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Friday, March 11, 2016

Europeans Are Fixated On Trump And The U.S. Election

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media in the spin room after the CNN, Salem Media Group, The Washington Times Republican Presidential Primary Debate on the campus of the University of Miami on March 10, 2016 in Coral Gables, Florida. The candidates continue to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media in the spin room after the CNN, Salem Media Group, The Washington Times Republican Presidential Primary Debate on the campus of the University of Miami on March 10, 2016 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Europeans are paying a lot of attention to the U.S. presidential campaign and, perhaps not surprisingly, their focus is on one candidate in particular: Donald Trump.

Gavin Hewitt, chief correspondent for the BBC, tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti that Europeans are fixated on the Republican “political soap opera” not merely as entertainment but because Trump is tapping into many Europeans’ concerns and anti-establishment sentiments, including insecurity over jobs and immigration.

Note: This BBC interview can be heard in the Here & Now podcast or with the WBUR app.

Interview Highlights: Gavin Hewitt

Whether European coverage of the U.S. election is all about Donald Trump

“It is all about Donald Trump. British, European viewers and listeners have been following attentively what’s been happening in America, but they’re only following one story and it’s Donald Trump. This for them is political show time, they’re tuning in and they can’t wait for the next episode. And I think early on they were open-mouthed because politicians in Europe don’t speak usually with this kind of vulgarity or coarseness. And they follow this as if it was a political soap opera. In more recent times, particularly as Donald Trump has shown his strength in terms of the delegates that he’s building up, the tone of reporting in Europe has changed and it’s become much more concerned and much more critical.”

On Europeans’ attitude when election time in the U.S. rolls around

“I think there is a tendency sometimes in Europe to sneer at the vulgarity of the political process in the United States and the sense that maybe Europeans do it in a more civilized and a better way. A lot of people don’t actually understand the process of electing an American president. But I think the criticism that has been around this time is of a different dimension. You know, you have a German paper coming out and saying, ‘Donald Trump is the most dangerous man in the world.’ The front cover of a French magazine talking about the ‘American nightmare.’ Other people talking about Donald Trump as an ignoramus. They’re even some who have put the face of Silvio Berlusconi on a picture of Donald Trump with Donald Trump’s hair. So there is a great deal of attention, but I think the nature of the concern is different from what you might expect at election time.”

On the European political establishment’s concern for what Trump represents

“The political establishment in Europe is doing two things at the same time. The establishment is genuinely concerned that somebody like Donald Trump, who challenges many of the values that they hold and keep them in power, could end up with the top job in the Western world. But at the same time, they see Donald Trump as part of a new mold in politics, the sense that maybe globalization isn’t working for the ordinary person, maybe the middle class has not reaped the benefits it should have reaped. And also the sense of insecurity over wages. These things are common both to America and to Europe. And I think there have been, certainly in the last two years, the rise in Europe of the anti-politician, the outsider who comes up and suddenly is beginning to influence power. And what are they concerned about in Europe? They’re concerned about migration, they’re concerned about jobs migrating abroad, they’re concerned about terrorism. All of these are similar concerns. And there are a lot of voters in Europe who feel anxious, left behind. And some of them look at Donald Trump and say, ‘You know, he’s speaking directly to me. I want somebody who comes and talks about my fears, my feeling that the system’s rigged against me.’ And I think that a lot of mainstream politicians in Europe, they themselves are trying to fight off those newcomers, those outsiders. And so they feel that, if Donald Trump were to be ultimately successful in the United States, this would also bolster some of these politicians in Europe who also are tapping into this sense of insecurity and into these fears.”

On how a theoretical victory of a non-establishment candidate would impact relations with Europe

“I think it would be very, very significant if a non-establishment politician became president of the United States. I think it would have a very, very considerable impact on European-American relations. There would be a great deal of caution at first, but there would also be a concern that this would strengthen those who are making the same kind of critique in Europe as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States. And I think there would be others who would feel it is a sign that democracy has not yet come up with an answer to the impact of globalization, and perhaps lying behind all of this is that sense that democracy, both in the United States and Europe, isn’t able to convince some of the middle class, some of those who earn less than that, that the system works for them. And so we live in a time when voters are footloose. Some of the old loyalties are being snapped and thrown away and therefore they’re giving much more time to the newcomer. They may be blowhards but on the other hand, if they’re speaking directly to them and their concerns, they’re going to give them the time of day.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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