Inside a recent New Yorker article on Donald Trump and the politics behind his rise, there's a curious nugget worth contemplating. (To be sure, the entire lengthy story is worth the read.)
The article's author, Evan Osnos, watched the first Republican debate in early August alongside Matthew Heimbach, a well-known young white supremacist, and a group of his friends. Heimbach, who claims Trump's barnstorming, nativist rhetoric has brought disaffected white youth "out of their slumber," is not just another basement-dwelling extremist. He's a regular on the far-right radical lecture circuit and "has met with European Fascists, including members of the Golden Dawn, in Greece," Osnos writes.
The Golden Dawn is an influential political party in Greece, and came in third in the country's last round of parliamentary elections, buoyed by nationalist voters disenchanted with Greece's dysfunctional status quo and angry about immigration.
Though its members bristle at the characterization, the party is pretty much a neo-Nazi organization (and has been deemed a "criminal gang" in an ongoing court case). The Golden Dawn has staged fascistic ceremonies that bring to mind rallies of an earlier era; its members frequently perform Nazi salutes. The group's logo itself appears to be a not-so-subtle nod to the Third Reich's infamous insignia.
And its rise has been watched with approval by giddy far-right extremists in the United States, including, it seems, those who support Trump. Just see this image, spotted by WorldViews on an American neo-Nazi Web Site, beneath a post this week deriding Osnos as "a super-Jew."
The point, as Osnos stresses in his piece, is not that Trump himself is a fascist or a neo-Nazi. But that his particular brand of politics -- what conservative Post columnist George Will, in a rather baleful lament, describes as a "volcanic phenomenon" -- has excited a coterie of far-right Americans who have in the past rejected the Republican cause.
"I’m sure [Trump] would repudiate any association with people like me," Jared Taylor, an editor of a white-nationalist magazine, tells Osnos, "but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit."
That sort of support -- from people like Taylor -- reflects populist political trends that we're not all that accustomed to seeing in the United States, at least in its political mainstream. As Osnos observes, Trump is cresting a wave that has already swept through Europe:
When Trump leaped to the head of the Republican field, he delivered the appearance of legitimacy to a moral vision once confined to the fevered fringe, elevating fantasies from the message boards and campgrounds to the center stage of American life. In doing so, he pulled America into a current that is coursing through other Western democracies—Britain, France, Spain, Greece, Scandinavia—where xenophobic, nationalist parties have emerged since the 2008 economic crisis to besiege middle-ground politicians. In country after country, voters beset by inequality and scarcity have reached past the sober promises of the center-left and the center-right to the spectre of a transcendent solution, no matter how cruel.
The anger of two Bostonian siblings, who cited Trump as inspiration after they beat up a homeless Latino man, or Trump's own invocation of the "silent majority" -- a leitmotif that some argue has clearly racial overtones -- would be familiar expressions of xenophobic, far-right European populism. It would also be familiar to anybody who has watched the Golden Dawn.
"Trump himself doesn’t hold a populist radical right ideology," writes Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, "but his political campaign clearly caters to populist radical right attitudes, and his supporter base is almost identical to the core electorate of populist radical right parties in (Western) Europe."
Mudde elaborates further over at the Monkey Cage blog on the similarities with movements across the pond:
First studies show that Trump is particularly popular among young, lower educated, white males. This is exactly the same group that constitutes the core of the electorate of populist radical right parties in Western Europe. The gender gap is particularly striking. Just as European populist radical right parties have a much larger gender gap than mainstream right-wing parties, attracting roughly two men for every one woman, Trump has the largest gender gap among the GOP candidates, particularly among likely Republican primary voters. And while Trump has claimed that he is the only Republican who can win the Hispanic vote, surveys show that he is by far the least liked GOP candidate among Hispanics.
How this all plays out in the weeks and months ahead is anyone's guess. The raucous spectacle of the Trumpian present has transfixed the media and captured national attention. But it's playing on a set of emotions and politics that -- if seen in a larger context -- ought to make quite a few Americans uncomfortable.