Trump Contagion

The Trumpian delirium surpasses itself from one week to the next. The U.S. president’s tendency to free himself from facts and reality each time exceeds what was previously thought to be impossible and inconceivable.

On Saturday, in front of a crowd of supporters – Donald Trump is always campaigning, that’s all he knows how to do – he invented, purely and simply, a terrorist attack in Sweden to fuel his alarmism and to justify his policies on border control: “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’ve having problems like they never thought possible.”

A nonexistent event serves to justify an excessive and controversial policy. We repeat that Trump is delirious, that he has gone mad, that he spews falsehoods that are easy to refute. But for the important minority who follow him and will follow him until the end, every refutation is null and void. If the media claim that nothing happened in Sweden, nothing other than an ordinary, nonviolent Friday night … surely they are lying and hiding something from us.

The rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of the press, respect for the most elementary facts … all this is broken day after day by Trump’s words and actions to such an extent that John McCain, an Arizona senator and Republican who is critical of Trump, let slip, “That’s how dictators get started.”

Francois Fillon is certainly not Donald Trump. The official candidate of the right for the French presidency, the man who, at the November primary, crushed seasoned opponents like Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, is not a narcissistic sicko. Nor does he base his rhetoric on hallucinations, which are then the basis of delirious and menacing flights of fancy.

There’s no freak show in Fillon’s campaign, like last Thursday’s historic press conference at the White House, or like this Saturday’s rally in Florida, during which Trump suddenly pulled an invented Sweden of fire and blood out of his hat.

However, the turn that Fillon’s stalked campaign has taken over the last 10 days, his hand caught in the state’s butter dish – he who advocates austerity for the simple taxpayers – resembles, on a reduced scale, a Trumpian drift.

We note at the outset that Fillon’s popular support, after revelations of the fake jobs for which he paid his wife and two children, has certainly declined, but has not collapsed.

Still, the shock was a rude awakening. Fillon is no longer in first place. He dropped from getting 25 percent to 18 percent of intended votes, and he is now trailing Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen in the second round. But Macron’s notoriously volatile support makes it possible to question the accuracy of these numbers.

After accusing the satirical weekly newspaper that made the revelations of a smear campaign and promising that he would withdraw if he is formally accused of wrongdoing, Fillon did an about-face.

He now (like Trump) adopts the posture of the victim. A victim hounded (like Trump) by “incompetent” justice and “hateful” media. He says he will continue, “even if charged.” Like Trump, he has not really refuted the charges against him (perhaps because he has no evidence to the contrary). His rhetoric and his proposals (on justice and young people in particular) now lean more right.

It is as if a kind of contagion is spreading from one country to another, challenging, one after the other, the pillars that have long made up the greatness of the Western democratic system.

On both sides of the Atlantic we see contempt for the facts, denunciation of alleged conspiracies, systemic accusations against the media designed to paint them as “evil enemies,” all demonology thrown in the face of opponents, whether the media, the judiciary, or even skeptical citizens, and an appeal to the popular plebiscite above all else, be it the law, the truth, or separation of powers.

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