Populism rules Trump’s presidency as protests and petitions make headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. With Trump at the wheel, the far-right and alt-right minority are bulldozing what Barack Obama called “American values”. This is unfettered populism: an alienated mob mobilised against what they call the privileged elite. 

Populism and nationalism are hazardous political tools threatening the globe politically and financially as “we the people” are rallied by fake news. The smug right wing see Trump’s executive order travel ban against seven “countries of concern” as him making good on a campaign promise.

The unsavoury sleight of hand that’s behind the ban includes blaming an attack against Canadian Muslims on a Muslim to justify scapegoating a number of legal refugees as part of a larger plan to dial up the volume on the public’s fear and anger.

Populism is an “us vs them” argument, touted as the will of the people. In reality, the high price of populism is paid not just by the citizens that support such leaders, but by all of us in myriad ways. History proves it’s a volatile political tool; fuelling both world wars, and countless other conflicts, populism is democracy’s enemy.   

Spicer’s justification and fake news

White House Speaker Sean Spicer exploited the attack on a mosque in Quebec City as the rationale behind Trump’s travel ban. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clearly condemned the terrorist attack on Muslims.  But Spicer inferred the false report by Fox News that the suspect was a Moroccan Muslim, was true, saying “It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the President is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security”. The terrorist was a white Trump supporting Canadian troll who was known to be rabidly anti-immigrant. Among the costs of Trump’s policy are those six people’s lives and the risk that other Muslims will be both targeted and scapegoated by populists.

Immigration ban, a campaign promise (nearly) kept

It’s easy to see why Trump’s travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries provoked outrage at US airports and in over 30 cities. Polled on Friday, only 45% of Americans queried approved of his first week job performance. More than 40 million people living in the US were born elsewhere and immigrants and their families account for almost one in four Americans. 

This ban’s origins go back to Trump’s pompous announcement after a 2015 shooting in California. To attract anti-Muslim supporters, he said: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.” 

Crowds already cheered him for suggesting surveillance against mosques and a database for all Muslims living in the US. The ban he’s ordered wouldn’t have prevented that shooting by a US born American of Pakistan descent and his wife who was legally residing in the US. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says Trump asked him how he could legally implement a “Muslim ban”. Giuliani advised he focus on “areas of the world that create danger for us”. All Trump had to do to appease his followers was rework Obama’s document listing seven “countries of concern”.  

“Shame on May”

US President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies are rubbishing any goodwill he forged when Prime Minister Theresa May visited him the day the ban was issued. Trump grinned broadly when May said he’d agreed to a summer state visit but the Foreign Office now says it puts the queen in “a difficult position”. A petition on the government’s website has surpassed a million signatures calling for Trump’s invitation to be rescinded and May has been accused of appeasing Trump by protesters in London and across the UK.  

Over 100 diplomats signed the “Dissent Channel”, recording their views on policies they are familiar with. One reason they’re against the ban is that it discourages the inside cooperation that is essential for foiling terror plots against the US and the UK. Foreign officers said it also increases risks because it's a boon to Jihadist recruitment. 

Fear and Anger: Authoritarian tools for division

Pro-Trumpsters and protesters alike are driven to opposing agendas by emotions that have been cultivated for years: Fear and anger directed at ‘the other’. Divide and conquer, one of Machiavelli’s most potent strategies is even more effective today; it's the constant focus on Fox, the president’s favourite TV channel. The celebrity from The Apprentice in the White House positioned himself as the most powerful man in the world by using masterful divide and conquer moves.  

Trump’s justified his authoritarian edict saying it protects Americans. The ban plays on fears instilled by September 11, which is mentioned in the order, although none of the 19 terrorists were from the seven restricted countries.  The fear of Muslims that world events and fake news cultivated is opposed by those protecting people caught in Trump’s travel net. It’s a tennis match where anger is served and fear is returned, in volleys that can only escalate.

The world pays for populism, in at least 5 ways:

1. Extra security at airports and in cities is costly, so taxpayers worldwide pay more or lose services. Social services budgets providing shelter for the increasing numbers of homeless, treatment for the mentally ill and addicts are already stretched. Trump’s use of the word “carnage”, is prophetic as increased policing follows his policies.

2. Trump’s ban might have triggered the Canadian attack, and more terrorist attacks may occur worldwide. Similar bans could be copied by other countries.

3. Trump’s populism is seen as a threat to the European Union that’s greater than Brexit, according to the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt. He describes Trump and his advisor Stephen Bannon as “one of the main three existential threats facing the European Union.” 

4. Immigrant workers in the US sent about $582bn in remittance worldwide in 2015. It’s difficult to calculate the myriad benefits this money transfer brings to poor communities. If those in banned countries can’t rely on money sent from family in the US, they’re more likely to be forced to work for ISIS or other terrorist organisations. 

5. Syrians bore the brunt of Trump’s ban, being stopped from arriving indefinitely. With 5 million refugees the US only took in 12,486 last year. There wasn’t discrimination against Christian refugees who arrived in equal numbers despite Trump’s fraudulent claim that it was “impossible” for Christian Syrians to enter. It’s impossible now, of course.