Global Watch

America’s Agitator: Donald Trump Is the World’s Most Dangerous Man

Der Spiegel.jpg

Donald Trump is the leader of a new, hate-filled authoritarian movement. Nothing would be more harmful to the idea of the West and world peace than if he were to be elected president.

This is the assessment of a recent article in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine analysing Trump’s character and his view of the world and the USA.

His view of the USA today is that it has become like American football after rule changes to make it less violent and dangerous to players.

“Football has become soft like our country has become soft,” he said while the crowd cheered and people held up signs that read: “The silent majority stands with Trump.”

Trump wants to change this image of America. “Believe me, I’ll change things. And again, we’re going to be so respected. I don’t want to use the word ‘feared’,” he told the audience.

But that is precisely what Trump wants – to be feared – assesses Der Spiegel. His campaign under the “Make America great again!” banner is a fight for a ruthless, brutal America, which no longer cares about international treaties, ethnic minorities or established standards of decency.

Trump has launched an uprising of the indecent, a popular movement of white, conservative America that after eight years under Democratic President Barack Obama, yearns for a counter-revolution.

Former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod recently wrote that when a president leaves office, voters tend to prefer a candidate as different as possible from the incumbent, in terms of politics, character and habits.

By this logic, Obama the integrator, who fought discrimination against minorities, would be followed by a president Trump who stirs up hatred against minorities and claims that “political correctness” is the greatest threat to the US.

Obama was the intellectual explainer of complex problems. Studies have shown that Trump speaks at a fourth-grade reading level. To him problems are “totally easy” to solve.

Obama’s inclusive “Yes, we can!” campaign slogan became Trump’s “Yes, I can!” – the solution of a strong leader.

America is running the risk of falling for a self-proclaimed leader with a low opinion of fundamental democratic values, with national polls showing him as the leading Republican candidate by a wide margin.

Desire for a strong man at the top

Trump takes every opportunity in this campaign to portray his country as a down-and-out weakling. His strategy: When a nation’s feeling of self-worth hits rock bottom, it experiences a growing desire to overcome the ‘status quo’, with a strong man at the top.

Trump is a unique figure. His wealth makes his campaign almost entirely self-financed. Thanks to his colourful life as a New York real estate mogul and star of the reality TV show The Apprentice, he enters the presidential race with a celebrity factor like no candidate before him.

But his most telling characteristic is his lack of scruples, be it a tweet declaring “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Or the boast at a rally “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” 

No longer the laughing stock wrote: “(Trump) embodies that well-worn if still stinging observation about the country he hails from, that ‘America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization’.”

Trump’s plain and sometimes embarrassing statements, muddled speeches and incomprehensible narcissism have been a source of amusement, with a long list of the most outrageous statements,

But his candidacy ceased to be amusing long ago. Trump’s demands are too extreme for that, and his view of the world and humanity too dangerous.

Some polls show that Trump even stands a realistic chance of winning the White House in a possible face-off with Hillary Clinton.

Like it or not, it is time to take Donald John Trump seriously.

Fascist characteristics

New Yorker writer George Packer’s book The Unwinding describes the gradual economic and, more importantly, moral decline of the United States and says Trump now exhibits several of the characteristics of a fascist.

It’s no accident that Trump expresses great admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who seems to impress him far more than politicians seeking to champion the values of democracy in search of compromises.

“He is a nicer person than I am,” Trump said of Putin, giving him an A for leadership – the reason being that he is “making mincemeat out of our president”.

Inflaming tensions

Packer says many Europeans are currently looking at Trump’s success and thinking: “Those Americans are crazy!”

But Packer argues that Trump isn’t some strange US mutation, but rather evocative of European right-wing populists, à la Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orbán in Hungary.

While politicians like Le Pen and Orbán inveigh against ‘Brussels’, Trump rails against ‘Washington’ as the symbol of a degenerate political system “that doesn’t get things done anymore”.

Just like his European counterparts, Trump inflames tensions against ethnic minorities and offers anxious citizens the authoritarian vision of a strongman who will solve all problems on his own – while ignoring democratic conventions.

Packer sees the 2008 financial crisis, which caused parts of the US economy to unravel and deprived millions of Americans of their economic foundation, as the main reason many Americans are receptive to a man like Trump.

As inequality becomes more and more glaring, many Americans feel they have been left alone with their concerns, and they feel disconnected and betrayed.

“It’s a miracle Trump didn't invent the selfie”

Michael D'Antonio recently wrote a biography of Trump, who initially was enthusiastic about the project and gave his cooperation.

D'Antonio was granted free access to Trump’s family and associates, and spoke with his grown children and all three his wives. But when Trump realised that D'Antonio was also one of his critics, he immediately cancelled the project.

“What I noticed immediately in my first visit was that there were no books,” says D'Antonio. “A huge palace and not a single book.” He asked Trump whether there was a book that had influenced him.

In reply Trump “spent what seemed like an eternity talking about how fabulous and successful he is, but he didn’t name a single book that he hadn’t written.”

When Trump was asked who his foreign policy advisers were, he only referred to political talk shows on TV.

D'Antonio says American society revolves around two things: ambition and self-promotion. This is why Trump is one of the most appropriate heroes he can imagine for the country – no one is more ambitious and narcissistic. “It’s a miracle Trump didn't invent the selfie.”

The dark side of Trump’s narcissism

His biographer talks about the dark sides of Trump's self-absorption. “Trump lacks any self-irony, any form of critical self-perception.” The entire family is like that.  

“This is the most telling characteristic of the entire Trump clan: the persistent denial of reflection.”

But what worried him the most, says D’Antonio, is Trump’s belief that he is genetically superior to most people in the world.

His son, Donald Trump Jr., shares his father’s conviction. He said he was a firm believer in the concept of breeding, in “race-horse theory”. Pointing at the ceiling with his finger, towards his father's office, he declared that “he’s an incredibly accomplished guy, my mother’s incredibly accomplished, she’s an Olympian, so I’d like to believe genetically I’m predisposed to (be) better than average”.

A core element of racism

A 56-year-old Muslim woman and a Jewish friend protested at a Trump rally against the stigmatisation of religions.

The crowd erupted into indignation within seconds. Trump signalled to the security guards to remove her from the room. She didn’t resist.

She later in an interview said that as a proud Muslim she was allowed without criticism to wear a headscarf working as a flight attendant, was raised Catholic and converted to Islam in her mid-20s.

She believes in the diversity of religions. and wanted to tell Trump that. Like many others, she didn’t initially take Trump seriously but changed her mind when he, after the attacks in Paris, proposed the establishment of a database of all Muslims in the US and later called for a “complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”.

It seems to trouble neither Trump nor his supporters that the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion.

Racism has since become a core element of his campaign and has intensified in recent months as he realised that this was what got him the most applause. It includes promises that he would “build a great, great wall on our southern border” to keep Mexican migrants out and “I will have Mexico pay for that wall!”

For his fans the “great, great wall”, which he compares with the Great Wall of China, has become a symbol of a well-fortified America.

Goading and ridicule

Almost every evening Trump goads his supporters to shout down protestors or throw them out of his rallies. He often ridicules these individuals from the lectern.

When a TV host recently asked Trump, whether he was serious in saying it was necessary to “take out’ the wives and children of terrorists, he replied: "We have to be more vigilant, and we have to be much tougher."

At a rally in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, his supporters attacked a black protester, while others shouted “Shoot him!”, “Sieg Heil!” and “Light the motherfucker on fire!”

A study by pollster Matthew MacWilliams shows that what Trump’s supporters have in common, more than anything else, is the desire for authority.

This group offers tremendous potential for Trump, says MacWilliams, noting that not only 49% of Republicans but also 39% of independent voters showed a penchant for the authoritarian.

Freedom of the press also seems to annoy him, and he often refers to “the lying press”. The biggest paradox of this campaign is that Trump, while sharply berating the media, is the one who benefits the most from the coverage it provides him. The major TV networks devote more airtime to him than to all his rivals combined.

His last-minute refusal to participate in a televised debate hosted by the right-wing Fox News network, because he felt unfairly treated by one of the moderators, is not only a first in the history of American election campaigns. It’s also the latest climax in the game he plays with the media.

What to expect from a President Trump?

What could the world expect from a President Trump? He has yet to present a comprehensive platform for his presidency.

He often complains that it’s always the journalists who ask questions about his policies, claiming voters don’t care very much about that sort of thing. Where others have strategy papers, Trump has his gut feeling.

Nevertheless, something resembling an agenda can be deduced from interviews and speeches:

  • The US will soon be surrounded by a high wall;
  • There will be limited trade, because the tariffs will be so high; and
  • Eleven million immigrants will have left the US and the US’ days as a country of immigrants would be over.  

Those who have experienced this man’s temperament know just how thin-skinned and aggressive Trump can be when criticised or provoked, and how mercilessly and excessively he pursues revenge.

One shudders to think what could happen if a man like that had his finger on the button of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. “An ally, let’s say from Europe, who didn't follow him into war would be considered a traitor by Trump and would have to expect massive retribution,” D'Antonio believes.

An odd worldview

Trump the entrepreneur does business all around the world. However, as president he would limit any free trade not conducted according to his own rules.

He promises to bring back all the American jobs that have been lost to Asia or Mexico as a result of globalisation. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created,” Trump boasted last summer.

His foreign policy essentially boils down to a bizarre mix of isolationism and a simultaneous show of superiority through a military build-up. “I’m the most militaristic person there is,” Trump says.

He regards North Korea as a problem China must solve and the war in Syria should be dealt with locally with no need for intervention.

Nevertheless, he wants to “bomb the hell out of” the Islamic State (IS), or as his newly won endorsee Sarah Palin expressed it: He would send American “warriors” to “kick ISIS’s ass”, giving US generals free hand because they already know what needs to be done.

What Trump hasn’t revealed, unfortunately, is how alliances are even supposed to be forged with Muslim countries against the Islamic State by a United States that places Muslims under a state of general suspicions and refuses to allow them to travel into the country as he has proposed doing.

He will take a hard-line approach on terrorists, but also doesn’t want to be interventionist. His gut feeling is that Americans will reject interventions with uncertain outcomes.

The way things look right now, the world is going to have to brace for a US foreign policy based on gut feelings.

Is there any stopping Trump?

The question now is whether such a political course, and indeed a President Donald J. Trump, can even still be prevented. And who could stop him?

The possibilities include the Republicans themselves, a party Trump seems to work with based on his mood or whim. And then, of course, there are the Democrats, whose probable candidate, Hillary Clinton, Trump will likely have to square off against in the main election. But neither side can be fully trusted to defeat Trump.

Of the Republican Party, Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, says: “We are in total chaos.”

The party is already divided and a Trump candidacy could spell the end of the Grand Old Party. Describing Trump’s complex character, Wehner claims he is a toxic figure and a demagogue that would cause a lot of damage to the party.

Some party leaders already view Trump as the founder of a new political movement – ‘Trumpism’ – that has little in common with the traditional conservatism on the right.

Currently, the faction that views Trump as representing the downfall of conservatism is dominating.

Strategy papers are being circulated within the party, addressing how officials should counter Trump’s arguments. The National Review, a respected conservative political magazine, even published a plea to prominent Republicans under the headline, “Against Trump”.

But inside the party there’s also growing sentiment that Trump might stand a good chance – even against Hillary Clinton.

More influential Republicans are still keeping a low profile, but if you speak to men like Newt Gingrich, it sounds like the Republicans will ultimately fall into line with Trump.

But does he stand a chance against Hillary Clinton? “Of course,” says Gingrich. “America is a huge country. Anything can happen.”

This is evident as some staunch Democratic Party supporters would face a dilemma if Clinton wins the party’s nomination.

“If it came down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I don’t know who I’d vote for. But it wouldn’t be Clinton,” one is quoted as saying. “Hillary is corrupt. She does what Big Money wants her to do, and she’s a flip-flopper.”

It has become apparent that Clinton can’t even rely on the unconditional support of her own people.

But many Democrats aren’t panicking yet. They’re betting on Clinton’s campaign coming around and gaining momentum once she secures the nomination. At the same time, they are anxious that this could become the dirtiest duel in the history of American presidential campaigns.

One key Trump strategist said the Clintons “are money-making opportunists and criminals”. Their foundation is nothing more than a “luxury travel service to augment the lifestyles of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton”.

A threat to world peace

If the most powerful office in the world wasn’t at stake, all this wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous.

Despite their differences, the US and Germany share an unshakeable faith in democracy and freedom. But nothing would be more harmful to the idea of the West and world peace than if Donald Trump were to be elected president. Compared to that, the America of George W. Bush would seem like a land of logic and reason in retrospect.

Bush, to his credit, never compared migrants to poisonous snakes – something Trump did recently at a rally in Pensacola, Florida. Later that night, Trump addressed what has been one of his favourite topics: Europe’s refugee crisis. “Just talk to the folks over in Germany,” he said, “Europe is being destroyed.”

(This is a summary of an article by Markus Feldenkirchen, Veit Medick and Holger Stark, which first appeared in Der Spiegel on 1 February. To read the full article, click here.)

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