Who is afraid of Donald Trump?

Florida, U.S., March 15, 2016: a Trump supporter gives the thumbs up to motorists honking at his sign outside the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Election office (source: dpa)
Florida, U.S., March 15, 2016: a Trump supporter gives the thumbs up to motorists honking at his sign outside the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Election office (source: dpa)

Europe and the world are watching Donald Trump’s behavior in the United States presidential campaign with amazement. He has shocked his country’s media elites, who are more accustomed than their European counterparts to harsh talk and mudslinging between candidates. His aggressive rhetoric and erratic tactics are a novelty for even seasoned followers of U.S. politics, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Most interestingly, though, Donald Trump continues to run a successful campaign. Intellectuals criticize his supporters as ignorant, but experience shows that in instances where populist newcomers are successful, there is a flaw in the system. Voters are not ignorant.

In representative democracies, the political establishment typically reacts to newcomers by trying to marginalize them. Usually, the outsider is branded a buffoon, a racist, a radical or an extremist of one sort or another.

But instead of trying to brush aside Mr. Trump, opinion shapers should take a close look at what is wrong with the system that allowed him to get this far. The fact is that most people no longer believe that the political establishment has their best interests at heart. This is certainly the case in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s success indicates it is in the U.S. as well.

The working population feels unrepresented by both the right and the left. Entrepreneurs are increasingly stymied by overregulation. These two groups form the backbone of any properly functioning economy and are responsible for producing the country’s wealth. But there is a widening gap between them and those who reap the benefits: government, politicians and intellectuals. In this context workers can, and should, identify with entrepreneurs.

Seen from across the Atlantic, this seems to be the reason why Donald Trump’s exaggerated statements appeal to large swathes of the population. In Europe the problem is even worse; politicians’ reputations are at the lowest end of the scale.

The anti-Trump forces are now resorting to the marginalization tactic. This might work for the moment. But if the political classes do not learn the lesson of why people are gravitating toward more realistic, less intellectual, less party-centered politics, the consequences could be dire. The “newcomers” who crop up in the future could make Mr. Trump look far less radical than we see him today.

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