‘Like the final act of a horror film’: How the rest of the world sees the U.S. presidential campaign

I’ve been in Scotland for a few weeks, which is long enough for it to come as little surprise anymore when some variant of the question arises in conversation: “Does the election process look as strange to Americans as it does to us here?” 

Or this: “So you’ve come to get away from Donald Trump, have you?”

You can leave the States, but you can’t really leave primary season behind you, it turns out. You may be having a perfectly pleasant dinner conversation with friends, only to find it hijacked by Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Co. Perhaps a casual exchange with a stranger who detected your American accent takes a quick turn toward U.S. politics. And then there is the media coverage — some of the hyperventilating and hand-wringing variety; some rather snarky.

Many people across Europe are quite conversant in U.S. politics and public policy, even if they often are not quite sure how it all fits together (as if most Americans are). But what really attracts attention is a presidential campaign. The theatrics alone are captivating, never mind what’s at stake. Given the raw political, economic and military power of the United States, and the ability it retains to inspire by — say — electing a black president, the vote often feels nearly as important outside the U.S. as it does to Americans.

So, just as it has back home, the prospect of Trump gaining the Republican nomination, and even the White House, gets a huge amount of attention. It’s too early for most people to dwell on what a Rubio or Sanders presidency might be like. But Trump is a different story. 

That doesn’t mean Europe hasn’t seen anything equivalent. There is in fact a whole journalistic cottage industry comparing Trump to another crude billionaire businessman-turned-politician. Americans may have occasionally chuckled at the antics of Silvio Berlusconi. But it’s worth remembering that he was Italy’s prime minister for nine years.

And as economies languish and politicians fumble for a solution to Europe’s immigration crisis, far-right, nationalist and populist movements are gaining strength — in Germany, France, England and elsewhere. There are populist leftist movements, too (in Spain and Greece, for example), but nothing quite like of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon. Much of the continent has already been there and done that.

All of which brings us back to Trump, the would-be U.S. president who was the subject of a debate in the British parliament recently. The question, you might recall, was whether Trump should be barred from entering Britain, as more than half a million petitioners demanded.

There never was any real prospect he would be banned in Britain — the worst he suffered was being called a wazzock — and that by a Conservative MP. 

What’s interesting is that Trump’s mother was a Scottish immigrant, and that he professes special feelings for the country — enough so that he pressed hard to build a luxury golf course near the North Sea port of Aberdeen. A number of Scots — more than many Brits — apparently would be happy if he never came back. 

As this article shows, among the districts with the highest proportion of signatures on the petition to ban Trump were those where I’m staying, in central Glasgow.

Even the BBC, while maintaining its reputation for intelligent, clear-eyed reporting, has been having some fun with Trump and the rest of the Republican field. This is the opening of North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher’s report on the last GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary:

The Republican presidential debate was a bit like the final act of a horror film. The monster had already eaten half the teens at the summer camp, and those left were wondering who was next to go.

Some of the candidates seemed like they were ready to fight.

Some of them looked like they wanted to hide or run.

And Ben Carson acted like he didn’t care whether the monster got him or not.

Authoritative publications in France and Germany have been a bit more serious. In Germany, Der Spiegel’s recent headline was blunt: “Donald Trump is the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” A lengthy recent report argues that Trump “embodies a new harshness and brutality, and both a physical and emotional crudeness.” It frets that “America is running the risk of falling for a self-proclaimed leader with a low opinion of fundamental democratic values.” 

The combination of the extreme positions Trump has taken, and the possibility that he could win the White House “make him the most dangerous man in the world at the moment.”

Le Monde in France sees evidence of a broader crisis in the rise of Trump and others like him: 

Modern capitalism’s vision of peace and prosperity had evaporated before the financial debacle of 2008. Now its culture, spirit, and unctuous and deceptively polite leaders are on the way out. Globalization was hailed as a fluid, rational, peaceful, connected process. Its demise has opened the way for angry men, and warlords. 

There is one world leader, both publications point out, who has said some nice things about Trump — which Trump has answered in kind. That would be Vladimir Putin

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/15/2016 - 10:50 am.


    The Brits know how to write about politics, hands down. What do the Highland Scots think?

    I’ve been most amused by the London anti-Trump chatter. Comments are decidedly nasty.
    We have certainly taken the minds of many there away from the SNP heather-clearing of Labour, and the resulting rise of Jeremy Corbyn from those ashes.

    If Americans cared at all about UK/EU matters, we’d read similar stuff here…but Americans mostly don’t.

    In England, at least, Trump seems to serve a great public purpose in taking minds off the incredibly horrid winter there.

  2. Submitted by David Tintes on 02/15/2016 - 12:18 pm.

    Trump from outside the US

    I am a Minneapolitan spending the winter months in the Sinaloan, Mexico coastal city of Mazatlan. The annual celebration of Carnival is a large, raucous event here attracting tens of thousands of visitors as well as locals. One of the events – The Burning of Bad Humour features the prior years most hated person being burned in effigy. Yes, of course, this year it was Mr. Trump who was the winner of this expression of disdain with an estimated 50,000 attendees.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/15/2016 - 01:53 pm.

    what most distresses those of us who know how the world watches the U.S. and its politics is that the long, long primary process, and the comparative dearth of Democratic debates until very lately, has given the impression that the weak posse of GOP candidates for presidential nomination represents anything like the best we have.

    The GOP does not represent the majority of Americans anymore (not since the Reagan days, actually, in presidential races)–most American’s are on average better educated and more diverse, more tolerant and ore optimistic. Americans lean to the left of this GOP bunch, by long angle.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 02/16/2016 - 10:36 am.

    Amazingly the “lean left crowd” has given power to the GOP in both Houses and numerous Governorships the past 7 years. Someone needs to tell the electorate that they are pulling the wrong levers in the voting booth. Silly Americans.

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