How Much Donald Trump can the World Stand? (FAZ, Germany)
"In Germany, Trump's unstoppable rise is seen mostly as a symptom of a distinctly American disease. In no other democracy in the world, it is said, could voters be so openly motivated by greed, show so little concern for less-privileged fellow citizens and be so politically ignorant. Only in hate-filled, under-educated 'Ami-land' could someone like Trump be successful. ... As tempting as this interpretation may be, it is nonetheless mistaken. Trump is a symptom of a much deeper – and international - crisis of democracy. ... Trump's ascent is alarming not because he has bared the ugly face of America, but because it shows how alienated voters have become from politics."
disenchantment with politics has a name: Donald Trump. Paradoxically, the
entrepreneur has had a lot of success politically. But how much Trump can the
In the eyes of his followers, Donald Trump, a candidate for
the Republican presidential nomination, can do no wrong. In recent months the
billionaire has denigrated Mexican immigrants as rapists, ridiculed celebrated
war hero John McCain and accused popular television commentator Megyn Kelly of criticizing him because she was having her
period. After each of these gaffes, experts have predicted Trump would crash in
the polls - and each time, they were wrong.
In Germany, Trump's unstoppable rise is seen mostly as a symptom
of a distinctly American disease. In no other democracy in the world, it is said,
could voters be so openly motivated by greed, show so little concern for less-privileged
fellow citizens and be so politically ignorant. Only in hate-filled, under-educated
"Ami-land" could someone like Trump be successful.
A symbolic figure of
This is why America's Trump critics are so ecstatic over his
success. If a communist propaganda ministry had commissioned a gifted
cartoonist to draw a typically-American rogue, he would have invented a figure
like "The Donald": a man who embodies the wealthy, boorish
philistine, from his self-important attitude to the way his hair is folded this
way and that, and someone for whom nothing is sacred - other than money, bosoms,
success and power.
As tempting as this interpretation may be, it is nonetheless
mistaken. Trump is not – or at least is not only – the personification of the
demise of the American political model. Rather, he is a symptom of a much deeper
– and international - crisis of democracy. With a few cosmetic changes, a
European version of "The Donald" could unexpectedly gain popularity
in Europe as well.
Some may be heartened to know - and others disgusted - that the United States is not alone when it comes to populists...
Essentially, Trump's candidacy is nourished by the profound
political apathy of citizens – and in parts of Europe, the level of apathy is
similar to that in America. In the past, most voters identified sufficiently with
a party or person to remain faithful to the system as a whole."Politicians are a mob," they
complained, but for Konrad Adenauer or Willy Brandt - it was another
story. Such personalities were still trusted.
'I give everyone
money – the system is broken'
Meanwhile, politics has reached the point where even
selective confidence has been lost. Many voters fundamentally no longer have
any faith in politicians. The increasingly desperate attempts by established
parties to ingratiate themselves do no good. When a politician attempts to
prove that he is honest to the core, many voters just take this as proof of his
Trump has understood the depth of this crisis of confidence
– and he knows he, too, is a politician that voters will never perceive as
honest. Attacked by his Republican rivals for regularly donating money to politicians
in the Democratic Party, he
makes no bones about such contributions or the self-interest behind them: "I'm
a businessman.I give to everybody.When they call, I give. And you know what?
When I need something two, three years later, I call them. They are there for
me. That's a broken system."
For Trump, it should have been embarrassing and even cringe-inducing
that of all people, Hillary Clinton, despised among Republicans, was a guest at
his wedding. But Trump turned his supposed friendship with Clinton into further
proof of the corruption of the system: "I told Hillary, "Come to my
wedding," and she came to my wedding. Why? Because she
had no choice." Instead of hiding it, Trump literally boasts of the
fact that he has used these relationships to his economic advantage.
Politics in the style
of reality TV
The strategy of disclosing even his own
disingenuousness as part of an attack on the alleged corruption of the system appears
paradoxical. In fact, this provides Trump with two key advantages over the
competition. On the one hand, he is suddenly primus inter pares [first among equals]: all politicians are
dishonest, but he alone frankly admits to that dishonesty. This doesn't make
him trustworthy, but less hypocritical and hence more sympathetic. More
importantly, and more dangerous in the long run, is his second advantage: Trump's
strategy allows him to rewrite the rules of political competition, because if
all politicians are dishonest and all campaign promises hot air, then the
standards of traditional politics are obsolete. Who cares whether a politician
is on the left or the right, whether he is competent or lacking in the
political basics? Voters who expect nothing from politics anyway care little
for such distinctions.
What remains are the standards of reality TV. Traditionally,
politics is about the concerns of citizens, such as whether they expect a
politician to put more money in their pockets or provide a more pleasant job. With
reality TV, on the other hand, it's about the aspirations of the audience: They
support contestants [candidates] who embody the life they secretly dream of
living. When it comes to personifying those desires, Donald Trump is
unbeatable: He says what he likes. If someone criticizes him, he takes his
chances and delivers a comeback.
politicians in a vicious cycle
However, it would be fallacy to think that his followers
behave this way in their everyday lives. Just as most fans of "The Love
Boat" would rather stick with their husbands rather than travel around the
world with a series of pretty boys, so enthusiasm for "The Donald"
ultimately represents a compensation for the mundane nature of their own lives. Day to day, they
are all much more polite and perhaps even a bit more sophisticated than
European notions would lead us to believe.
Trump's ascent therefore is alarming not because he has
bared the ugly face of America, but because it shows how alienated voters have
become from politics. Because they believe the promises of established
politicians are lies, news programs have been converted into entertainment
television. That, however, threatens a self-fulfilling prophesy: The less
voters have confidence in politics, the harder it becomes for established
politicians to resolve real problems, which in turn further reduces voter
confidence. A system the majority of the population despises as terminally
corrupt will indeed, sooner or later, become broken.
On the heels of 'The
But is the political system in Europe, where voters are
better educated and money plays a less important role, better prepared for this
vicious cycle? The answer to this question is not speculation – but history. Because
some time ago, Silvio Berlusconi seduced Italy in a similar fashion. Like
Trump, Berlusconi made no bones about the fact that he had done what was necessary
to become filthy rich in a fundamentally corrupt system. Like Trump, Berlusconi got
all worked up about the hypocrisy of the political class - and precisely
because of that he appeared authentic to his fans. And like Trump, Berlusconi
also rewrote the rules of political competition until debates on political
alternatives almost completely disappeared from Italian media. Over two
decades, political life in Italy degenerated into a series of referendums on a
single person – with disastrous consequences for the country.
Posted By Worldmeets.US
Germany is still a long way from this unhappy situation. Not
because its people are so much more educated or unified as Italians or Americans,
but because the established parties here still enjoy a residual measure of
confidence. In recent years, however, politics and media in Germany have also
encountered a new cynicism. If it continues to worsen, it will reach alarming proportions
here as well. At that point, reality may well invent a typically German version
of "The Donald": a mixture of Stefan Raab,
JürgenMöllemann, ThiloSarrazin and Thomas Gottschalk
that will surpass the imagination of any cartoonist.
*Yascha Mounk was born
in Germany to Polish parents and received his BA in
History and his Ma in the Philosophy in Political Thought from Trinity College,
Cambridge. He completed his PhD dissertation about the
role of personal responsibility in contemporary politics and philosophy at
Harvard University's Government Department under the supervision of Michael Sandel.