Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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The spat between Turkey and the Netherlands is all about winning votes

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The escalating crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands is a startling example of how this year’s crucial election campaigns can flare into international incidents.

The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ this weekend is pretty straightforward,” wrote Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in a message to Today’s WorldView. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.” [Continue reading…]

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A Vermont mayor wanted to take in refugees. He lost his job

Slate reports: For the past year, the national drama over refugees has played out in miniature in the small city of Rutland, nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

The mayor, Christopher Louras, hatched a plan in 2015 for Rutland to settle 100 refugees from Syria and Iraq. The initiative was publicly announced last March, and in September, Rutland was granted State Department approval. It was the right thing to do, supporters said. But Louras, a five-term mayor who was first elected as a Republican but is now an independent, made an economic case for the program.

“The benefits, economically and culturally, that we will recognize is exactly what the community needs at this time,” he told the Boston Globe in May. “As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.”

On Tuesday, the backlash swept Louras from office. His opponent, city Alderman David Allaire, strongly criticized the secrecy surrounding the town’s decision to accept refugees. Announcing his candidacy in December, Allaire stressed that he was not anti-refugee. “I’m sure if this had been handled differently, you would not see the divide you see in this community right now,” he said at the time. “We are a thoughtful, helpful community.”

But the opposition group that supported Allaire, Rutland First, was more evidently against any refugee deal. In addition to local politics, its Facebook page shares content like the Sweden refugee video that prompted Donald Trump’s famous “last night in Sweden” outburst. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: A Florida man who attempted to set fire to a convenience store told deputies that he assumed the owner was Muslim and that he wanted to “run the Arabs out of our country,” according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff later said the store owners are actually Indian, appearing to make this the latest in a string of incidents targeting South Asians mistaken for people of Arab descent.

Around 7:40 a.m. Friday, police received calls that a white male was acting suspiciously in front of the Met Mart convenience store in Port St. Lucie, officials said.

Deputies arrived to find the store closed, with its security shutters intact — as well as a 64-year-old man named Richard Leslie Lloyd near a flaming dumpster.

“When the deputies arrived, they noticed the dumpster had been rolled in front of the doors and the contents were lit on fire,” St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Upon seeing our deputies, the man put his hands behind his back and said ‘take me away.’ ”

Lloyd “told deputies that he pushed the dumpster to the front of the building, tore down signs posted to the outside of the store and lit the contents of the dumpster on fire to ‘run the Arabs out of our country,’ ” Mascara said. [Continue reading…]

The Rutland voters who thought that putting Rutland first required excluding 100 refugees and the Florida man who took the law into his own hands in trying to drive foreigners out of America, can be described as xenophobes, nativists or in several other ways. But beneath these multifaceted expressions of fear lies one simple emotion: cowardice.

Cowardice is what brought Trump to power and is what animates the fear and hatred that can now be found all across this nation.

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Congressman Steve King endorses ‘Dutch Trump,’ Geert Wilders, in battle over ‘civilization’

The Daily Beast reports: The Republican Party has long been a comfortable home for anti-Europeanism, from the “America First” opponents of U.S. participation in World War II to the “let them eat Freedom Fries” movement responsible for renaming French fries in congressional cafeterias during the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

But as far-right political parties gain power and prominence on the Continent, many members of the Grand Old Party are cozying up to European politicos with unprecedented enthusiasm — well, nearly unprecedented.

Among the most fawning of the newly Europositive wing of the Republican party: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a nativist hawk from the heartland with a long and unapologetic history of making incendiary statements regarding immigrants, Islam, and racial “sub-groups.” On Sunday, however, King surprised even his sharpest critics by tweeting what amounts to an endorsement of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom who is days away from his potential election as prime minister of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]

 

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The Dutch far right’s election donors are almost exclusively American

Quartz reports: While Europe has been busy fretting about Russian meddling in its politics, a few Americans have been quietly doing their part to boost the continent’s far right.

Wealthy American conservatives have poured large sums into the electoral campaign of far-right leader Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Dutch Freedom Party, in support of his anti-Islam, anti-EU views.

Three American donors gave €141,668 ($150,430) to Dutch political parties between 2015 and 2017, according to campaign finance documents released this week by the Dutch interior ministry. Two of these donors funded the far-right Dutch Freedom Party. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders: The peroxide-blond crusader who could soon top Dutch elections

The Washington Post reports: He warns about the perils of Muslim immigrants. A single well-lobbed tweet can ignite his nation’s political scene for days. And in a time of relative prosperity, he has succeeded in focusing dark fears about what is happening in mosques across his land.

The peroxide-blond Dutch politician Geert Wilders was executing the Trump playbook long before the U.S. president started his insurgent campaign for the White House. And in Dutch elections Wednesday, Wilders has a strong chance to come out on top, cementing the influence of a politician who wants to ban the Koran, shut down mosques and upend his nation’s sleepy political scene.

Nervous leaders across Europe are looking to the Netherlands this week for clues about elections this year in France and Germany. There, anti-Islam, anti-European Union candidates also are capitalizing on fears about a wave of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants who have surged over their borders in recent years. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon’s mission to destroy the European Union

Michael Crowley writes: It was the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, and the Western world was still absorbing the shock. With no clear plan for what would come next, the globe’s fifth-biggest economy had abruptly announced a divorce from the neighbors it had been trading with for nearly 45 years. Markets plunged. “A calamity,” declared the New York Times. “Global panic,” proclaimed one London headline.

Steve Bannon had a different reaction. He booked the calamity’s chief architect as a guest on his radio show to celebrate.

This was then still weeks before Bannon emerged into the national spotlight as CEO of Donald Trump’s struggling presidential campaign. Bannon was an executive at Breitbart News, an activist-editor-gadfly known mostly on the far right, and the “Brexit” campaign was something of a pet project. He hitched onto the Tea Party movement early in Barack Obama’s presidency and noticed a similar right-populist wave rising across the Atlantic, where fed-up rural, white Britons were anxious about immigration and resentful of EU bureaucrats. The cause touched on some of Bannon’s deepest beliefs, including nationalism, Judeo-Christian identity and the evils of Big Government. In early 2014, Bannon launched a London outpost of Breitbart, opening what he called a new front “in our current cultural and political war.” The site promptly began pointing its knives at the EU, with headlines like “The EU Is Dead, It Just Refuses to Lie Down”; “The European Union’s Response to Terrorism Is a Massive Privacy Power Grab”; “Pressure on Member States to Embrace Trans Ideology.” One 2014 article invited readers to vote in a poll among “the most annoying European Union rules.”

Bannon’s site quickly became tightly entangled with the United Kingdom Independence Party, a fringe movement with the then-outlandish goal of Britain’s exit from the EU. In October 2014, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, poached a Breitbart London editor to work for him. That September, Bannon hosted a dinner for Farage at his Capitol Hill townhouse. Standing under a large oil painting by the fireplace, Farage delivered a speech that left the dozens of conservative leaders in attendance “blown away,” as Bannon later recalled. [Continue reading…]

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The vote that could wreck the European Union

An editorial in The Economist says: It has been many years since France last had a revolution, or even a serious attempt at reform. Stagnation, both political and economic, has been the hallmark of a country where little has changed for decades, even as power has rotated between the established parties of left and right.

Until now. This year’s presidential election, the most exciting in living memory, promises an upheaval. The Socialist and Republican parties, which have held power since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, could be eliminated in the first round of a presidential ballot on April 23rd. French voters may face a choice between two insurgent candidates: Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the National Front, and Emmanuel Macron, the upstart leader of a liberal movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), which he founded only last year.

The implications of these insurgencies are hard to exaggerate. They are the clearest example yet of a global trend: that the old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed. The resulting realignment will have reverberations far beyond France’s borders. It could revitalise the European Union, or wreck it.

The revolution’s proximate cause is voters’ fury at the uselessness and self-dealing of their ruling class. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders, reclusive provocateur, rises before Dutch vote

The New York Times reports: He wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He is partly of Indonesian heritage, and dyes his hair bright blond. He is omnipresent on social media but lives as a political phantom under police protection, rarely campaigning in person and reportedly sleeping in a different location every night.

He has structured his party so that he is the only official, giving him the liberty to remain, above all things, in complete control, and a provocateur and an uncompromising verbal bomb thrower.

Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s unusual politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants.

How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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Robert Mercer: The big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

Carole Cadwalladr writes: Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon: Trump administration is in unending battle for ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’

The Washington Post reports: Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s reclusive chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said Thursday that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an outdated system of governance.

In his first public speaking appearance since Trump took office, Bannon made his comments alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at a gathering of conservative activists. They sought to prove that they are not rivals but partners in fighting on Trump’s behalf to transform Washington and the world order.

“They’re going to continue to fight,” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as “the opposition party,” and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty. [Continue reading…]

Michelle Goldberg writes: CPAC, the country’s largest annual conservative gathering, has long drawn energy from young people who are resentful about liberal hegemony on college campuses. Now, however, it’s flailing as it tries to establish its own moral boundaries on right-wing speech. Its trouble started when Matt Schlapp, CPAC’s chairman, invited professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos to give a keynote address, sparking a furious backlash from traditional conservatives, who dug up statements by Yiannopoulos justifying man-boy sex. That ultimately led to Yiannopoulos losing his book deal, as well as his CPAC slot, and resigning from his job at Breitbart. In the aftermath, CPAC is trying to distance itself from the alt-right. Yet top Trump aide Steve Bannon, who once boasted that his website, Breitbart, was the “platform of the alt-right,” still had a prime Thursday afternoon speaking slot. And many young people in attendance reveled in the alt-right’s rebellious frisson of fascism. [Continue reading…]

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Amnesty report compares Trump’s divisive politics with Hitler’s rise to power

The Washington Post reports: In its latest report, Amnesty International just compared the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and populist rhetoric in 2016 to the 1930s, singling out President Trump in particular.

Trump was harshly criticized by the London-based group on Tuesday evening for his “hateful xenophobic pre-election rhetoric,” divisive politics and a rollback of civil rights.

The comments were part of an extensive annual report released by Amnesty International that also singled out other leaders and politicians for pursuing “a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency.”

Referring to general trends in many of the 159 countries included in the report, Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, drew parallels between developments in 2016 and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. [Continue reading…]

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Wilders at Dutch campaign launch vows to crack down on ‘Moroccan scum’

Reuters reports: Dutch anti-Muslim, anti-EU party leader Geert Wilders promised to crack down on “Moroccan scum” who he said were making the streets unsafe and urged the Dutch to “regain” their country as he launched his election campaign on Saturday.

Wilders was surrounded by police and security guards during a walkabout in Spijkenisse, part of the ethnically diverse industrial area surrounding the vast port of Rotterdam and a stronghold of his Freedom Party.

“Not all are scum, but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who makes the streets unsafe,” he told reporters, speaking in English. “If you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, your own home, again, then you can only vote for one party.”

Crime by young Moroccans was not being taken seriously, added Wilders, who in December was convicted of inciting discrimination for leading supporters in a chant that they wanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans in the country.

Wilders – who has lived in hiding since an Islamist murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 – pledges to ban Muslim immigration, close all mosques and take the Netherlands out of the European Union.

Many of his supporters at the Spijkenisse market, however, said they cared more about his social welfare policies.

“The most important thing for me is bringing the pension age back down to 65,” said Wil Fens, 59, a crane operator at the port.

Wilders hopes a global upsurge in anti-establishment feeling that has already helped to propel Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and to persuade Britons to vote to quit the European Union will propel him to power in the March 15 parliamentary election.

A win for Wilders would boost French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the Alternative for Germany party, both hoping to transform European politics in elections this year. [Continue reading…]

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John McCain on the survival of the West

 

Many of those of us who have an interest in and experience of living in non-Western cultures have a distaste for what can sound like sanctimonious and domineering claims about Western superiority.

What is superior about a civilization that built its strength through subjugating others? The failings of the West are easy enough to discern from a passing glance over world history.

Nevertheless, the value of open societies is currently being undermined from within, not by people who are promoting better alternatives but on the contrary mostly by those whose cynicism has festered deep within the only societies they have ever known.

To be concerned about the future of Western democracies does not require overlooking their failings but simply recognizing that if they fail, what will follow will without doubt be much worse.

This isn’t a matter of conjecture. Look at the Middle East and the effects of the withdrawal of American power. This hasn’t opened the doors to self-determination. It has instead led to an ongoing and very bloody power struggle between competing autocratic powers.

What the retreat of the West facilitates both outside and inside the West is the rise of nationalism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia.

When Western power can be superseded by something better — something that better reflects global diversity — then it will indeed be time to dispense with the very concept of the West. But we haven’t got anywhere close to arriving at that point in history.

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Marching towards nowhere?

 

Ivan Krastev writes: What strikes any observer of the new wave of revolutionary politics is that it is a revolution without an ideology or a project. Protesting itself seems to be the strategic goal of many of the protests. Failing to offer political alternatives, they are an explosion of moral indignation. In most of the protests, citizens on the street treat politics not so much as a set of issues but as a public performance or a way of being in the world. Many protesters are openly anti-institutional and mistrustful toward both the market and the state. They preach participation without representation. The protest movements bypass established political parties, distrust the mainstream media, refuse to recognize any specific leadership, and reject all formal organizations, relying instead on the Internet and local assemblies for collective debate and decision making.

In a way the new protest movements are inspired by mistrust in the elites, empowered by mistrust in leadership, constrained by mistrust of organizations, and defeated by the protesters’ inability to trust even each other: “This is an obvious but unspoken cultural difference between modern youth protest movements and those of the past. […] Anybody who sounds like a career politician, anybody who attempts to use rhetoric, or espouses an ideology, is greeted with visceral distaste.”

Mistrusting institutions as a rule, the protesters are plainly uninterested in taking power. The government is simply “them,” regardless of who is in charge. The protesters combine a genuine longing for community with a relentless individualism. They describe their own political activism almost in religious terms, stressing how the experience of acting out on the street has inspired a revolution of the soul and a regime change of the mind. Perhaps for the first time since 1848 — the last of the pre-Marxist revolutions — the revolt is not against the government but against being governed. It is the spirit of libertarianism that brings together Egypt’s anti-authoritarian uprising and Occupy Wall Street’s anti-capitalist insurrection.

For the protesters, it is no longer important who wins elections or who runs the government, not simply because they do not want to be the government, but also because any time people perceive that their interests are endangered, they plan on returning to the streets. The “silent man” in Taksim Square, Istanbul, who stood without moving or speaking for eight hours, is a symbol of the new age of protests: He stands there to make sure that things will not stay as they are. His message to those in power is that he will never go home.

While it is popular for Europeans to compare the current global protest wave with the revolutions of 1848, today’s protests are the negation of the political agenda of 1848. Those revolutions fought for universal suffrage and political representation. They marked the rise of the citizen-voter. The current protests are a revolt against representative democracy. They mark the disillusionment of the citizen-voter. The current protests function as an alternative to elections, testifying that the people are furious; the angry citizen heads to the streets not with the hope of putting a better government in power but merely to establish the borders that no government should cross. [Continue reading…]

Anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, anti-interventionism — the problem with centering any movement around opposition is that almost in obedience with the laws of physics, the end result will be inertia.

The logical conclusion of insistently saying no is that we end up going nowhere.

The successful movements of the last century have instead always been centered on positive goals — women’s rights; civil rights; marriage equality, and so forth.

Likewise, the most effective forms of resistance against the socially corrosive agenda of the Trump presidency are not simply anti-Trump; they are affirmations — for immigrants, for Muslims, and for women.

To build a better world, we have to unite around the things we support and not simply the things we oppose.

What Trump is counting on is that his opponents remain locked in an oppositional posture in which we will eventually tire and thereafter fall into torpor and silence.

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Geert Wilders’ American connections

Politico reports: Geert Wilders is approaching the Dutch election bolstered by the shock victory of a like-minded campaign in the United States, and with something of his worldview reflected in Donald Trump’s White House.

Trump’s order barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States — currently blocked by the U.S. courts — echoes Wilders’ calls for countries across the West to stop all immigration from “Islamic countries,” which he has been advocating in speeches since at least 2014.

Now, Wilders’ U.S. contacts are pushing for a meeting with Trump in the hopes that it would give the Dutchman a new platform for his outspoken challenge to the European Union from within one of its founding states. For their part, Trump supporters see Wilders’ campaign as the next step — following the U.K.’s Brexit vote and the election of Trump — of a populist revolt that is shaking up the world order.

“I have sent those messages to the inner circle and encouraged that they communicate with Mr. Wilders,” Congressman Steve King, an Iowa Republican, told POLITICO in a phone interview. “It’s important for the Trump administration and for this White House team to be engaged in an effort to restore Western civilization.” [Continue reading…]

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