He was their anti-science standard-bearer. He made it seem like blaming immigrants and minorities had no consequences. He emboldened falsehoods of a grand conspiracy targeting nationalists and championed the use of police and the judiciary to root it out.
For the past four years, populist and authoritarian leaders from Brazil to the Philippines have looked to President Donald Trump for inspiration and validation for their right-wing agendas. What happens now that their most prominent and outspoken backer has suffered defeat in the U.S. election to President-elect Joe Biden?
“It is a setback for the populist movement, but only a temporary one,” Nigel Farage, former leader of Britain’s anti-European Union Brexit Party, and a close Trump ally, insisted in a text message to USA TODAY. “Trumpism has reshaped American politics in a way that will not change, and the other global movements will continue.”
‘Welcome back, America’: World congratulates Joe Biden; allies look ahead
‘Our time is far from over’
In Germany, Ronald Gläser, a local lawmaker for the city of Berlin’s anti-immigration opposition party, Alternative für Deutschland, said “our time is far from over” and predicted that “financial exploitation,” a “waive of migrant crime” and “high energy costs and taxes” would keep his party, and Trump, more relevant than ever.
“The love of freedom, independence and sovereignty is strong among normal people,” Gläser said. “As is disgust for political correctness, socialism and the like.”
These countries quietly slid into authoritarianism:Should the US be concerned?
Still, analysts say, Biden’s win is likely to at least complicate ties between Washington and foreign capitals where the Trump administration’s mix of strategic and idealogical positions on the economy, social tensions, climate change and politics found favor.
On Veterans Day:How Biden’s plan for the Pentagon differs from Trump
“Some leaders are not going to be able to be as bold as they were before with their rhetoric, that’s for sure. They will need to show a bit more humility,” said Emilia Palonen, an expert on political populism at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
Palonen added that when the Biden White House starts “tweeting more constructively,” as she expects it to, it will have a positive “discursive effect globally.”
But overall, Palonen and other experts said, the influence of Trump’s departure on populism’s global trajectory may be limited, not least because while Trump has done much to amplify its global ascendency over the past half a decade or more, right-wing populist tendencies in India, Turkey, France and elsewhere largely predate him.
“Never forget that all politics is local,” said Michael Ignatieff, a U.S.-educated, Canadian-born former politician, historian and president of Hungary’s Central European University, whose Budapest campus Prime Minister Viktor Orban shut down because of its links to George Soros, the college’s billionaire financier and liberal donor. Soros is a bogeyman for unfounded conspiracy theories and attacks by European and U.S. right-wing groups.
“If there’s deep disaffection and disaffiliation (with mainstream politics) in France or somewhere else that just keeps on going whether or not Trump is in office,” Ignatieff said. “Geert Wilders was on the scene long before Trump, and he’ll be here long after,” he added, referring to the politician from the Netherlands who is sometimes credited with being the modern-day father of European xenophobic populism.
“America has to cure itself of the idea that when it sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold, or that when it smiles the whole world rolls over,” he said. “That’s not how it works, if it ever did. I don’t think Biden’s election changed the world in a way that a progressive Democrat would like to believe, or that a Republican conservative would fear.”
‘It’s an embarrassment’: Biden responds to Trump’s refusal to concede election
Still, as Trump has refused to concede the election, accusing – without evidence – Democrats of fraud and launching various long-shot legal battles, Trump-friendly leaders in Brazil (President Jair Bolsonaro) and Mexico (President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-leaning populist) have either remained fast and held off congratulating Biden or offered less-than-glowing endorsements.
‘FRAUD’ FACT CHECKS:
In Hungary, Orban, who has packed the courts with loyalists and sharply eroded academic and press freedoms, wished Biden “good health and continued success in performing your exceedingly responsible duties.” But Orban has also acknowledged that a Trump victory was his “Plan A” and accused U.S. Democrats of “moral imperialism.”
Bolsonaro has prevaricated, saying at an event on Friday that “I am not the most important person in Brazil, just as Trump is not the most important person in the world. … The most important person is God. Humility must be present among us.”
Like Trump, Brazil’s leader has downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, routinely insults minorities and women and often undermines scientific experts in his own government. He has said, for example, that if people really wanted to stop Amazon deforestation, they should eat and defecate less, not fret over climate change.
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro:He followed Trump’s coronavirus blueprint. Cases are surging
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s office released a statement saying he looked forward to working closely with Biden and the new administration “anchored on mutual respect, mutual benefit, and shared commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law.” But independent Philippine news website Rappler, which has persevered in spite of lawsuits and intimidation to report on Duterte’s numerous illegal killings as part of his campaign against drugs, quoted Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Melay Abao as saying that “Duterte has lost an ally. The Biden camp is not likely to compromise on the human rights issue so for sure, it will frown upon the extra-judicial killings and the drug war.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two countries where Trump formed strong links with authoritarian leaders based largely on arms sales, offered muted congratulations to Biden a full 24 hours after news media projected him to be the 46th U.S. president.
Meanwhile, traditional American adversaries such as China and Russia have released statements saying they prefer to wait until all the “legal processes” play out before honoring Biden’s victory. There has been radio silence from Pyongyang, with whom Trump held two much-ballyhooed and glitzy yet ultimately fruitless summits with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un aimed at denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
At home, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has caused confusion by continuing to call for other nations from Belarus to Tanzania to respect “free and fair elections” while brushing aside the results of the U.S. vote that showed Trump lost his bid for a second term. “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo told reporters, with a chuckle, in Washington, on Tuesday. It wasn’t clear if he was joking.
Matthijs Rooduijn, a political scientist specialized in populism and radicalism at the University of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, said “the breeding ground for populism remains very fertile. Conspiracy theories are widespread, polarization about coronavirus-related government measures is on the rise, and so are socioeconomic inequalities.”
‘Beginning of the end’?
Still, Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, the body that sets the European Union’s overall political direction and priorities, has noted with hopeful optimism – Rooduijn said Tusk’s words were “premature” – that “Trump’s defeat can be the beginning of the end of the triumph of far-right populism” that since 2015 has dominated countries such as his native Poland, where the government has tightened its grip on state institutions including the judiciary and and imposed new taxes and fines in support of socially conservative issues.
“Thank you, Joe,” Tusk tweeted Saturday, when the election was called for Biden.
And in Britain, Timothy Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said with Trump on the way out, and Biden coming in, “a signal has been sent to those around” Prime Minister Boris Johnson who have spent the last few years “urging a culture war and populist politics” that has seen Johnson regularly bend the truth if not outright lie about the impact of Britain’s EU departure – Brexit – and on other topics.
The meaning of the signal?
“It’s not the way to go,” said Bale.