Little daylight between Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Europe’s far-right

October 2, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen inside a research bathyscaphe while submerging into the waters of the Black Sea near Sevastopol

Russian President Vladimir Putin (front) is seen inside a research bathyscaphe while submerging into the waters of the Black Sea as he takes part in an expedition near Sevastopol, Crimea, August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Donald Trump gets the reputation in liberal quarters of being a “crass bigoted bully with a narcissistic personality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish.”  After a week in Washington watching him on TV, I wouldn’t take much issue with that sentiment.

That said, if his views are gibberish, they’re more in tune with global trends than his critics perceive. Like Trump, many of the world’s most powerful leaders and would-be leaders depend upon populist-nationalist strategies to sustain their influence and cow their critics.

China’s President Xi Jinping has embraced the idea of “the American Dream” as an aspirational slogan; and in fashioning his policy since 2013, he’s proposed “the Chinese Dream.”  Employing aggressive rhetoric, Xi’s administration keeps alive the slaughter that Japan visited on China in the 1930s and 1940s ; the earlier “humiliation” of Western imperialism; and the rapid economic growth of the West since the 1980s, which happened on the watch of a Communist Party that spent the previous three decades slaughtering people even suspected of harboring pro-capitalist thoughts.

One figure in particular — that of the 5th-century BC sage Confucius — has been hauled forward 25 centuries to stand as an example of a benevolent autocrat . He’s the kind of figure who would be entirely at home in the Chinese Communist Party of today.

Vladimir Putin is even more overtly nationalist than Xi and still more in thrall to past (if less ancient) ideologists of nationalism. The philosopher Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954), whom Putin has commended, wrote that “mankind has been morally blinded, gripped by materialism, irrationalism and nihilism,” a state for which the West was allegedly to blame.

Putin must hope that nationalism and the humiliation of an uppity, pro-Western Ukraine will trump (pun intended) the recession now afflicting Russia.

India, by contrast, is growing faster than it has in years. Yet there, too, the ruling party employs a bold, divisive form of nationalism. The country’s Muslim minority fears that Narendra Modi and his BJP government — which has always espoused, though not so often practiced, a strongly anti-Islamic philosophy — may impose discriminatory practices against it. Modi is more constrained by a robust, if often corrupt democracy, than either Putin or Xi. But behind him stands a mass movement with an unforgiving distaste for Islam: the RSS organization, a Hindu nationalist group for which he was an official for much of his working life.

Trump hears his anti-immigration rhetoric echoed in Europe’s rising far-right parties, which have grown emboldened amid a massive refugee crisis across the continent. These groups spread panic over what they see as an immigration catastrophe, all the while promoting their message of aggressive nationalism.

Case in point: Before Trump even recommended it in the United States, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban built a fence around much of his country.

The populist message Trump articulates is common currency — not just in the Republican Party but much more widely. “Populism,” as a term, equates to different strategies in different states. Common to it, however, is an identification with the so-called “true people” of the nation. These populists feel oppressed by an out-of-touch elite and beset both by enemies abroad and by invading hordes bent on taking their jobs and benefitting from the welfare systems their taxes provide.

There are real issues at hand, which power the raucous rhetoric and the stoking of prejudice. In highlighting immigration, Trump exploits the worries of Democrats as well as Republicans. In Europe, the immigration crisis has found no strong, central response (because there is no strong center). Thus the “keep them out at any cost” rallying cry grows louder and louder.

Globalization has put large power in the hands of multinational companies, global institutions and the elites’ elite of executives, experts and politicians. For nationalist-populists, the good ol’ days, when American (or French, or Swedish, or Russian) values were articulated and followed by leaders who loved their country and cared little for others, are gone.

These are fears that the contempt of globalized liberals cannot dismiss. Much more seriously, they cannot be solved by the reactionary policies of those who pose as friends of the dispossessed.

One of the many memorable occasions in my rapt viewing of Trumpery was when, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, Trump was asked about his belief, assiduously peddled, that Obama had to prove he was born in the U.S. Trump responded by saying: “I don’t talk about that anymore.” In Trump’s mind, even one of the most serious charges one could make against a sitting president — that he was falsely masquerading as an American citizen — can simply be dismissed, no longer a talking point.

Trump has grasped what former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi — surely an inspiration — had as a motto: Nothing matters except what is on TV and almost none of what is said is widely remembered — except the charisma of the person saying it.

Populism is a perfect medium for those who know how to use it ruthlessly. Trump’s rhetoric is soaked in it — and he’s in a large company.

27 comments

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China with all the “Dream” talk, is after one thing – move-up the chain beyond the capture of manufacturing prowess to capture the sophisticated defense technologies. Their import focus as well as their direct engagement with the technology companies, speaks for itself.

Putin involvement is not a choice but a predictable draw into the conflicts that US instigated at both Syria and Ukraine.

Leaving some brash behavior of Trump aside, he is quite astute and intelligent in pin-pointing on the underlying root-causes.

It’s not about nationalistic or populism or Putin or Trump, but public in current times of data-transparency, can see through the actions more clearly on the underlying root-causes and to resonate with the ones that bring these root-causes to the forefront.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Well that was a complete waste of time.

Posted by lostinla | Report as abusive

I guess Mr. Lloyd only considers an immigration catastrophe to be one where someone is breaking into his home. Otherwise mass migration is a good thing, You know, people pursuing their dreams and all. Yep, that is exactly what I am seeing.

Posted by lostinla | Report as abusive

Go Sanders!!

Posted by HRClinton | Report as abusive

Its All too SAD… But perhaps now …. The World will see that OBAMA’s weakness and inability to think ahead…. with ZERO foreign policy competence… Has lead to PUTIN taking advantage of this vacuum.

Posted by SMA-Roslindale | Report as abusive

One major difference. Putin actually has some brains. Not sure about Xi. But Trump well maybe he is smart. Made millions. But also saw 4 of his casinos go into bankruptcy. Smart enough to get rich while others lose I guess. But then he would call them suckers.

Posted by davcha | Report as abusive

The “Oath Keepers” should bring Mr Trump in power even before the elections.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Good on all three counts. Good for Trump, Europe’s far right (and only hope for a future Europe)and for Putin. They are all on the RIGHT side of things now. My country, America, has been all but totally destroyed by the far left, Obama and European liberal thinking.

Posted by upyourssideways | Report as abusive

Trump is not anti-immigrant because he targets Mexican Americans. Since we annexed a big part of Mexico in the 1850s the most of them are not immigrants and and are only distantly attached to Mexico. So his comments about them is more in line making Devil to fight like early top Nazis did toward the Jews.

Trade policies determine is globalization works for a nation. The US has been de-industrializing for some time. Ors stink.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

Trump is not anti-immigrant because he targets Mexican Americans. Since we annexed a big part of Mexico in the 1850s the most of them are not immigrants and and are only distantly attached to Mexico. So his comments about them is more in line making Devil to fight like early top Nazis did toward the Jews.

Trade policies determine is globalization works for a nation. The US has been de-industrializing for some time. Ors stink.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive

trump = putin = hitler?

Posted by EdMartin | Report as abusive

Right Wing Populism. Brought to a screen near you by Liberal Hypocrisy International.

Posted by Hebog | Report as abusive

If Putin can bomb Syrian rebels, why can’t we bomb “rebels” in Ukraine?
We need to trump Putin. Trump vs Putin 2016, Jesus Christ 2020!

Posted by alowl | Report as abusive

I agree with lostinia in that this was a complete waste of time. Reuters should look in other places for their columnists.

Posted by ArribaJuarez | Report as abusive

I don’t know how the writer managed to tack together so many statements of the obvious with non-sequiturs, something that would at first seem contradictory/impossible, but he did. What does “These are fears that the contempt of globalized liberals cannot dismiss” even mean? “Rapt viewing of Trumpery….assiduously peddled…” sounds like a 10 page prospectus full of jargon and smoke and mirrors intended to say nothing at all while taking up space (or fulfilling an assignment). Something about liberals should be afraid of clumsy nationalists, I presume is the point. But how does a liberal manage to vilify populism–typically a liberal ‘bent’–without coming across as saying “People like {these guys} because the masses are stupid and gullible.”? Good thing you’re already ensconced in your writer’s-elite tower, sir….

Posted by samsarawanderer | Report as abusive

Reuters, The National Enquirer, Fox News: same difference.

Posted by Nickcw | Report as abusive

to equate putin to trump shows just how little knowledge the author about the topic. such a simplistic, regurgitated title is an embarrassment for reuters and offensive to those of us who seek something more.

useless

Posted by SodaBoy | Report as abusive

Another day, another leftist screed from Reuters.

Posted by NickSJ | Report as abusive

Every four and one-half days (4.5 days) the Earth’s population increases by one million people.

Most of this is coming from impoverished cultures. India alone has 1.3 BILLION people.

The internet, immigration lawyers seeking lucrative profits, and smartphones are quickly pouring these millions of migrants towards your neighborhood next.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

@Nickcw – Well said.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

Trump isn’t anti-immigrant. He is anti illegal immigrant.

Posted by Yaakovweeeeeee | Report as abusive

Is this (convoluted thinking) what comes out of Oxford?

Posted by Lilydaisy | Report as abusive

Those who are not “nationalists” need to do a much better job showing why national interests and wealth are better served through international cooperation. Nationalists are expert at making any and every position that is not “nationalist” look like foreign allegiances or intervention. Their ideas are bad for trade and business, bad for regional security, and very bad for minorities of any stripe inside their nation. Engagement is the best way to know your competitor and to get your best deal on any level. Building walls slows technical and business advances and leads to dictatorship and despotism in every case. Letting a callow egomaniac take away what the likes of Washington and Jefferson gave to us ends the dream of our founders.

Posted by Alex77 | Report as abusive

All this talk about Trump being against immigration is just BS… My boyfriend was born in the Netherlands. It took his family years to get permission and sponsorship to come to the US. he learned English, got his citizenship and then served 20 years in the US Army…… That was LEGAL immigration and that is the immigration Trump has advocated. What he has been against is people just wandering across a border. It’s all well and good to pull the race card to get what you want or to try and prove your point but don’t be silly enough to start believing your own lie.

Posted by SR37212 | Report as abusive

The USA is a poor country ( stop looking at the class of rich) and we have hundreds of thousands of homeless and millions and millions of impoverished people,
always getting worse.
We have been swamped with unwanted immigration the last forty years by people who do’t assimilate, and today our schools now tech hatred for Americans to the immigrants. The longer immigratio goes on, the greatr the poverty of the people.
Civil wars seem inevitable.

Posted by mrkingtut | Report as abusive

Sore losers of the establishment

Posted by Billy_Bones | Report as abusive

Trump 2016! Long live Trump, Putin and Modi

Posted by Billy_Bones | Report as abusive