Why you should care
Because, from the streets of Italy to the farms of Kenya, Donald J. Trump has captured the approval of many outside the American electorate.
In this installment of our special election series on Donald J. Trump, OZY reports on how the rest of the world views the Republican front-runner. Hint: It’s probably not what you think. Stay tuned for more pieces as the billionaire continues his march to the GOP nomination and, perhaps, the Oval Office.
Erick Rhesa just can’t get enough of his political idol. The 30-year-old farmer stays up till the wee hours to watch primary results and, when the Donald reigns supreme — as he did on Super Tuesday — Rhesa can sometimes be heard gleefully shouting: “Trump for president!” In Rhesa’s eyes, like many others, Trump’s the only candidate deserving of the big gig in the Oval Office, because he’s brave enough to speak out against migration: “He is right about Mexicans or Syrians,” says Rhesa. “We have the same problem in Kenya; we have let thousands of Somali refugees in, and now we have terrorism!”
Trump mania has officially gone global. From the streets of Mumbai to matatus in Nairobi, where OZY’s Laura Secorun Palet caught up with Rhesa, a conservative Kenyan, Trump’s message is resonating with a surprising number of people. Not only has the blustery billionaire developed a keen sense of the American electorate’s mood, experts say, but he’s also finding a kind of global constituency: pockets of discontented people around the world who agree with some of his nationalistic stances on trade agreements, battling “radical Islamic terrorism” and curbing the flow of certain migrants.
Sure, not everyone’s a fan, or totally sold on the reality-TV king yet. Sebastian Rivas, a Chilean reporter, says his countrymen are worried about the type of relationship they might have with the U.S. given Trump’s anti-immigrant speeches, while Natchapol Praditpetchara, a 23-year-old researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute, is much more blunt: “His rhetoric is poisonous and is tearing away the soul of the country.”
What else do people around the world think about the GOP’s front-runner? Here’s what our global team of reporters found in…
Trump’s views on immigration, border control and family values have resonated with parts of conservative, Catholicism-steeped Italy, says Marco Perduca, a former Italian senator and current U.N. representative for the Nonviolent Radical Party. And young Italians don’t seem all that surprised by Trump’s rise; rather, it feels like déja vù all over again. After all, notes our Paris-based reporter Fiona Zublin, the orange-tanned and often gauche media mogul Silvio Berlusconi trod this trail long before Trump did. Berlusconi got pretty far too: Prime Minister Bunga Bunga took his own political party, Forza Italia (“Go, Italy!”), named for a popular football chant, to the record books, getting elected three times and becoming Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since World War II.
Elsewhere in Europe
Trump’s polarizing effect on the GOP has occurred against a backdrop of the similar splintering and polarization across Europe. Nationalists took power in Poland and made strides in French elections, for instance, while far-left parties gained votes in Spain and Greece — so America’s Trumpian trajectory seems par for the global course. Even so, Zublin says that while many young Europeans don’t think Trump will actually be elected, they’re worried about the pervasiveness of populist rhetoric; they believe it encourages hypernationalist thinking and allows people to become inured to racism, for example.
Many in Israel are on the lookout for a stronger advocate than President Obama — perhaps Marco Rubio, with his vociferous pro-Israel stance. Certainly it’s early, so those who are paying attention are often following the primaries for their entertainment value. Which is high. When it comes to Trump, the consensus seems to be that his foreign-affairs policies aren’t well enough outlined — something that’s concerning to locals such as Opher Rom, a tour guide for celebrities when they visit Israel.
Few of the names peppering the 2016 primaries are on the tips of everyday people’s tongues here. But two names are generating buzz, as Mumbai-based Sanjena Sathian has discovered. Hillary Clinton, with her familiar name, is the one many Indians figure will lead America. She’s perhaps not beloved but is certainly trusted. Yet Trump, inevitably, has burst out of U.S. borders and into the minds of locals here, perhaps confirming his constant assertion of the power of his surname. Many discuss Trump with an air of casual observation: He’s entertaining, maybe a bit threatening, but his presence doesn’t loom large here — yet.
My fellow Canucks let out a collective sigh when Trump, during the latest GOP debate, dismissed the idea of building a wall between Canada and the U.S. — and instead doubled down on his pitch to erect a border along Mexico. Overall, a nationwide Insights West poll released last month found that 67 percent of Canadians say Trump would be “bad” for their country. And while Republican candidates normally fare well among conservative voters, Trump was regarded a poor choice by well over half of those who voted for our right-wing party in last year’s federal election.
Meanwhile, our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has been asked about whether he’d condemn Trump’s hateful rhetoric — to which the Liberal Party leader first replied at a town hall hosted by Maclean’s that it would be “important for Canadians, for Canadian jobs, for Canadian prosperity, to be able to have a positive relationship with whoever Americans choose as their president.” Then came the “however,” where he added, “If we allow politicians to succeed by scaring people, we don’t actually end up any safer.”
Still, that doesn’t mean we lost our sense of humor with the goings-on south of the border. The “Move to Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins” campaign, for one, has gained national attention — traction we haven’t seen since, well, Sarah Palin nearly became veep in ’08.
*Nick Fouriezos, Laura Secorun Palet, Sanjena Sathian, Fiona Zublin, Libby Coleman, Leslie Nguyen-Okwu and Taylor Mayol contributed reporting.