Why you should care
Because, as it turns out, Trumpism is a global phenomenon.
For a brief moment, while on a rare break from covering the presidential campaign trail and some 4,000 miles away from the U.S. — where you-know-who was making his latest outrageous remark — I thought I could escape Trump mania. But as my blue-line train rumbled beneath the streets of Paris, a blond Frenchman spotted me, realized I was American and asked: “How do you support Donald Trump — a billionaire, a racist?” As the subway shuddered to a stop and its doors opened, the man turned toward me, raised his hands and gave me a double bird inches from my face.
There are Trumps-in-waiting in almost every nation, similar at times in their bluster, their riches or their nativist rhetoric.
There’s no escaping the Donald. As our reporters have crisscrossed the globe, from North America to Europe to Asia, we’ve become somewhat inured to the outsize responses that Trump engenders. But even as the rest of the world decries or extols him, another interesting truth has emerged: There are Trumps-in-waiting in almost every nation, similar at times in their bluster, their riches or their nativist rhetoric. “Trump is not alone,” says Brown University sociologist Michael Kennedy. “They name a problem that others are afraid to name, they invent problems other people don’t see and they wreck systems to demonstrate that, in fact, you need them — because you need someone strong like they are.”
The conditions that have given rise to Trump’s popularity aren’t intrinsically American. There have been surging economic inequalities and growing concerns over nuclear threats. The global recession following the U.S. stock market crash of 2008 and requisite austerity measures has also exacerbated issues, says University College London political scientist Nick Wright, who studies the European Union. Just as some of the economically suffering have rallied around Trump in the U.S., blue-collar workers dispossessed by globalization have rallied around the likes of Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, Matteo Salvini in Italy and Viktor Orban in Hungary, among others. There’s even been a Haitian Trump, as we’ve previously noted. Here are three other politicians with sometimes eerie parallels.
The Dutch Trump
Geert Wilders is like Trump — on steroids. The 52-year-old founder of the Party for Freedom has campaigned to stop the “Islamization of the Netherlands,” wants to ban the Quran and end immigration from Muslim countries. A member of the Dutch Parliament since 2006, the self-professed right-wing liberal with coiffed, bleached hair seems all too familiar.
Although Wilders didn’t respond to OZY’s requests for comment, he has never hesitated to stoke public fears over migration and foreign terrorism — an anxiety that’s only likely to increase after the recent attacks in Brussels. Previously, his Party for Freedom received the third-highest tally of votes in the most recent parliamentary elections of 2012, and support for it surged in January polls. His influence, experts say, is likely to continue growing as the Islamic State group expands. “You can’t have ISIL mobilization without people like Wilders out there damning all of Islam,” Kennedy says, “and you can’t have Wilders be successful without having terrorists who destroy peaceful communities.”
The Canadian Trump
It’s been said about Kevin O’Leary by the press that he’s not a billionaire, he just plays one on TV. The blunt, brash Shark Tank judge, who says he’s “born for business,” is a well-known investor who’s also behind a growing list of financial self-help books that help perpetuate his image as someone who knows all too well about the art of the deal. Until recently, though — and despite his 2006 book Saving Democracy — few in Canada knew the extent of O’Leary’s political ambitions. That changed when he mused about running for Conservative Party leadership and a survey found him near the top of a race that hadn’t even really begun. A new twist emerged in February, when O’Leary hinted he might run for the Liberal Party instead.
While his office didn’t respond to our interview request, O’Leary has previously balked at comparisons to his neighbor to the south: “I am certainly not Donald Trump in policy — foreign policy or domestic or social,” he told the Canadian Press. “We are different people.” Even so, O’Leary has noted to Business News Network that Trump would drive harder bargains and trade agreements than his Democratic rivals — and that “a Trump presidency is a presidency for capitalism.”
The Chinese Trump
With a long face and sideswept hair, 65-year-old Ren Zhiqiang looks nothing like Trump. Yet these high-powered real estate moguls, both of whom are wildly brusque on social media, share some strange similarities. Ren, of course, operates in a much more restrictive landscape, though he’s still known as “the Cannon” due to his incendiary comments and more than 37 million netizen followers. It’s hard to think that Trump would ever be muzzled, but Ren was recently dethroned as “King of Weibo,” then booted from China’s biggest social media network by government censors.
His alleged offense didn’t come about after he espoused his views on immigration or menstruation. Rather, it was a comment allegedly aimed at the media, which he noted should serve the people rather than China’s Communist Party. “The people have been tossed into a forgotten corner,” wrote Ren, who despite his outspokenness didn’t respond to requests for comment. No matter that he can tout tight connections with the ruling elite or that he’s buds with the country’s discipline chief, Wang Qishan. Turns out that riffing on public policies, economic inequality or communist shortcomings is a big fat no-no in China.
Neil Parmar and Leslie Nguyen-Okwu contributed reporting.