The rather unexpected popularity of the American businessman and his almost certain Republican nomination victory, brings to mind the unexpected sweep of the leftist political leader in Greece. And although Tsipras and Trump are the two polar opposites of the political spectrum, their campaigning methods are very similar. So similar to the point that one would think that, deep inside, they both harbor secret totalitarian wishes.
Tsipras comes from the Greek Communist Party youth (KNE). He is the product of strict leftist dogma but with lots of Mediterranean youth carelessness and good humor. Despite his affinity for Marxist and Leninist theories, in essence he was a boy who grew up in an upper middle class home and never faced any hardships. He got his engineering degree easily, had an equally easy military service and then he followed politics as a profession. His life was a breeze and he landed on the top seat of the SYRIZA party because he happened to be next to it in the right moment.
Trump, on the other hand, growing in the U.S., was a capitalist from the moment he understood what diapers were. He grew up to make money and his father saw to that and handed him his company. He turned out to be very successful at it. He had an easy life too. Now he wants to be an equally successful U.S. President.
Yet, the campaigns of these two men have so much in common that would make one throw away all political history books. For instance, Trump and Tsipras chose their voter pool very carefully and very cleverly. They both went for the disgruntled, the millions of people who fell victims to the economic crises the two countries faced. Trump promises to make America great again. A vague promise that appeals to the uneducated, or the desperate. Tsipras promised to bring back the dignity the Greeks lost during the time of the crisis. Another vague promise that doesn’t mean anything.
Tsipras and Trump promise things they can’t deliver, and they know it. Trump says America will be rich again with him in the White House, without explaining how exactly. Tsipras said that the debts of the Greeks will be written off along with the sovereign debt. Another pledge impossible to fulfill.
Then both men have exhibited that they don’t know how the rest of the world operates, the world outside their biases and dogmatic convictions. Cocooned in their sheltered lives, they declared left and right that they would change the world if elected. Trump said the terrorist hit in Paris would have never happened if he were president. Tsipras said that if the bad imperialists had not created ISIS, then there would be no such terrorist acts. Trump promises that the world will be different if he becomes president. Tsipras had said that if elected, he would change Europe. At least the Greek politician was more humble in his scope. In the eyes of the two men, the world is a simple place with good guys and bad guys and the good guys will win because the good guys is them. Is that so, or is it blatant, shameless populist tactics?
Watching Trump supporters speak to the Press now is like watching Tsipras supporters in Greece’s last two elections and the fiasco of a referendum: People who are happy to believe in a catchy slogan because they want to believe. Because it is simple, because it is a wish, enhanced by a crowd of like-minded people: “Let’s make America great!” “Let Greeks take Greece back from lenders!” “Islam hate us!” “Europe hate us!” “A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States!” “We are all refugees, we welcome refugees!” “No to Mexican migrants!” “No to the thieving Germans!” Sweeping generalizations fed to a public eager to shout them back.
Despite the fact that the two politicians have university degrees, they both seem uneducated and without culture. Trump’s crass materialism is very much like Tsipras’ leftist faux humanism. Both men see the world as black and white, hardly a quality for a fair, democratic leader.
Ironically, both appear as close-minded people who, for some unexplainable reason, think they are smarter and more sincere than the rest of the world. Most people outside the U.S. view Trump as a rich buffoon who decided to become president on a whim. Similarly, people outside Greece see Tsipras as an irresponsible, frivolous guy who, like a rebellious teenager, tries to impress by not wearing a tie. Neither of them is very respected outside their countries.
The two men are also isolationists. Trump would have been happy creating a great America with an even greater fence around it so that no undesirable element could enter. Tsipras would probably like to see Greece as an independent country, like a Balkan Venezuela, where he and his SYRIZA comrades could live out their Marxist fantasies. And too bad for both that reality gets in the way.
Demographically, Tsipras and Trump supporters are mostly poor. It is understandable that poor Greeks would like a politician who promised handouts. At the same time, Trump promises more jobs to poor, white Americans.
Both men created handy, outside enemies for their campaigns. For Trump it is Muslims from Syria or Mexican “rapists.” For Tsipras it was the Germans, the International Monetary Fund, the greedy loan sharks, meaning the European institutions that loan him money to play prime minister.
Their relationship with the Press is not a rosy one either. Criticism about their tactics and extravagant promises is considered by them as unfair, biased and malicious. “They better be careful or I will unleash on them,” Trump threatened after negative comments about him in The Wall Street Journal. Likewise, Tsipras is preparing to shut down the “corrupt” television channels and issue new licenses for only four television stations. Freedom of expression does not sit very well with both of them.
The worst similarity though is that Trump and Tsipras based their campaigns on division and hate. Like the worst authoritarians, they divided the population to “us” and “them.” “Whoever is not with us is an enemy.”
In the case of Tsipras, the Greek politician managed to turn Greeks against each other in order to facilitate his rise to power. Whoever was not a SYRIZA supporter was a “fascist,” a “ruthless neoliberal,” a “traitor,” a “slave to the Germans.”
Flagrant populism has helped Tsipras become the first leftist prime minister of Greece, and also the youngest. It remains to be seen if it will help Trump as well.