The Trump International
The specter of Donald Trump’s presidential nomination looms large not only over our fifty states but over hundreds of nations across the world whose citizenry have been horrified by the rise of this so-called Republican politician. Outside the U.S., the vast majority of people spurn Trump and his brand of pseudo-fascist populism. But pockets of pro-Trump forces have emerged across the Eurasian continent. Such pockets lend credence to the notion that Trumpism represents not a spontaneous political anomaly contained within the American system, but rather an example of a now global political phenomenon. In a global context, Trumpism has come to embody a form of populist nationalism that employs anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric in an attempt to dispel fears of multi-culturalism and national decline.
The most formidable and well known of these pro-Trump pockets is, of course, the Russian Federation. For months now, President Vladimir Putin has expressed admiration for the Republican nominee. In October, the U.S. accused Russian spies of hacking the DNC email server in an express effort to undermine Trump’s opponent. And most recently, CNN reported that nearly every Russian interviewed was “at least hopeful about a Trump presidency.” Putin, in a recent address, when asked if Russia was responsible for the hacking of the DNC stated, “Everyone is talking about ‘who did [the hacking,]” said Putin, “But is it that important? The most important thing is what is inside this information.”
At first glance, it may seem as though Russian citizens are lured to Trump because of his foreign policy proposals that would benefit their country. In defiance of bipartisan precedents, for example, Trump suggested that he would consider recognizing Crimea as legitimate Russian territory. The nominee disparages NATO and seems to be inciting a trade war between the U.S., China, and Mexico, two possibilities that bode well for the Slavic nation. All in all, the way in which Trump seeks to abdicate the long-held U.S. post as the world’s policeman plays perfectly into Vladimir Putin’s intention to reassert Russian global hegemony.
But this semblance of foreign policy-fueled support belies a deeper ideological overlap between Trump and Putin. Lingering humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet Union and nostalgia for great-power status have given Putin a mandate to ride a wave of raw Russian nationalism that eerily reflects political trends within the United States. Like Putin, Trump is exploiting a form of aggrieved humiliation felt, not by ex-Soviets, but by a blue-collared “silent majority” seeking to “Make America Great Again.” In this way, both Trump and Putin are playing on what they see as fears of national decline through the issuing of anti-immigrant national propaganda.
Their model of populist nationalism is hardly contained to the two former Cold War powerhouses. Rather, insurgent populist movements and fractious politics are infecting Western Europe, as seen through the rise of the Dutch Freedom Party, the far-right Northern League in Italy, the National Front Part in France, the Fidesz party in Hungary, and the pro-Brexit movement in Britain.
While European populists have been inspired by Putin and Trump’s forceful assertions of national interests, Trump’s hardline stance on Muslim immigration and his virulent rhetoric about ISIS presence in democratic nations have particularly caught the imagination of right-wing European leaders.
For example, Geert Wilders, the founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom who has endorsed Trump, describes the nominee as a political visionary whose proposed Muslim ban should be extended to the E.U.
“The situation in Europe today is worse than ever. Europe, as a matter of fact, is collapsing, is imploding, is exploding. We have terror attacks by the jihadis almost every week,” Wilders said, “The reason for all of this of, course, is a policy decades long of open borders, open borders and cultural relativism; the biggest disease in Europe today.”
While Western media outlets have spilled much ink over the similarities between Russian, European, and Trumpian populism, many Americans are unaware that a similar trend is unfolding in India where anti-Muslim Hindu nationalists are increasingly urging their political establishment to echo Trump’s unabashed anti-Muslim, nationalistic rhetoric.
According to Shourya Sharma, a 27-year old software developer who voted for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 election cycle, “politicians in India don’t want to go hard on Muslims because they need the Muslim vote.” It is imperative to crack down on Muslim communities, Sharma argued, given the fact that, “the Obama administration emboldened Pakistan to trespass into Indian territory.”
Picking up on such pro-Trump sentiments, Indian leaders have increasingly played on sectarian anger against Muslims and have even appropriated Trump’s very language in promoting national interest. On his website, BJP state legislature Mangal Prabhat Lodha writes that his party’s aim is to “Make Mumbai Great Again.”
What the meager contingent of Indian Trump supporters lacks in numerical might they make up for in indefatigable clamor. As Indian reporter Vidhi Doshi put it, Trump supporters in India are a “small but noisy group.” This group has organized multiple pro-Trump fundraisers within the Indian American community and has raised $898,800 for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee formed to support the Republican nominee.
Russian and European support for Trump reflects more than mere policy alignment. It also speaks to deep-seated fears of national decline. Likewise, Trump support in India speaks to much more than the fraught relationship between Indian Hindus and Pakistani Muslims.
Rather, Indian support for Trump stems in large part from disillusionment with the political establishment. During the 2014 election season, Indians on both ends of the political spectrum heralded the incumbent Narendra Modi as a dynamic, reformist, and business-minded pragmatist. Modi campaigned not as a sectarian firebrand, but as an energetic, honest and strong leader who could set India on the road to prosperity. Most analysts believe that message is why his BJP party won the election. Yet, Modi largely failed to enact wide-sweeping policies aimed at increasing investment in India, fixing inflation, reversing a balance-of-payments crisis, and decreasing poverty rates.
While Modi’s BJP is in many ways part of India’s center-right—socially conservative and economically liberal—it is also the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a mass organization inspired by Hindu nationalism. In the absence of meaningful economic legislation, the Hindu nationalist element of the BJP has thus risen from the fringe to the fore of Indian politics. Just as Trump capitalized on the anti-establishment mood that defined the 2016 primary contests, so too did establishment failures contribute to the rise of xenophobic populism in this branch of Indian politics.
And finally, 30 miles southward on the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka, we find our last significant pocket of international pro-Trump forces. Currently undergoing a two-year ratification process in its 12 member countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) threatens to depress the Sri Lankan economy through inefficient trade diversion. While economists have estimated that the magnitude of loss from such diversion would be negligible ($39.4 million market loss in the context of an $11 billion export market), Sri Lankans well know that the TPP is a living agreement that will likely offer membership to other economic powerhouses, thereby upsizing the potential for loss. Perceiving that Trump’s opposition to the deal remains categorical while Clinton’s is qualified, many Sri Lankans hope for a Trump victory come November.
Moreover, while it is likely that Trump will overlook human rights abuses perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government during the nation’s recent civil war, Clinton has already indicated that she will subject such violations to strict scrutiny. When it comes to justifying extremism, Trump seems to adhere to the philosophy of his predecessor (to whom he is often and aptly compared), Barry Goldwater. The Arizona senator once pronounced that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and….moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” In the same vein, Trump remains unperturbed by American-perpetrated torture, claiming that “we should go much stronger than waterboarding.”
While Trump will most likely turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, Clinton has already made efforts to hold the government in Colombo accountable for their actions. After the UN found that 40,000 civilians were killed at the close of the war, with both sides committing crimes against humanity, Clinton warned of “untold suffering,” as if to further indict the government for the shedding of civilian blood. Sri Lankans were deeply offended by Clinton’s remarks, prompting the White House to backtrack the Secretary of State’s comments with a letter addressed to the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Ultimately the case of Sri Lankan support for Trump deviates from the previous examples in that it does not figure into the global rise of xenophobic, populist nationalism but is contained to sphere of contemporary international politics.
But setting the Sri Lankan example aside, what are we to make of the emergence of Trumpism as global populist movement that tends towards racial and ethnic nationalism? In the context of the 2016 U.S. election cycle, it seems that this international trend is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it serves as a silver-lining, relieving liberals and mainstream Republicans of purgatory by demonstrating that Americans are not alone in this humiliating episode. Misery, even political misery, loves company. But on the other hand, if Trump represents not a spontaneous phenomenon but a product of a global movement then Trumpism may be here to stay.