Trump’s a horse of a different color

For Americans, the message from [the June 9 EU Parliamentary] elections is alarming and unexpected, but not because of what is happening in Europe. Gaze across the continent, whether at Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister whose party originated in Mussolini’s fascist movement, or Le Pen, whose roots truly lie in Vichy, or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who once called his country’s Parliament fake,” and you will see far-right leaders who have succeeded precisely by appearing to tack to the center, trying to sound less extreme, and dropping previous objections and embracing existing alliances, such as the European Union and NATO. They do talk a lot about immigration and inflation, but so do mainstream parties. Their goals may secretly be more radical—Le Pen may well be planning to undermine the French political system if she wins, and I don’t believe that she has cut her ties to Russia—but they are succeeding by hiding that radicalism from voters.

Donald Trump is not like these politicians. The former president is not tacking to the center, and he is not trying to appear less confrontational. Nor does he seek to embrace existing alliances. On the contrary, almost every day he sounds more extreme, more unhinged, and more dangerous. Meloni has not inspired her followers to block the results of an election. Le Pen does not rant about retribution and revenge. Wilders has agreed to be part of a coalition government, meaning that he can compromise with other political leaders, and has promised to put his notorious hostility to Muslims on ice.” Even Orbán, who has gone the furthest in destroying his country’s institutions and who has rewritten Hungary’s constitution to benefit himself, doesn’t brag openly about wanting to be an autocrat. Trump does. People around him speak openly about wanting to destroy American democracy too. None of this seems to hurt him with voters, who appear to welcome this destructive, radical extremism, or at least not to mind it.

Anne Applebaum

June 12, 2024

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