Rome—I have a new job. It’s to explain Donald Trump to Europeans.
The only requirement is that I am American and can stroke my chin thoughtfully when someone asks me, as they now often do, how in the world do people in the US support Donald Trump?
I’ve been on a three-city tour, including London and Paris, and have been gratified at the response to my concise explanations, even though it’s not easy to explain the rules of “The Apprentice” and describe the ersatz Spanish architecture of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, where he let Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Pressley somehow spend their honeymoon.
The British, having invented Western democracy, are of course worried about their most famous colonial offspring, the United States. Having heard about the televised debates featuring Trump and his Republican rivals, they politely wonder what Americans think “debate” is. In Britain, debates go by rules developed at Oxford University which have something to do with facts and logic and a set time for calmly and wittily making arguments. I respond that American debate rules, in which it is fair game to call your competitors stupid and discuss the comparative size of genitalia, were established at Trump University.
The French wonder how is it that Trump’s Manhattan penthouse apartment is done up in the style of Louis XIV and his Versailles palace. Does this means a President Trump would oppress Protestants, invade Holland and rule for 72 years like Louis did? I answer that although The Donald and the Sun King XIV share tastes in gold, marble and chandeliers, he is mostly concerned with insulting Mexicans and invading China and anyway, he is not married to the daughter of the King of Spain but to a Slovenian model who has appeared practically naked on magazine covers. Trump is already too old to rule 72 years. Maybe a dozen, no more.
Italians are naturally concerned with the bruta figura (bad form) of Trump’s public appearances and his appeal to violence. But in some ways, it’s the Italians who beat Americans to Trump territory. Italy’s most dominant politician of the past 20 years was Silvio Berlusconi, who like Trump is a gazillionaire and a former entertainer who mastered television performances. He habitually loved and left comely women and has had two wives. Only one less than Trump! His current squeeze is a Neapolitan lady 49 years younger than him. While not verbally as vulgar as Trump,Berlusconi once called Angela Merkel (trigger warning!!) an “unf#ckable lard ass.” His rhetorical tactic was making frontal attacks on the traditional Italian ruling class.
Presently, the main Italian opposition political group is led by a comedian whose off-the-cuff rants most resemble Trump’s. His favorite public speaking phrase is vaffa, loosely (trigger warning No. 2) f#ck off. He campaigns on the notion that all current Italian politicians should go home.
In fact, what I notice running around Europe is how many mini-Trumps are at large on the continent and how often they express discontent with their rulers of the past two decades or so. Hard to argue with that. A lot of it has to do with uncontrolled migrant flows into Europe, a continent-wide economic stagnation and chronic unemployment. European politicians were campaigning to ban Muslim immigration long before Trump.
A follower of Nigel Farage, the anti-immigrant politician in the UK, blamed rainstorms on gay marriage legislation. Make the UK Great Again!
Marine LePen, the right-wing leader in France, once said, “Tolerance? What does that mean? I am a very tolerant and hospitable person, like you. Would you accept twelve illegal immigrants moving into your flat? You would not!” Make France Grande Again!
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, said of the migrant flows, “The borders of Europe must be closed.” Make the Austro-Hungarian Empire…Again!
Frauke Petry, the head of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party has suggested police must “use firearms if necessary” to prevent illegal border crossings. Make Germany…well, maybe not.
And a fascist party, black uniforms and all, has entered parliament following a vote in Slovakia, wherever that is.
In short, Trump is just part of a Western World fad, like kale. So don’t feel so bad, America.
Politico says Europeans think Trump is what America is really like.
CNN reports that China thinks Trump is what’s wrong with democracy.