Donald Trump’s presidential victory stunned Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States. “After, Brexit and this election, everything is possible from now on. A World is collapsing before our eyes, Dizzying,” he wailed in a tweet. The collapsing world Araud was referring to is the globalized world of free trade and porous boundaries. On both sides of the Atlantic, elite disdain for national sovereignty—as manifested by support for mass immigration—has fueled the rise of populists like Trump.
The United Kingdom Independence Party successfully mobilized the Brexit vote because its leader, Nigel Farage, understood that Britain’s other parties were more interested in cultural issues than in bread-and-butter practicalities. Farage, a member of the European Parliament, saw the vacuum and filled it. “Who are you?” he asked Herman von Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister who in 2010 was “elected” by murky means to be the head of the European Council. Farage compared the new commissar’s charisma with a “damp rag” and his appearance to that of “a low-grade bank clerk.” He later apologized to bank clerks. It was a winning performance, but Farage—who has some of Trump’s style—was fined $4,400 for insulting such an exalted personage. He used the publicity to make an even stronger case for Brexit.
Brexit threatened the foundations of the European Union as it is run by the European Commission under the leadership of the imperious Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg. The Brexiteers’ victory was propelled by the workers in the formerly industrial areas of Northern England, a region long dominated by Labour. In the U.S., Trump took the comparable areas stretching from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Michigan to Wisconsin. His surprise win has shaken the intertwined world of the American oligarchs in Washington, New York, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley. They threw everything they had against him. They lost.
Not all Europeans are as glum as Araud. Geert Wilders, the right-wing Dutch politician and leading contender for that country’s prime ministership in next year’s election, is exultant. Wilders congratulated Trump on his “historic” and “revolutionary” win. With Trump’s victory, he said, “Americans are taking their country back.” Wilders is currently on trial for supposedly blaspheming Islam. He was accused of “hate speech” for noting that crime in the Netherlands is disproportionately committed by Muslims from Morocco. He is boycotting the trial, which he has described as an attempt at judicial censorship.
Trump has had a broad influence on Europe’s nationalist leaders. Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s separatist Northern League, met with Trump while the Republican candidate was campaigning in Pennsylvania. They discussed the economy and Europe’s migrant crisis. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, one of the few European leaders who spoke favorably of Trump during the campaign, wrote on Facebook: “What great news. Democracy is still alive.” In fractured Belgium, Mischaël Modrikamen of the right-wing Peoples Party warns that, “America should not become another Brussels,” the site of numerous terrorist attacks and Islamic extra-territoriality. He despises Hillary Clinton, who “is just the kind of politician we have here in Western Europe. Weak, globalist, obsessed by multiculturalism, despising ordinary people, but bending to elites and corporate interests.” Modrikamen went on: “Right now in Europe, we face migrant invasion, terrorism, violence, rapes. Our way of living is under attack, and industry jobs disappear fast.” He sees Trump as the salvation not only of America, but of Europe as well.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France and a candidate for the French presidency, congratulated Trump on Twitter and declared the American people “free.” Le Pen has an admiring but less exalted view of Trump. She sees herself as a future leader of Europe—a Europe not of the European Union, but a “Europe of the Nations” as envisioned by Charles de Gaulle. The world of E.U. bureaucrats is “crumbling,” as one of Le Pen’s aides put it. “Ours is building.” The French Socialist party is increasingly an organization of state functionaries and school teachers. What’s left of the French working class has been drawn into the anti-immigrant, anti-free trade postures of the National Front.
Elites on both sides of the Atlantic have overplayed their hands. While making grand gestures, they’ve failed to demonstrate the basic competence to generate economic growth. Instead, they’ve produced redistributive schemes that allow them to enrich themselves amid general stagnation. All the justified grievances of the forgotten working classes aside, it remains to be determined whether the new nationalist politics—now on both sides of the Atlantic—can produce economies as rich as its rhetoric.
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