obama-administration he even failed getting the support of his own party. His attempt of banning the immigration of Muslims from 7 countries was interfered by several federal judges. And not less then 3 of his campaign surrogates (Sessions, Flynn and Manafort) have been in touch with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign where it turned out that the Russians had at least tried to influence the outcome of the elections in favor of Trump.
For Europeans that development demonstrates that voting for a populist as „The Donald“ creates less welfare, less social security, less predictability but much more turmoil. This impression of Trump’s administration and its impact on society is stimulated by the ongoing turmoil of the British government since the Brexit-vote. Another prominent occasion where a democratic decision turned out to be not too smart.
This development is very bad news for European right-wing parties but a tremendous uplift for democracy.
Due to the situation in the US people and the absurdity of Trump’s behavior the world starts to remember that their democratic vote has an impact and influences their personal future and well-being. Since Trump it’s not that easy anymore to say: „I am angry so I irrationally vote for a populist demagogue“. You might have to live with the toxic fallout of your decision for quite a while.
„The Donald“ is so far beyond anything we saw – or we could even imagine – before it happened to become reality. And he turns out to be the greatest eye-opener in modern history. And maybe the greatest chance for modern democracy. After a 100 days in office we can say that President Trump isn’t just killing US-healthcare, undermining US’ foreign-policy, lied more than once to the public and has declared war on media. But he is eliminating any chance of European right-wing-parties to win any election in the near future. I am convinced the longer Donald Trump is in office the worse it will get for populists and demagogues. This might be the biggest achieve of this administration and its contribution to history.