Hold the exhalations of relief about the supposed moderation of Donald Trump and the apparent demotion of Steve Bannon, his official strategist. With Trump’s all-but-explicit endorsement of Marine Le Pen, the French neo-fascist presidential candidate, it is now clear that he remains enthusiastic about the fascists who have rebranded themselves as “nationalists.”
Within hours after this week’s Paris terror attack – obviously mounted by ISIS to line up frightened French voters behind Le Pen – Trump issued a series of messages that played directly into that strategy. On Twitter he wrote, “Another terrorist attack in Paris… The people of France will not take much more of this…Will have a big effect on presidential election!”
Only hours later, the U.S. president – who should avoid endorsing foreign candidates – told the Associated Press that he expected the ISIS attack to bolster Le Pen, since she is “strongest on borders and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”
In this all-but-explicit endorsement of the leader of France’s neo-fascist party, Trump also resumed his role as a political stalking horse for Vladimir Putin. Having received Le Pen in Moscow, where she denounced sanctions and sucked up to Putin, Russia’s authoritarian president has mobilized his entire propaganda apparatus behind her. Three years ago, her party received a $10 million loan from a Moscow-affiliated bank. And now Trump has stepped in to help, too.
Kremlin support for the French ultra-rightist is only one instance of a far broader Russian outreach toward fascistic elements across Europe, extending from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece and the Northern League in Italy to the anti-Semitic nationalist Jobbik Party in Hungary and neo-Nazi gangs in Norway. Sometimes blatant, sometimes secret, and sometimes outsourced to local groups, these provocations may or may not reflect Putin’s own ideology. But their purpose is obvious enough – to disrupt and disorganize the democratic West, which still dares to criticize Russian human rights abuses and imperial ambitions.
So Marine Le Pen, like every neo-fascist politician subsidized by the Kremlin, opposes the Western alliance in all its forms. She would remove France from the European Union and NATO – the true target of Putin’s scheming.
Now any normal American administration would regard Putin’s promotion of neo-fascist electoral entities in Europe as a danger to U.S. national security interests. But the Trump administration is anything but normal, expressing support for the very elements that are undermining our traditional alliances on behalf of our traditional adversaries. Lately, Trump has given lip service to NATO, presumably under pressure from his defense secretary James Mattis and his national security adviser H.R. McMaster. But his blatant boosting of Le Pen proves that his NATO turnaround earlier this year was hollow.
Fascist themes have emanated from Trump and his circle almost from the beginning of his presidential campaign. His chief strategist, Bannon, seems drawn to fascist ideologues such as the late Julius Evola and Putin’s “philosopher” Alexander Dugin, who has cemented Russian ties with Golden Dawn and declared that “American liberalism (i.e., democracy) must be destroyed.” And among Trump’s national security aides is a former Jobbik politician, Sebastian Gorka, who has sported the insignia of a Nazi Hungarian militia.
In short, there is an obvious reason why the Trumpists would feel affinity toward the Kremlin, whose political think tanks, intelligence agencies, and foreign propaganda machinery went so far to help elect the Republican last year. The stakes of the investigation into Russia’s illegal intervention in the 2016 election keep rising, and may well swell again with the French election. Nobody should maintain any illusions about who Trump and his cronies are, what interests they serve, and what kind of threat they pose to the future of the democratic world.