Progressive people in Greece woke up to shocking news last week, when Kathimerini – one of the most respected newspapers in the country – ran a story claiming that Donald Trump has a large following among the Greek community of New York.
The news claimed a part of the public sphere discourse, which is of course trapped in a brutal 24-hours news cycle, as pundits and commentators tried to deal with the fact that one of the largest expatriate communities of the Greek diaspora seems to be under the spell of the most populist, potentially dangerous man in global politics at the moment.
Kathimerini’s news story is based on discussions held with members of the Greek American community in Astoria, the New York suburb that still hosts the majority of Greek-owned businesses. The paper’s reporter spoke to no more than ten people, most of whom seem to agree with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, praising him as a hard-working, successful businessman who is not part of the establishment.
Ten people hardly qualify as spokespeople of the majority of Greek Americans, which makes the paper’s headline ‘Why Astoria votes for Trump by a landslide’ seem an exaggeration, to say the least.
Gregory Pappas, at least, seems to think so. Responding swiftly, he wrote an angry article in his website Pappas Post (an outlet of diaspora news), aptly titled ‘No, Kathimerini readers; all of Astoria isn’t voting for Donald Trump’. Pappas conducted his own “unscientific survey” via Facebook messenger, SMS message and email, asking about 100 of his acquaintances (“including many Republicans”), whether or not they are Trump supporters; 87 of them responded (about ten times more than those quoted in Kathimerini’s article) and only one among them, identified as a Republican, was pro-Trump, saying: “Yes, but please don’t publish my name. I would never publicly acknowledge it.”
All this could be taken lightly and dismissed as a regular example of Greeks contradicting or fighting one another (those based in Greece dismissing the diaspora as ‘conservatives’ living in the ’50s, those based in New York dismissing the poor reporting of one journalist who spoke to a handful of people, etc.), using the kind of arguments one usually hears in a Greek taxi, or a taverna after a couple of glasses of ouzo. But there are some realities that perhaps should be addressed.
Not least among them is that Greece is hardly the beacon of progressive views we might want to think it is. The country, after all, is led by a coalition of populist parties – one spewing a stale leftist rhetoric, the other expressing the most exorbitant conservative right-wing views.
Its main opposition is a right-wing party featuring all kinds of aspects of the right, from the neo-liberal market hawks to the extreme right. And the third most powerful party is a shameless group of Nazi-worshipping thugs and murderers. So no, Greece is not in a position to lightly dismiss anyone rooting for Trump – and let’s not forget that the Greeks of New York might be “mostly registered Democrats”, as Pappas claims (and Hillary Clinton surely counts some of the wealthiest Greek Americans among those financially supporting her campaign), but New York claims to have a branch of Golden Dawn, spreading the views of the Nazi party in the community, especially among the older, the uneducated, those who believe that the wave of immigration is a threat to their way of life.
These are the people who are prone to a populist leader, and they are part of a global wave. Europe, after all, has been regressing to conservatism and right-wing populism as a response to financial instability and the refugee crisis. In the UK, Nigel Farage’s anti-immigrant, anti-EU message has been influencing the ‘Brexit’ movement which may win the referendum in June; in France, nationalist leader Marine Le Pen has high hopes of challenging François Hollande in next year’s presidential election; in Austria, a country central to the refugee crisis, Norbert Hofer finished first in the initial round of the presidential elections on an anti-immigration campaign; in Hungary, ultra-nationalist Viktor Orbán built a wall to protect his country’s border from refugees coming from Greece; in Poland Beata Szydło all but ruled out the possibility that her country would accept migrants from Syria and other countries. Austerity-stricken, the European population is becoming poorer, more afraid, xenophobic and prone to the message of populist, right-wing, anti-immigration reactionaries.
For the US, the situation is not much different. For all Barack Obama’s accomplishments, reducing his countries deficit, creating jobs and introducing a widely inclusive platform of medical care, people are still disillusioned, facing poverty, racism, marginalisation and severe inequality. Some have turned to Bernie Sanders, inspired by his anti-establishment message. Others have fallen under Donald Trump’s spell.
Having defeated all other contenders of the Republican party nomination, he is often compared to Hitler – and mostly Mussolini, echoing the Italian Duce’s platform of non-ideas. His campaign has been all about himself and it seems that people are willing to vote for someone with an unclear political agenda, eager to embrace contradictory policies, running on one issue: himself. The Greek Americans who believe him to be a ‘self made outsider’ (despite the fact that his wealth is inherited, that he has strong ties to the political establishment, providing support for different parties in the past, and that he has emerged from the same celebrity-creating mechanism that has become the modern media), are not just ignorant; they are willingly turning a blind eye to reality, preferring to be lured by a populist bullying his opponents. Once again, an alpha male is leading the pack to unknown grounds. The outcome might be devastating.