Donald Trump may be a distinctly American figure, but his politics are far from unique to the U.S. He is part of a wave of far-right populists around the world, especially in Europe, that has grown in power in the wake of the mass migration of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and a number of deadly terror attacks.
These demagogues are exploiting fears about immigration, stagnant economies and ineffective institutions to push isolationist, xenophobic and authoritarian policies. They often deviate from the mainstream conservative orthodoxy of promoting free markets and deregulation, instead embracing the welfare state and protectionism for their preferred ethnic in-group, which is usually white.
Add a generous helping of Trump-like media savvy, bombast and misogyny, and you get a reactionary moment the world’s democracies have not seen the likes of in decades.
Under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, France’s far-right National Front party is gaining political ground with its anti-immigration platform. Le-Pen was quick to capitalize on the fatal terror attacks that rocked France last November, blaming the massacres on the country’s “crazy, undiscerning immigration policy.”
The National Front unexpectedly failed to win control of any regions in France’s regional elections in December. But polling shows it is poised to make a run for the presidency in 2017. Le Pen was the preferred presidential candidate of nearly one-third of French voters between the ages of 18 and 25, according to a March poll.
Le Pen was acquitted in December on charges of incitement for 2010 remarks she made comparing Muslims praying on the street in France (due to overcrowded mosques) to the Nazi occupation.
Despite her prejudiced statements, Marine Le Pen is viewed as having toned down the overtly racist rhetoric of the party when it was led by her father, Jean-Marie -- an open anti-semite and fascist sympathizer. (Jean-Marie endorsed Trump in February; his daughter has not.)
Unlike Wilders in the Netherlands, the younger Le Pen proposes a dramatic reduction in immigration of all kinds, not merely from predominantly Muslim nations. She even condemned Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim entry to the U.S. in December.
Le Pen also shares Donald Trump’s desire to have better relations with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. She has said cooperating with Russia is key to winning the battle against the Islamic State, and called for France to ease up on the country over its intervention in Ukraine. Those positions have nothing to do with the fact that her party has received crucial loans from Russian banks, Le Pen insists.
Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Freedom party, has a penchant for Islamophobic rabble-rousing that has boosted public support for his party. If the Freedom party maintains its position in the polls, it stands to unseat the governing coalition of mainstream parties in the next general election, which will occur next spring at the latest.
Wilders, who has a swept-back, platinum-blond hairdo that puts Trump’s coiffure to shame, called Islam a “fascist ideology” in 2010 while debuting an anti-Islam film in the British House of Lords. “Islam is a violent and dangerous religion, and even a retarded culture,” he added. Not to worry, Wilders assures us, he hates Islam itself and not the people who adhere to it.
In the same 2010 appearance, Wilders called for a stop to immigration from Muslim countries — not just to the Netherlands, but to all of Europe. There is no evidence he has moderated his views since then.
Wilders endorsed Trump on Twitter in December.
Wilders follows in the footsteps of Pim Fortuyn, a gay Dutch sociology professor turned anti-Muslim demagogue, whose outsider entry into politics and provocative style parallels Trump even more closely. Fortuyn succeeded in winning a plurality of city council seats in his hometown of Rotterdam in February 2002. An animal rights activist shot him dead in May of that year, ahead of a general election in which he was expected to be competitive.
Austria is the Western European country where a right-wing nationalist has come closest to becoming head of state. The Austrian Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer lost the general election last month to a former head of the Green party by less than 1 percentage point.
It may be telling that the most successful populist in Western Europe is also seemingly the most moderate. Hofer, a clean-cut engineer, claims he is not opposed to immigration, but that immigrants must integrate. (He leaves the harsher rhetoric to the party’s chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache.)
Hofer has already insinuated, however, that immigrants to Austria may be involved in violent crime and extremism.
“Those people who do not value our country and go to fight with ISIS or rape women — Austria is not your home,” Hofer told supporters at a pre-election rally. “You cannot stay in Austria.”
Hofer and his fellow Freedom Party lawmakers often wear blue cornflower pins, which are controversial because the flower was a Nazi symbol in Austria in the 1930s. Strache claims the flower just represents the “the bourgeois freedom movement of 1848.”
Italy’s populist Northern League party is showing new strength under the leadership of the young, charismatic and xenophobic Matteo Salvini. In last May’s regional elections, the party won a respectable one-fifth of the vote in Tuscany, a progressive stronghold and home region of center-left prime minister Matteo Renzi. The party is in third place nationwide with 13 percent of the vote, according to a May poll.
Since taking over in 2013, Salvini has rebranded the Northern Italian separatist party as a vehicle for anti-Muslim and anti-European Union sentiment.
Salvini has spoken out crudely against the absorption of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, claiming that they carry “scabies, malaria and machetes.”
Not that he is much kinder to Muslims already living in Italy. When Prime Minister Renzi referred the Lombardy region’s proposed special regulations of mosques to the country’s constitutional court, Salvini wrote on Facebook that Renzi and his interior minister Angelino Alfani were “the new imams.”
And Salvini has not only endorsed Trump, he took a fan-boy selfie with him in April, which he promptly showed off on Twitter. (Like Trump, Salvini posts obsessively on Twitter, where he has over 259,000 followers.)
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has been the European leader most outspoken in his opposition to taking in refugees from Syria and other war-torn nations. Orban has explicitly argued that refugees should be turned away because of their Islamic faith, stating that “Europe and European culture have Christian roots.” On Orban’s orders, Hungarian law enforcement corralled thousands of refugees passing through the country into detention camps and erected a menacing border fence, practices that drew criticism from human rights groups.
Orban has a close relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Hungarian prime minister has hailed Russia as a model for the “illiberal new state” he hopes to build. He has already adopted some of Putin’s authoritarian tactics, including cracking down on human rights advocates, weakening the country’s high court, intimidating the media and opposing LGBT rights.
Orban’s Fidesz party is actually Hungary’s mainstream center-right political force. His populist stance is likely aimed at keeping at bay the Jobbik party, an overtly racist and anti-semitic party that is Orban’s most significant political threat.
Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party took power in October by fanning the flames of xenophobia, and it has not let up since then. Jaroslav Kaczynski, who is not prime minister but as party chairman reportedly remains the government's top decision-maker, claimed on the eve of the election that refugees were carrying deadly illnesses.
In keeping with these sentiments, Polish government officials announced their refusal to comply with the EU’s emergency refugee resettlement plan in April.
The racially insensitive views of party officials are even affecting Poland’s foreign policy. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski claimed in March that Poland would no longer have a “negro mentality” toward its relationship with the United States.
Kaczynski’s government has also been rebuked by the EU for undermining the rule of law with its crackdown on key liberal institutions. A law in January gave the government the power to name the heads of the public TV and radio stations. They have also passed legislation compromising the independence of the judiciary. And in spite of an uptick in hate crimes, the new government abolished a government agency charged with fighting racism in May.
If there is one world leader who can top Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and theatrical persona, it is Rodrigo Duterte, who was elected president of the Philippines in May.
Duterte has taken advantage of Filipinos’ desire to alleviate rampant crime, campaigning on his use of death squads to hunt down criminals in Davao City, where he was mayor for decades. He has promised to implement the approach nationwide, and even bragged about the number of people he has personally killed.
Duterte also shares Trump’s objectification of women, frequently boasting of his Viagra-fueled promiscuity. He made an awful joke in April about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary in Davao City in 1988.
“I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful," he said. “I thought, ‘the mayor should have been first.’”
Finally, Duterte exhibits a stunning level of immunity to the normal rules of political discourse. He was elected president of a heavily Catholic country, despite joking that Pope Francis was a “son of a whore” for clogging up traffic when he visited.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.