After the shockwaves of Brexit comes President Trump, an upset so audacious that has left millions of pollsters, commentators, politicians and non-expert onlookers — myself included — paralyzed by horror in its wake.
As a European citizen, I am worried about the effect that a President Trump will have on European politics. Trump is riding a wave of xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist and jingoistic politics that is spreading like wildfire throughout the globe. His victory will undoubtedly stoke the flames of far-right nationalism on the continent.
Marine Le Pen almost peed her pants congratulating Trump, tweeting that the American people were now ‘free’; while Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders hailed Trump’s win as ‘historic and for all of us’, congratulating the American people on ‘taking their country back’. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban wrote that Trump’s win showed how ‘Democracy is still alive’.
For a people who usually enjoy mocking anything American, this convergence of opinions should ring a loud, blaring alarm.
‘Freedom’, ‘the people’ and ‘democracy’ are concepts that have been heavily assaulted, bashed into unrecognizable shapes, deformed and transformed this year by a handful of politicians everywhere, with Donald Trump in the lead. The combination of an increasing disregard for facts as well as an overripe system has helped populists gnaw these words hollow and stuff them with their bigotry.
From Brexit to Trump, populist rhetoric aligns ‘freedom’ with the deportation of immigrants, the suppression of minority voters and the normalization of hate speech. ‘The people’ refers to the percentage of voters that chose to support the populists in question. The detractors are not worth considering.
Populist rhetoric is the demagogue’s status-quo-shattering weapon. The question is what happens the day after the election or the referendum, when history has already been thrown to the dogs, and the championing of human rights, refugee rights, minority rights, women’s rights, social equality, gender equality has already been trampled underfoot as a mere fad that weakens us instead of making us better? This is one of the many reasons why Donald Trump’s victory speech — and his calls for unity — seemed like an unbelievably bad joke.
It is now more imperative than ever for Europe to fight back on far-right extremism and populism, forming a ‘firewall’ of political sanity and somberness between Trump’s America and Brexit Britain on the one hand, and Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey and Assad’s Syria (and the list goes on…) on the other.
Yet precisely how daunting this task is is made even clearer when we realize that there is no good reason talking about a unified European reaction to all of this mess, since the political situation within the European Union (and in Europe in general) is more factious and discordant than ever.
The only way to reconcile the events of the past year is to realize that politics as we know it has failed us. The political system has been hijacked by bigots who claim they speak on behalf of the people, when they have a little over above 50% of the vote at best in votes with two alternatives (Leave, Remain; Trump, Clinton).
The remaining 50% must commit to ensuring that the government remains accountable, calling out its lies and critically challenging its claims every step of the way, while also offering a robust civil society framework to resist potentially unconstitutional maneuvers that could, among other things, discriminate against and endanger minorities.
Donald Trump crossed all the red lines of US politics and Americans desperately need to reinstate them if they are to salvage their country’s institutions. In turn, if as Europeans we hope to stop our politicians from acting in the same way, we need to work hard to define the red lines of the European political arena, clearly and uncompromisingly.
This means calling out racism, sexism and hate speech at every level of our social interactions: from a casual dinner conversation and Facebook comments, to our professional lives and the discourse of our local and national governments. Don’t stay silent. It’s up to you to rein in Trumpism’s beast.
Speak up. Speak up, for the world’s sake!