Donald Trump and Alexis Tsipras could not be more different. Trump is the famous septuagenarian from the United States whose fortune Forbes magazine estimates at more than $4 billion (“Lies! I’m worth more than 10 billion,” he says). Tsipras, 40 years old, is the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) and prime minister of Greece. While Trump’s opulent mansions receive extensive media coverage, Tsipras lives in a modest apartment in a working-class neighborhood of Athens. One flaunts his riches while the other speaks out against inequality.
Tsipras and Trump have recently captured the world’s attention. Tsipras struggles with the catastrophic crisis in his country, and Trump aspires to the presidency of the United States as the Republican Party’s candidate. Tsipras turned to the European Union, asking for immense amounts of money for the Greek economy and simultaneously tried to avoid the economic reforms that his creditors demanded and that he had promised never to make. Thus, the prime minister of Greece managed to infuriate the European leaders with whom he negotiated, as well as the Greeks who believed him when he promised to end austerity measures. In addition, Tsipras did not hesitate to demand that Greece’s parliament endorse several resolutions, which, some days before, he had denounced as “criminal measures” imposed by “financial terrorists.”
Donald Trump is no less talented at infuriating the public. He has angered the leaders of the Republican Party, as well as millions of Mexicans and, in general, Latinos, who currently make up 17 percent of the population of the United States. He declared, among other nonsense, that the United States should have invaded Mexico instead of Iraq, and that if he became president, he would force the Mexican government to pay for the construction of a wall along the more than 3,000-kilometer (approximately 1,860 miles) border that exists between the United States and its southern neighbor. Why? To prevent the entry of Mexicans, who, according to Trump, “bring drugs, bring crime, and are rapists.” The aspiring presidential candidate has also stated, “They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. Now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. The United States has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s problems.” The leaders of the Republican Party watch with horror as Trump alienates Latinos, whose votes are essential to win the election.
They have responded quickly to these and more of Trump’s provocations. Several companies have cancelled their contracts, a flood of editorials have denounced him and many Republicans, even Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have criticized him. Recent meticulous studies show that Trump’s assertions are based on erroneous premises and false data. A report from the American Immigration Council shows that immigrants (legal or not), regardless of their country of origin or level of education, have lower crime rates than people born in the United States, and that when rates of immigration increase, crimes rates drop. None of this has been important to voters. According to the polls, Trump occupies first place among the 15 contenders to the Republican presidential candidacy. His erroneous position on immigration has proven profitable.
Something similar happened to Tsipras. His incompetence and unkept promises should have sunk him, but until now, that has not been the case. He will probably be known for his opportunism and incompetence, but the incredible ineptitude of his European adversaries is saving him.
The numbers and premises on which the agreement that Tsipras had to sign are as false as those that Trump uses to support the barbarities he says. The prime minister has said that he accepted the agreement because they put a knife to his back, but he does not believe in what he signed. The International Monetary Fund doubts the viability of the agreement, and Wolfgang Schauble, the finance minister of Germany, maintains that Greece would be better off without the agreement and outside of the eurozone.
Worst of all is that Tsipras and Trump symbolize two tremendously important issues for humanity: how to rescue an economy that is derailing and how to handle the challenge of immigration. Both are complex problems, and reducing them to simple statements about austerity or immigrant crime hinders the search for viable, sustainable and reasonable alternatives. The U.S. magnate and the Greek activist have muddied the world debate on crucial issues.
Donald Trump will not become president of the United States, and Greece will not fulfill the commitments to which it has agreed. However, Tsipras and Trump will continue to be the protagonists of two inexcusable farces.
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