Trump’s Presidency Will Test American Citizens on the World Stage

Writer and Documentary Filmmaker

For once, America has not shown the way for Europe but the opposite. Philosopher and documentary filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy compares the path of Donald Trump to that of the former Italian president Silvio Berlusconi, who Lévy calls the “godfather of this sort of new spectacular populism, populism based on TV… Berlusconi, created the same sort of division which you are facing today in America.” Populist leaders like Trump and Berlusconi strip politics of its nobility, and treat their platform as a circus, he says. Trump’s politics will feed the global sentiment of anti-Americanism, so to mitigate the damage and repair its image, American citizens must stand-up to their “cartoon president,” says Lévy. Do not allow the policies that unfold over the next four years to be made in your name – the people must provide the checks and balances on the Trump administration. Bernard-Henri Lévy's most recent book is The Genius of Judaism.

Bernard-Henri Lévy's most recent book is The Genius of Judaism.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Bernard-Henri Lévy: I’m so sad when I remember the first speech of Barack Obama, which I heard in 2004 in the Democratic Convention endorsing John Kerry. He said, "There is no blue states and red states of America, I know only United States of America." So such a long way down since this first speech of the young senator of Illinois. We are so far from the United States of America, which he was thinking of at this time. America is divided as never because of what? A lot because of Mr. Trump, a lot because of the sort of campaign he did; vulgar, populist, aggressive, counting on fascists passions in part of his electorate. And this has created an unprecedented division in the American society. I like division. It belongs to democracy. It's part of democracy. Democracy is, of course, a society divided with itself inside itself but not to this point. 

if I had to make a parallel I would say probably Berlusconi. In general America show the road and Europe follows. And this time it's a European country who did show the world and America has followed. Because the pattern, the pattern. The godfather of this sort of new spectacular populism, populism based on TV, populism based on real television – is Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, exactly the same. He started with the same program as Donald Trump. He acted with women exactly as Donald Trump is reported, true or false, to behave. He had the same sort of despise of his enemies and of his friends as Trump, and he, Berlusconi, created the same sort of division which you are facing today in America.

And it's not very good news because this did cost a lot to Italy. Italy, which is the very fatherland of art and beauty was partly damaged, if not destroyed, by these Berlusconi eras, years. Because this sort of non-politics, it is not politics, politics is a brave great world. What Berlusconi or trump do is not politics it's something else. It’s a circus, it's games of circus, it's Game of Thrones. It's deals as Trump says, it's cool (coup?). It is not politics. It does not have the nobility of politics. So this sort of non-politics damages strongly a country. And for someone like me who is so attached to America – I was defined years ago by my friend Adam Gopnik as an anti-anti-American. Anti-Americanism for me is a plague. I hate that. It's a form of fascism – anti-Americanism as itself. And so for me I am such a lover of America, such a friend of America. I spent a month of my life touring America on the footsteps of Toqueville13 years ago. It's heartbreaking. 

If Trump has full powers, if he acts in America like in a shop of toys where he can buy the biggest toys or eat the best pastries and fill himself with the most creamy pastries he can find in the bakery then it will feed anti-Americanism. 

If the civil society in this country reinvents the checks and balances system, which will be frozen with a Republican party who gets everything, Congress, Senate, a lot of governors and so on. So the balance, the checks and balances have to come from elsewhere. From the churches, from the associations of citizens, from new protester movements which are still to be born. If this works then I think America will give to the world a new image of itself, which will be a great one, which will be an image of a great nation standing firmly on its feet and values and own words against a cartoon president, a caricature of your self.

If there is a sort of democratic uprising, democratic peaceful uprising of civil society saying, “Not in our name.” If abroad we have the feeling that some of the acts, which will be done are not done and taken in your name or in the name of a big part of the society, then maybe it will improve the image of America in the world.