This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
By the time you read this, the latest brouhaha will undoubtedly be history -- or do I mean "fake history"? -- and largely forgotten. It will have been replaced by an explosion of media coverage about some other nightmarish set of presidential tweets or comments. After all, it's a pattern. I'm referring to President Trump's recent retweeting of three videos of purported Islamic mayhem. They came from the Twitter feed of Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a British ultranationalist group, Britain First, that had previously sparked its own terror incident, the stabbing to death of Labor parliamentarian Jo Cox by a man shouting "Britain First!" In 2016, Fransen herself was convicted of "religiously aggravated harassment" for abusing a Muslim woman in a hijab in front of her children. One of those videos of hers supposedly showed a "Muslim immigrant" in Holland beating up a boy on crutches. (The incident actually happened, but the attacker was neither a Muslim nor an immigrant.)
When criticized by British Prime Minister Theresa May for using the fraudulent materials of such an extremist group, our commander-in-tweet lashed out (initially tweeting the wrong Theresa May) and wouldn't back down or even remove the videos from his Twitter feed. Fransen, who instantly gained 22,000 new Twitter followers for her fringe positions in England, thanked him fervently. ("God bless you Trump! God bless America!") Meanwhile social media lit up with Islamophobic sentiments both in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Such events are regularly reported as uncontrollable presidential interruptions of other important events on the Trump agenda -- that week, the Republican tax "reform" bill -- which only frustrate his chief of staff, flummox his advisers, and generally distract the administration from everything that truly matters. Don't believe it for a minute. There's method, however intuitive, in Trump's madness, in those endless tweetish controversies, in his regular immersion in conspiracies (think: birtherism), implosions that plunge the president and his 43.6 million Twitter followers into a deep, dark world alive with horror and terror, whether of the Muslim or even the football variety.
As TomDispatch regular John Feffer, author of the new book Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe's Broken Dreams, points out today, the "wild conspiracy theories" that go with this sort of politics have lifted not just Trump, but a whole raft of right-wing authoritarian types to power across Eastern Europe in recent years. This sort of thinking, especially with an Islamophobic edge, has helped drive Trump and a whole set of Trump-like Eastern European leaders to unimagined heights of success and has helped them remain there, too. So don't expect the president's outbursts, his Islamophobic tweets, or any of the rest of it to end soon. It rallies the base. It works and he knows it.
As Feffer explains today, those Eastern Europeans learned all of this long before Donald Trump hit the political stage. So what they've done and how they've lasted is worth taking a moment to contemplate as you consider Donald Trump's future (and ours). Think of their examples as warnings not to sell him and the method in that madness of his short. Tom
What's the Matter with Eastern Europe?
Welcome to the Birthplace of Trumpism
By John Feffer- Advertisement -
He was a rich businessman, an outspoken outsider with a love of conspiracy theories. And he was a populist running for president.
In 1990, when Donald Trump was still beyond the furthest outskirts of American politics, Stanislaw Tyminski was trying to become the new president of post-communist Poland. He shared something else with the future Trump: nobody in the political elite took Tyminski seriously.
That was a mistake. He was the standard-bearer for a virulent right-wing populism that would one day take power in Poland and control the politics of the region. He would be the first in a long line of underestimated buffoons of the post-Cold War era who started us on a devolutionary path leading to Donald Trump. Tyminski's major error: his political backwardness was a little ahead of its time.
In true Trumpian fashion, Stan Tyminski couldn't have been a more unlikely politician. As a successful businessman in Canada, he had made millions. He proved luckless, however, in Canadian politics. His Libertarian Party never got more than 1% of the vote.
In 1990, he decided to return to his native Poland, then preparing for its first free presidential election since the 1920s. A relatively open parliamentary election in 1989, as the Warsaw Pact was beginning to unravel, had produced a solid victory for candidates backed by the independent trade union, Solidarity. Those former dissidents-turned-politicians had been governing for a year, with Solidarity intellectual and pioneering newspaper editor Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister but former Communist general Wojciech Jaruzelski holding the presidency. Now, the general was finally stepping aside.
Running in addition to Mazowiecki was former trade union leader Lech Walesa, who had done more than any other Pole to take down the Communist government (and received a Nobel Prize for his efforts). Compared to such political giants, Tyminski was an unknown.- Advertisement -
All three made promises. Walesa announced that he would provide every Pole with $10,000 to invest in new capitalist enterprises. Mazowiecki swore he'd get the Rolling Stones to perform in Poland. Tyminski had the strangest pitch of all. He carried around a black briefcase inside which, he claimed, was secret information that would blow Polish politics to smithereens.
Tyminski managed to get a toehold in national politics because, by November 1990, many Poles were already fed up with the status quo Solidarity had ushered in. They'd suffered the early consequences of the "shock therapy" economic reforms that would soon be introduced across much of Eastern Europe and, after 1991, Russia. Although the Polish economy had finally stabilized, unemployment had, by the end of 1990, shot up from next to nothing to 6.5% and the country's national income had fallen by more than 11%. Though some were doing well in the new business-friendly environment, the general standard of living had plummeted as part of Poland's price for entering the global economy. The burden of that had fallen disproportionately on workers in sunset industries, small farmers, and pensioners.
Mazowiecki, the face of this new political order, would, like Hillary Clinton many years later, go down to ignominious defeat, while Tyminski surprised everyone by making it into the second round of voting. Garnering support from areas hard hit by the dislocations of economic reform, he squared off against the plainspoken, splenetic Walesa.