By USRN Analysts Erin Mayer and Colin Shanley
One of the most pervasive misreadings of the 2016 election is that Trump is simply an aberration who somehow slipped through the cracks of our otherwise stable institutions, and into a position of power. This view of Trump as a corrupting peculiarity rather than a direct creation of a society undergoing a series of compounded pressures is refuted by the emergence of a number of parallel figures around the world. A neoliberal project peddled as a global consensus beginning with the rise of Reagan and Thatcher has been ultimately realized in the form of backsliding democracy, refugee crises, ecological collapse, weakened labor power, and an ever-growing chasm of inequality.
Political parties, compromised by corporate hegemony, are often unable to identify the root causes of social issues and are left with forming a political culture of scapegoating and absurdity. With no strong alternatives calling for a just and equal society, many have become convinced of a more nihilistic solution. Reckoning from the start that there are simply not enough resources to go around, these political movements support leaders willing to bypass many social norms to rigidly enforce pre-existing social hierarchies. This often takes the form of extreme nationalism, the dismissal of the press or the concept of objective truths, the nostalgic celebration of traditionalist social relations at the expense of social justice, the subjugation of the poor, and the embrace of violence. Here we look at five of these figures: Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orban, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, and Andrzej Duda, as well as their relationships with Trump.
Jair Bolsonaro, the most recent reactionary authoritarian to rise out of divided social conditions, was elected on October 28th to be the new President of Brazil. The country – the fifth most populated in the world – has for decades struggled with a political culture ridden with corruption and a society divided between wealthier upper classes and the poorer residents of the favelas, which have become a hotbed of crime. Founding member of the center left-wing Workers Party Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known simply as Lula, served as President from 2003 to 2010, and enacted social programs to reduce hunger and increase education. Despite leaving office with a 90% approval rating, Lula was convicted just this year on a dubious corruption charge, preventing him from running again for the Presidency. This forced the Workers Party to run Fernando Haddad, an almost unknown candidate, against Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro is an outsider candidate, willing to be more direct in his attitude towards nationalism and violence than the evaporating traditional conservative movement. He was elected largely by the white, wealthy portions of the populace, who have a greater interest in preserving what remains of the social stratification built during the country’s colonization. While this story may sound familiar to American readers, what separates him from Trump is how radically further he is both willing and able to advance this far-right agenda. Brazil’s military dictatorship only ended in 1985, which Bolsonaro has spoken fondly of. A former army captain, Bolsonaro lamented only that the regime failed to kill enough people. He has amassed a record of incendiary remarks towards every oppressed group imaginable. His solution to poverty and crime is violent suppression of the favelas, accepting in advance the deaths of innocents. The preservation of the rainforest and the indigenous communities they contain are simply obstacles to Bolsonaro’s plan for economic growth. Echoing Chile’s Pinochet regime of the 70’s and 80’s, which he has also complimented, Bolsonaro hopes to unleash neoliberal reforms on the country, privatizing vast swaths of the public sector and allowing for a corporate takeover of major institutions.
President Trump took the opportunity to congratulate Bolsonaro on his victory. His National Security Advisor John Bolton called Bolsonaro “like-minded” during a speech announcing new sanctions on what he referred to as the “troika of tyranny”: Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. This suggests that Trump sees Bolsonaro as a strategic partner in the struggle between countries trying to reverse the consequences of imperialism and those trying to maintain it. While some of the international media has cautiously decried Bolsonaro, many have downplayed the danger he poses. Most major media companies are not comfortable openly supporting a candidate who can without hyperbole be called a fascist but his neoliberal market reforms are a strong enticement. The Wall Street Journal essentially endorsed him shortly before his election, and US investors have responded positively to his success.
Viktor Orban, leader of Hungary’s far-right Fidesz party, first reached national recognition in 1989 after delivering a speech commemorating the martyrs of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, during which he called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country. He first served as Prime Minister from 1998-2002 before being elected again in 2010 due to the collapse of the social democratic MSZP party. Taking his eat with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, Orban was able to alter the constitution to reduce the rights of same-sex unions, and heavily reduce the number of his part’s Parliamentary seats, widely considered an anti-democratic power grab. Orban went on to set a 16% flat tax rate and erected a wall on the Serbian and Croatian border to prevent immigration.
Orban, an advocate of what he calls an “illiberal democracy” has heavily utilized anti-Semitic rhetoric to galvanize his base, accusing Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros of financing his political opposition and hoping to destroy the country with a flood of Muslim immigrants. According to the Intercept, “the billionaire’s Open Society Foundations provide just $3.6 million a year to Hungarian rights groups and independent media. The prime minister’s office, by contrast, spent in excess of $50 million in public money last year on advertising that attacked the philanthropist”. He has praised Miklos Horthy, the World War II leader of Hungary, who introduced antisemitic laws and collaborated with the Nazi party. Orban spoke of last April’s election as a referendum on the racial identity of the country, stating “Either we will remain a Hungarian country, a country that we know and love and in which we feel at home; or others will come here, and a country with a mixed population will come into being — with different cultures, parallel societies, and all the related consequences that we can see in Western Europe.”
This rhetoric is in direct parallel with Trump’s in the United States. Trump has called Tuesday’s Midterm elections the “caravan election” and has questioned whether George Soros was funding the caravan, despite any evidence to support such claims. For this reason Orban has found an ally in Trump, a sharp turn from his frigid relationship with Obama. Orban is an asset for Trump. His anti-Immigration policies validate Trump’s, and by supporting a European nationalist Trump undermines the European Union, whom Trump has called a “foe”.
Recep Erdogan was elected to the Presidency of Turkey in 2014, following a period as Prime Minister from 2003-2014 during which he oversaw negotiations for Turkey’s membership in the EU, and a growing economy thanks to liberal economic policy. While largely popular as Prime Minister, the final years of his term were spent suppressing dissent and enacting Islamist policies, which alienated the more secular, liberal elements of the country.
In July of 2016, the Turkish government was the subject of a failed military coup. Erdogan blamed Turkish preacher Muhammad Gulen, who is currently living in exile in Pennsylvania, for the coup. This was not completely out of the ordinary for Turkey, a country which has experienced military led coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997, generally in the interest of maintaining secular order. However, both German and British officials have stated that they have found no evidence to support Erdogan’s version of events, and he has certainly capitalized on the on his resurgence in support. Immediately following the coup, Erdogan initiated a purge of opposition journalists, academics, politicians, and military officers. The coup was used to justify a referendum in April of 2017 which handed Erdogan complete control of the budget, military, and judiciary, as well as allowing him to dissolve the parliament and retain his seat until 2029.
President Trump and President Erdogan have little in common ideologically. Trump has attempted to ban Muslims from entering America, while Erdogan is a believer in political Islam. Trump despises the EU, whereas Erdogan has long sought to enter Turkey into the organization’s roster. While Turkey has been an ally of the United States in the Syrian war, Erdogan himself has never been popular within the US. Nevertheless, Trump has gotten along far better with Erdogan than once might expect. Just hours before Erdogan set his bodyguards on Americans protesting Turkey’s treatment of the Kurdish people, Trump announced that it was “a great honor” to welcome Erdogan to the White House, and later called him a “friend”. Relations have gotten colder this past year, with Trump enacting tariffs in response to an American pastor detained in Turkey under allegations of involvement with the 2016 coup. The few factors that Trump and Erdogan seem to share – a willingness to override traditional process to correct perceived grievances – may be what ultimates prevents a strong US-Turkish alliance in the years to come.
Andrzej Duda of the conservative Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party, was born in 1972. Duda often refers to his years with the Boy Scouts with great satisfaction. It is important to keep in mind, that in Poland, the term “boy scout” is connected with a sense of upstanding patriotism as many scouts fought as children and, sadly, died during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Although completely unknown today, around the year 2000, Duda began working for the liberal Unia Wolnosci or the “Freedom Union”.
In the early 2000’s, a shift came and he began making a name for himself in conservative politics, going on to become a member of the national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS). By 2005, he officially became legal specialist soon after a parliamentary election victory. Later, from 2008-2010, Duda worked as Presidential Chancellery under Lech Kaczynski. Following Kaczynski’s guidance, Duda would move quickly from government position to position with rapid success. In the election of 2015, he surprised the country when he won against incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski of the centrist Civic Platform. This would become the tightest presidential election in Poland’s history. Many would credit Duda’s success to the public frustration with the Civic Platform’s inability to address issues related to employment, wages and general economic growth.
This same level of discontent also helped Duda’s Eurosceptic Law and Justice party win parliamentary elections in the fall of 2017. Once again, the future president would be involved in a historic moment for his country, as this would become the first single-party victory in Poland’s history as a democracy. Duda’s work in parliament, from 2011-2014, gained public approval for his bipartisan approach, and helped later to have him elected to the European Parliament. In 2014, the twin brother of the former President Lech Kaczynski and party chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, made an unexpected statement when he announced that Duda would be running as the presidential candidate for the PiS. Duda declared that by running for president he would be Lech Kaczynski’s “spiritual heir” and won the office in 2015.
During his first two years as President, Duda has been referred to, critically, as the “notary” for the Conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), because, with one exception. In 2017 that Duda would separate himself from Kaczyński’s views by vetoing two divisive laws that would have ended the independence of the Polish judiciary. Previous to the veto, thousands of Polish citizens had protested the laws, taking to the streets in hopes to bend the President’s ear. Countless Poles and even Duda’s own colleagues were shocked by rejection and what many would call a betrayal of party.
In February of this year , Duda signed a law that would ban citizens from condemning Poland for participating in Holocaust horrors carried out by Nazi and condemning concentration camps as being referred to as “Polish death camps“. The president’s controversial decision led to tensions with the United States and Israel. Many disagreed with this stance as it seemed to threaten freedom of speech laws, but to many it suggested that Duda would not back down to the United States.
However, all ideas of such behavior would soon be shot down, during a press conference, in September. The Polish President would play into Trump’s ego by offering to not only open a U.S. military base in Warsaw, but by also suggesting it be called, “Fort Trump”. President Donald Trump has advocated placing a base in Warsaw as long as Poland “is willing to make a very major contribution to the United States.” Duda, hopes the base will strengthen relations to the United States and help secure his country against a gradually more antagonistic Russia.
The Trump administration has not yet confirmed the building of a military base in Poland. Many are skeptical of the possibility of such a project and how it would sit with neighboring Russia; a country with a controversial relationship with President Trump but that has also historically criticized Poland for hosting thousands of US and NATO troops. A permanent base would cause friction with Russia, as this would put American troops extremely close to Russian borders. Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who led the US Army in Europe until this past December, speculated that opening a U.S. base in Poland may allow Russia the chance to claim NATO to be an antagonist and to take action in order to defend Russia’s sovereignty.
Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines on platforms that were largely built on pledged executions of drug dealers and other criminals. The president whose nicknames include “Duterte Harry” and “The Punisher,” highlight the leader’s take on extremely violent punishments. Duterte has been rebuked by numerous human rights organizations for the killings of thousands of citizens in the name of his war on drugs and crime.
In many ways Duterte is a parochial politician. The president has been considered an outcast by the traditional Manila elite from early on, due to his violent history. Duterte was mayor of Davao City for seven terms and 22 years, where he ran the city as his own fiefdom. It was here he earned the nickname “the death squad mayor” reportedly due of the bands of assassins he sent to kill alleged drug dealers and addicts. Publicly, Duterte refuted any participation in the murders, but also celebrated their actions. He even went as far as to compare himself to Adolf Hitler in the killings of millions of drug addicts. In 2015 Duterte pledged to execute 100,000 criminals and leave their corpses in Manila Bay to fatten up the local fish. Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, is the current mayor of Davao City.
After a long reign as Mayor of Davao City, Duterte launched his Presidential campaign. He repeatedly made off handed comments, often joking about human rights violations, including the mockery of a rape and murder of a female missionary during the 1989 prison riot. During an interview, he is recorded as saying, “they raped her, they lined up to her. I was angry she was raped, yes that was one thing. But she was so beautiful, I thought the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”
Even so, on May 30 of 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines. Directly following his Presidential inauguration, on June 30th of 2016, the new leader entered Tondo, reportedly the poorest section of Manila. As he spoke, he proudly gave the crowd permission to murder any drug addicts in the vicinity. The Filipino President’s savage takes on drugs has led to the murdering of thousands of the countries’ most impoverished people, sadly including numerous children. Duterte has publically referred to the innocent juveniles killed in the clash as ‘collateral damage’. The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center claims, in first six months of Duterte’s war on drugs, an estimated 31 children were murdered, starting at age 4.
President Duterte has made his feelings of United States’ Presidents very clear. In just his first months in office, Duterte made a number of alarming comments toward the US, a country deemed as a longstanding ally of the Philippines. Once calling Obama the “son of a whore”, Duterte threatened to “break up” with the United States and expanded on his sentiments by telling President Barack Obama to “go to hell.”
Duterte does not seem to have the same sentiment toward the current US President, Donald Trump. During a speech, in Israel, this past September, Duterte was quoted saying the United States and Philippine affiliation had flourished under his “good friend” in the Oval Office, who “speaks my language”, he went on to say. However, Trump and Duterte are widely regarded as two of most impetuous presidents today, often making accusations without concern for factual accuracy.
Shocking many, only days after referring to President Trump as a “friend”, President Duterte turned on him when asked about the 6.4 percent inflation in August, he accused Trump’s economic policies as culprit. Duterte was quoted, “Who started it? America. When America raised its rates, everyone raised theirs as well. That is how it is. There is nothing we can do…Because America…Trump wanted it.” Later Manila’s central bank disagreed with its president, stating rapid inflation is actually thanks to the Philippines’ leaders’ new taxes.
Nonetheless, many speculate the U.S. and the Philippines are peacefully working on their mildly strained relations as they set aside past grievances in the face of a mutual perceived threat, China. As Trump’s trade war with China seems to be growing, the US is reaffirming its prior foothold in Southeast Asia and is therefore seeking to reinstate associations with allies, such as the Philippines. However, this may be short lived as soon the Philippines will have its midterm elections, and thus far, the Senate race has been led by independents like Grace Poe, while the President’s allies have been notably coming up short in the polls. If Duterte is unseated it would leave Trump’s administration in a particularly unfortunate situation.
Photo by Jørgen Håland