As America stumbles its way through the early stages of Donald Trump's unlikely and uncomfortable bid for the presidency, some here are wondering what exactly Trump says about the nation. "Do other national cultures create men like Donald Trump?" Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg asked on Twitter. "Asking for the United States."
Goldberg probably asked that question in jest, but there may be real concern behind it. To many, Trump's political career seems to combine three ugly undercurrents of U.S. politics: the outsize role of money, the never-ending campaign season, and America's embrace of reactionary celebrity figures.
So do other countries really have their own Donald Trumps? Well, yes, of course they do. When Goldberg asked his question, there was a flood of responses from foreign readers, who pointed to their own rich and rude political figures. Some comparisons don't quite seem fair (you may dislike Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Nigel Farage, but their faults and virtues are different from Trump's), many, many other suggestions did seem apt.
Trump is a product of American society, but he's not unique. His mixture of murky wealth, extreme arrogance and vulgar chauvinism can be found all over the world, albeit with local spins. Here are just a handful of the world's other Donald Trumps.
One of the best-known examples of a foreign Trump might be Silvio Berlusconi, the business magnate who was Italy's prime minister for about nine years in total. Berlusconi, like Trump, espoused an entrepreneurial spirit but soon became better known for his misdemeanors and odd behavior: One time, he hid behind a monument and jumped out to scare German leader Angela Merkel, shouting, 'Coo-coo' ("She enjoyed it," Berlusconi later said). Like Trump, he even has an intriguing hairstyle.
Is Berlusconi a true Trump? Perhaps, but there are certainly a number of important differences. Berlusconi was a real world leader for a considerable amount of time, and he does appear to have — on limited occasions — displayed the grace and gravitas that comes from that position. "I met Berlusconi once," Goldberg tweeted when someone suggested him. "He didn't seem quite so ridiculous. Ridiculous, but not at that level."
Berlusconi's fall from grace was worsened by the pressures created by allegations of corruption and sexual misdeeds during his notorious "bunga bunga" parties: These factors have led him to face a number of charges after leaving office in 2011. Trump's business dealings may be murky, but they appear to fall short of outright corruption — and it seems he gets more pleasure from outraging sections of the American public than he does from any sordid soirees.
Clive Palmer, an Australian billionaire, certainly creates Trump-size headlines. He has plans to construct a replica of the Titanic. He wants to open his own 'Jurassic Park.' He has accused his political opponents of being funded by the CIA. He has called Chinese officials "mongrels" (and later apologized).
The similarities between the two go beyond headlines and money, however. For years, Palmer has been accused of using his wealth to influence politics in Australia. In 2013, he established a political party and became a member of parliament.
Some in Australia wonder whether Trump is following Palmer's playbook, but there are also differences between the two: Palmer seems genuinely intent on gaining political power, not just attention. “Imagine if Donald Trump had his own party, and that party controlled the balance of power in the Senate," is how one Australian academic summed it up last year.
China is a country full of very rich people, and often these very rich people have deep political ambitions. However, it's possible that Chen Guangbiao is the only one who can match Trump for sheer arrogance.
There are numerous examples of how big Chen's ego is, including his audacious and doomed attempt to buy the New York Times and his insistence on singing at media events. Perhaps the best example of Chen's ego, however, is a business card he handed to me in 2013.
Despite his Trump-like qualities, Chen is a very much a product of the modern Chinese world. He made his fortune in the recycling business, and his high profile comes from a combination of his charitable endeavors and his ultranationalist foreign policy messages.
While not a politician, Chen appears to be intertwined with the government, which is said to have issued decrees to state media banning negative coverage about him.
While Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the loud-mouthed Russian politician who founded the Liberal Democratic Party in 1990, may lack the business credentials of Trump (his background is in the military), he has a habit of making statements that suggest a kinship with the American businessman.
For example, he suggests arming every single person in Russia so they can kill birds. He threatened to carpet-bomb Poland and the Baltic states. He rode a donkey in an infamous 2012 election video. In fact, he has probably gone further than even Trump would: A few years ago, he punched a political rival in the face after a televised election debate.
Despite his antics, Zhirinovsky is a political force in Russia. His ill-named political party, actually a far-right populist entity, gained 11 percent of the vote in the 2011 Duma election. It seems that Zhirinovsky is a product of the chaos of the post-Communist period in Russia. As the New York Times wrote in 1994: "Mr. Zhirinovsky can be racist, cruel, endlessly strident. But he knows how to draw a crowd and how to hold it."
In many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, business success and political populism mingle, creating fertile grounds for local variants of Trumps.
The Czech Republic's Tomio Okamura seems especially appropriate for this list, however. Like Trump, he has not only parlayed entrepreneurial success into a spot on a reality television show, he has also been able to gain political momentum and a seat in the Czech senate. At one point, polls suggested that he was the third most popular politician in the country.
The similarities go further, however. Like Trump, Okamura has espoused anti-immigrant views: He recently told Czechs that they should walk pigs near mosques and suggested sending the Roma to India. And, like Trump, he comes from an immigrant background. Trump's mother is Scottish; Okamura was born in Tokyo to a Japanese-Korean father and a Czech mother.