LONDON — No doubt Donald Trump will be thrilled that the entire world is mesmerized as he steamrolls over his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination.
He probably doesn’t care that most of the international publicity is bad publicity—but even the master of ill-tempered putdowns and Twitter vitriol will struggle to keep up with the sheer number of attacks and jibes pouring in from every corner of the globe.
He does have a select band of fans—more on those later—but they are being drowned out by an incredulity that stretches from Europe’s capitals to post-conflict Afghanistan; from the African deltas to Asia’s tiger economies.
With the Iowa caucuses just days away, people simply cannot understand how a man like Donald Trump could run a successful presidential campaign in the world’s most powerful nation.
“People are in disbelief; they think he is borderline crazy,” Magnús Sveinn Helgason, an Icelandic historian who worked on the national inquiry into Iceland’s financial crash, told The Daily Beast. “People are kind of scared about what it would be like to live in a world where he is one of the most powerful leaders.”
The interest and hostility toward Trump peaked after his remarks about banning Muslims from the country. A correspondent in Nigeria, a nation of more than 70 million Muslims, says: “Trump was trending on social media and believe me, he was the one man on earth Nigerians hated the most. He still is.”
Leaders from France, Egypt, Canada, the United Nations, and Saudi Arabia were among those to publicly criticize Trump for his proposed ban on entry to America on religious grounds.
In London, politicians held an unprecedented debate in Parliament about whether to introduce a tit-for-tat ban that would prevent Trump from traveling to Britain. The debate was tabled by Labour’s Paul Flynn after more than half a million members of the public signed a petition backing a ban.
“He does seem to be reckless, arrogant, impulsive—and those are his best qualities,” Flynn told The Daily Beast. “He doesn’t fit the mold of anyone’s idea of a statesman because of his rash statements, his flying off the handle to abuse friend and foe. There are few politicians that have been so obviously reckless in modern times; there were people like that before the last war, of course.”
Gawping at Trump has become a national pastime in Britain, a nation that usually pays little attention to international politics. The window in one barbershop in St. Paul’s, in central London, reads: “If Trump becomes President, there will be hell toupee.”
Flynn said the public had turned against Trump not just over his harsh words toward Muslims but for a number of offensive statements. “His remarks about women, and against the disabled journalist came pretty high up on the levels of revulsion against politicians. There are very few countries in the world where mockery of women and the disabled is acceptable.”
In Muslim Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered a stinging critique of Trump’s political acumen. “A successful politician would not make such statement,” he said. Erdogan, who has been either prime minister or president of Turkey since 2003, said Trump would face an embarrassing situation if he ever got to the White House. “I don’t know whether or not he’ll win, but let’s suppose he won. What will happen? Will he set aside all relationships with Muslim countries? A politician shouldn’t talk like this.”
He hasn’t only got flak from the government but also his business partners, suggesting his fiery political rhetoric could have financial implications. Bulent Kural, manager of a shopping mall at the Istanbul Trump Towers, a twin high-rise commercial and residential building, condemned what he said. “Such statements bear no value and are products of a mind that does not understand Islam, a peace religion, at all,” Kural said. The Trump Tower complex in Istanbul was developed by Turkish billionaire Aydin Dogan, who pays Trump for the name. His global brand could clearly suffer.
In China, his business reputation is already compromised, despite repeated bragging that he “knows China.” Over there, he is compared to the nutty Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao, who once tried to buy The New York Times.
It is well-known that in the ’80s and ’90s, he went to Hong Kong to look for investors who could help bail him out of a tight spot. Some local tycoons invited him to play golf for $1 million a hole, Trump realized he was being outmuscled and declined. The investors did eventually buy up part of Trump’s mortgage, for $82 million. When they cashed out for $1.8 billion a decade later, Trump was so furious that he sued them.
The average Chinese man on the street may not be following the American election, but the Global Times, an uber-nationalistic state-run media outlet, warned readers Thursday: “If you plan to visit New York sometime this year, take my advice: Try to stay away from Fifth Avenue because Donald Trump may be lurking there with a gun.”
Indeed, Gordon Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and Daily Beast contributor, said Beijing was paying close attention. “China is obsessed with Trump, just as Trump is obsessed with China,” he said. “State media takes his candidacy as proof that American democracy is flawed, comparing him to a ‘celebrity potato,’ for instance. Chinese netizens generally denigrate him as well, but in a country where Communist Party leaders are highly scripted, you can be sure they secretly admire someone who speaks his mind.”
On the other side of China’s mountainous border with Afghanistan, government officials in Kabul were equally unimpressed.
Zardasht Shams, the deputy minister of information, said they were still waiting to hear a real policy on how Trump would deal with the U.S. drawdown and post-conflict resolution. “Sorry, I’m not well updated on this fool’s policy or stand on Afghanistan,” he told The Daily Beast. “In general, Afghanistan, being a conservative and radical Muslim society, would hate and extremely dislike [Trump becoming president] and feel uncomfortable because of his anti-Muslim statements.”
The hostility toward Muslims has gone down better with some in Israel, where the statements have resonated with a growing far-right movement, which has called upon Israeli politicians to revoke Israeli Arabs’ citizenship and residency rights as a form of collective punishment.
These extremists see Muslims and Arabs as a barbaric enemy that understand only power and with whom the enlightened “Western” world cannot negotiate, and some see parallels here in Trump’s own worldview.
Within that far-right movement, a lot of Israelis see Trump’s brash racism as a refreshing dose of truth. While Trump scares many in the Israeli left, he has won credit among even the mainstream right for saying that the world should recognize Jerusalem as the country’s capital and Israel’s need for a separation wall, both of which President Obama and the international community have criticized.
Another potential friend is lounging on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Silvio Berlusconi, now 79, has had a low profile in Italy since being banned from public office in 2013 for tax fraud. He recently said his party still needs him, so he is claiming that his ousting was unconstitutional, and friendly words from Trump have been warmly welcomed. “I love Italy,” Trump said. “Berlusconi? He’s a great guy. I like him.”
Berlusconi seems to think this will help him back into power. He has always maintained close personal ties with Vladimir Putin and one might envision the three of them in a sort of club of global misfits if Trump is elected and Berlusconi is back in power.
In the rest of Western Europe, mainstream politicians and the media have been largely critical of the American property tycoon. In Germany, Der Spiegel published an article explaining “Trump’s World.” They concluded: “You can laugh about it, get angry about it—this man lives on his own planet.”
The Dutch magazine Elsevier tried harder to explain Trumps’ popularity in the polls. “Trump chooses Fort America… he’s obsessed with national identity. It is a mistake to dismiss him as a clown without ideology. He certainly has a nationalist ideology, which is in tune with the international Zeitgeist.”
Deeyah Khan, a filmmaker born in Norway, said there had been a real effect on Europe’s Muslim population, especially after Muslim and Sikh citizens were thrown out of Trump events.
“The Trump phenomenon shows us how much fear of Muslims there is out there, and how easily it can be exploited,” she told The Daily Beast. “The reaction of his followers to Rose Hamid and Arish Sing is deeply scary.”
When he announced his presidential run last summer, Le Monde described him in its headline, flatly but correctly, as an “eccentric billionaire.”
Since then, people in France and Belgium have learned that he casts his insults far and wide. At the beginning of the week, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business, she asked Trump about his plans to stop Muslims from entering the United States. He cited Paris and Brussels as places where Muslims were out of control and unassimilated: “You go to Brussels —I was in Brussels a long time ago, 20 years ago, so beautiful, everything is so beautiful—it’s like living in a hellhole right now.”
When the Belgian press translated hellhole idiomatically, it came out as “trou à rats,” or, literally, rat hole.
One showed a beautiful shot of La Grand Place, the square at the heart of Brussels, alongside Trump shouting: “WHERE is the #hellhole @realDonaldTrump? Brussels or your mouth???”
Someone else proposed a novel way to shut Trump up—and blocked up his mouth on Photoshop with a huge Belgian waffle.
Additional reporting by Christopher Dickey in France, Philip Obaji Jr in Nigeria, Barbie Latza Nadeau in Italy, Thomas Seibert in Turkey, Brendon Hong in China, Sami Yousafzai in Afghanistan, Shira Rubin in Israel, and Nadette De Visser in the Netherlands.