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Trump parrots scaremongering and hysteria of Europe's far-right

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Demonstrators hold placards at a protest outside Downing Street against US President Donald Trump. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Demonstrators hold placards at a protest outside Downing Street against US President Donald Trump. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Demonstrators hold placards at a protest outside Downing Street against US President Donald Trump. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

For more than a year, US President Donald Trump made it clear how he felt about refugees and other Muslim foreigners seeking to reach the United States: they were not welcome.

Mr Trump's rhetoric during the election campaign alarmed many Americans and foreigners alike, but his surrogates at the time mocked the supposed hysteria of his critics, insisting they should take him seriously, not literally.

It turns out we all should have taken Mr Trump both seriously and literally. An executive order signed on Friday at least temporarily barred entry to refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries - and unleashed chaos in both American airports and politics this weekend.

The international community largely reacted in shock and outrage at the move, which was implemented in a fog of confusion and prompted dramatic protests outside air terminals in many of the US's major cities. Democrats and even some Republicans condemned it as mean-spirited, ineffective and harmful to US interests.

Sure, the US does have a long, dark history of xenophobia. There have been yellow perils and red scares, internment camps and racist exclusion acts. But the Trump White House is operating on a radical nationalist ideology that we haven't quite seen before, one shaped by open contempt for its critics and opponents and seemingly built on the talking points of Europe's far right.

Mr Trump has found common cause with a host of hardline, populist and anti-immigrant politicians in Europe, all of whom preach a similar brand of angry cultural nationalism and reject open trade, international institutions and other hallmarks of the liberal global order. Their gains in recent years mirrored Mr Trump's rise and inspired the American president.

Nowhere is the far-right surge more visible than in its efforts to block tens of thousands of Syrian refugees from seeking sanctuary in the West. Its arguments, while couched in security concerns, are explicitly cultural: Influential far-right politicians like France's Marine Le Pen or Dutch populist Geert Wilders claim their nations are locked in a clash of civilizations with Islam and its adherents. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the most outspoken anti-refugee head of government in Europe, styled himself as a defender of Western Christendom and built a wall on his southern border.

Mr Trump joined them on the parapets and parroted their scaremongering. He conjured up a world where hordes of Syrian refugees and other malefactors were flooding into the United States, where the Paris attackers could end up in Portland, where we simply "don't know what's going on". It was a world of disaster and fear only he could set right.

Of course, none of this was particularly true. The EU's open internal borders and proximity to the Middle East create security conundrums the US, blessed by its geography, does not have. The existing American refugee resettlement program already involves "extreme vetting" - a rigorous process of checks that can take up to two years. The permanent residents (or 'green card' holders) whom Mr Trump's advisers also sought to block have gone through months, if not years, of checks to win their legal status.

Mr Trump issued a statement on Facebook on Sunday evening pushing back against the widespread criticism of his executive order, saying the list of countries identified in the ban was one drawn up earlier by the Obama administration (the comparison was quickly debunked). "This is not about religion," Mr Trump said.

But for Mr Trump's chief White House adviser, former Breitbart head Stephen K Bannon, it almost certainly is. Mr Bannon is Mr Trump's main ideologue, a nativist, a champion of a kind of Christian nationalism and a figure of increasing power behind the scenes.

At a conference of European conservatives at the Vatican in 2014, he said he believed the West was "at the beginning states of a global war against Islamic fascism". His politics - and thus much of Mr Trump's - combine economic populism with ethnic nationalism. This may seem somewhat out of place in the US, where the Republican Party has long defended the interests of free traders and corporate elites. But it's squarely in line with the older European tradition of ultra-nationalism, and those Europeans now see Mr Trump's victory and policies as harbingers of things to come on their own shores.

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