Yesterday I watched, with some apprehension, the inauguration of President Donald Trump. It felt like a nightmare in a medieval castle. Many of us expected a speech of unity, healing the great division of the American people, fired by the recent bitter and extreme campaign. There was not even a trace of this in Trump’s address. His speech oozed of poisonous populism exorcising anyone, who did not share Trump’s hatred of non-Americans in his own pervert and hateful definition.
Not once did we hear the usual eulogies associated with the handing over of power, from one President to the next. His inauguration, for the first time in American history, was accompanied by so many violent protests and manifestations. There is no doubt that Americans are deeply divided over Trump’s personality and policies. His first announced policies and measures were all negative: Abolition of Obama-care, colour and faith discrimination, economic isolation. His speech reverberated with obviously false hopes and empty promises, undoing the economic globalization and free trade that is US’s great contribution to humanity in the last two centuries and the main source of its economic dominance and welfare.
However, the most menacing fact is that Trump is the latest specimen of a mentality of populism and isolationism that is swiftly gaining ground in Europe, often clad in the ominous robes of extreme right or left. Both are ultra-nationalist and autocratic, superficially using democracy to gain power, the same way that Hitler did 80 years ago. Once in power, they blatantly ignore the basics of modern democracy, such as the rights of free communication, expression of ideas, tolerance of difference, economic and cultural cooperation.
Teresa May’s recent speech about a complete Brexit, echoed in an infinitely more polite fashion, the same discordant notes of nationalism, isolationism, erecting fences and borders. Inside Europe, the current governments of Poland, Hungary and Greece, follow vis-à-vis the media Erdogan’s policies of victimization and suppression. We have arrived to a situation in which Russia and China are appearing almost more tolerant and properly-run countries with certainly non-populist leaderships.
The prospect of extreme nationalists winning power in France and Holland, as they have done in Hungary and almost Austria, is no longer as implausible as it was 20 years ago. Democracy and the basic freedoms and rights associated with it, are in danger, because – let us face it – democracy no longer ensures steady economic and social development. Both, in America and Europe, disenchanted middle and working classes are prone victims of unrestrained political populism. There is no other explanation of destabilizing phenomena, such as the outcome of the Greek, British and Italian referendums in 2015, 2016 and now the election of Trump.
Mainstream, democratic parties must recognize that something has gone wrong in their rapport with the people, they are supposed to represent. It is people in despair that turn to extremism. Democrats are not there to safeguard the establishment, in exchange for its financial and other support. They should open new ways of pragmatic hope for the majority of the people, for each man and woman in the street. More common sense and forward thinking is the objective. Realistic and effective communication with the electorate, rather than antiquated opinion poll reading, should be the order of the day. It is almost self-evident that they should act quick before it is too late, as it was in Germany when Hitler took power.
By Maximos 21 January 2017