Following her travels in Europe, DW's Fanny Facsar has jumped the pond to the United States, where President Donald Trump is helping to reshape ideas of American nationalism. New York City greeted her with surprises.
What is Donald Trump's appeal in New York City?
Our series started in March. Since then I have traveled to several countries investigating different forms of nationalism. The Netherlands, France, Russia – to name a few. My trip to the USA was special because Donald Trump is seen by many as someone who set off a nationalistic wave by becoming the latest US President.
That wave, however, existed before Trump was running for office in the White House. Far-right parties across Europe, and members of the center right too (for instance, in Hungary) have been blasting their horns about "protectionism" and a "limited or complete ban of immigration." Still, the victory of Donald Trump in the United States, a country whose identity has been largely shaped by immigration, leaves a lot of people baffled on both sides of the Atlantic.
Why do people jump on the Trump train?
When I arrived in Manhattan, I met a lot of people who despise Trump, calling him "narcistic (sic), intolerant" or a "selfish, misogynist pig." These were views that I expected to hear in one the most liberal cities of the world. Likewise when it came to questions about American identity. Reactions highlighted the USA as a country of opportunities and optimism. One person said American identity is like "playing softball, hitting it hard and hoping for the best."
But not everyone is optimistic. When I read about a young journalist who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election but recently came out as a conservative in New York, I wanted to understand why people jump on the Trump train. Why does he appeal to people that you would normally consider on the left of the political spectrum? In the end, our protagonist backed out, citing discomfort that DW is a public media organization. Others canceled due to fears that if they publicly come out as a Trump supporter, they would be alienated by their liberal friends in New York. I eventually found someone who voted for Trump and was ready to talk about it on camera. Martina Markota. Her parents are originally from Croatia, she works as a burlesque dancer - or rather she worked. "I am blacklisted since I came out as a Trump supporter," Martina tells us.
"Let's save Western civilization" – from what?
She tells us it was important to her that we don't show where in Brooklyn she lives, citing her fears that extreme-left groups may threaten her. "On the subway people like us who support Trump are used to talk[ing] very quietly about their political views," she says. A lot has changed in a country that is known as a beacon of hope and a shining example of freedom of expression. The country is divided. Some of these changes are connected to Trump himself, who regularly tweets his disdain about members of the press once they share facts that are unpleasant – and which he often brushes off as fake. Martina says that the right-wing media also runs stories that she considers "fake." But her bottom line is, "We need Trump to save our Western civilization." Does that make her a racist? In the eyes of the left, "yes," she says.
DW's Fanny Facsar found Trump supporters in liberal New York City, though she had to look below the surface
But it wasn't her strong stance on illegal immigration and her support for a border wall that alarmed me alarmed the most. Rather, it was her openness to mingling with people of the "alt-right" – a loose group of extreme-right individuals whose adherents advocate white nationalism and often white supremacy as well. "There are some bad eggs in that group, but what they say is about protecting our American identity." And that is the danger of Trump's "America First" nationalism. It creates a space in which people feel encouraged to express their radical views under the banner of "making America great again."
Martina says she wants to "make art great again." Instead of leaving New York, she wants to shift art to the right. "Left-wing modern art sucks, it is all about shock value," she says. Martina wants art that is rebellious, too, but one that is supportive of the US and of Trump's policies. If Trump does not deliver, she hopes there is a right wing politician for whom she can vote in 2020. There are others like Martina who use sex-appeal and social media to find people joining the crowd as this group of enthusiastic nationalists appears increasingly mainstream.
I am leaving New York wondering: if nationalism comes packaged in an artsy way, will it become more acceptable to join the crowd? In New York most Trump voters did not vote for him because they feel left behind, but because they fear their Western identity is in danger. That alone marks the beginning of a new form of nationalism. And it's unclear what it will bring. One thing is certain thus far: Nationalistic views have intensified in the USA. Just how much will they increase?