BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, as Donald Trump won primaries in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois, he talked about huge his victories were.
DONALD TRUMP: Everybody's writing about it. All over Europe, all over the world they’re talking about it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In this case, Trump’s grand assertion was not entirely an exaggeration. In an op-ed published this week by the state-run Global Times, the Chinese government used Trump’s rise as an object lesson on the perils of democracy, quote, “Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections, a heavy lesson for Western democracy.” Even if Trump is simply a false alarm, the impact has already left a dent. The US faces the prospect of institutional failure.”
Simon Denyer is China bureau chief for the Washington Post. Simon, welcome to On the Media.
SIMON DENYER: It’s good to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So I mean, it’s not the first time China has taken advantage of American-style mayhem. I remember after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the government took the opportunity to point out American inferiority and all-around hypocrisy, right?
SIMON DENYER: You’re right. I think this is different because they’re really crowing about the failure of democracy. And this – and this really plays into one of the Communist Party's big arguments here, that one-party Communist rule stands for stability and democracy is inherently unstable. So when they see democracy, as they put it, electing somebody who incites violence or somebody who's racist, they can't help telling their people, look at that, look at democracy. You don’t really want that, right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You tried to pick apart basically what was underneath the message, that it wasn't about Trump at all.
SIMON DENYER: That’s right. It’s about whether democracy is a good system. So, first of all, one thing they said is, well, we all know that voting for people doesn't do any good, so why not vent your anger and vote for Trump. The other thing that they said, of course, is that, you know, democracy leads to fistfights, leads to people arguing with each other and I think it's one of the big pillars of Communist Party legitimacy, that without the Party China would be unstable.
But it’s important to realize here that this is something they've really twisted [LAUGHS] around. They’ve alighted a big part of China's own Communist Party history.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you mean? It’s been absolutely smooth sailing since Chairman Mao.
SIMON DENYER: Right, well, let’s talk about Chairman Mao for a second. You know I mean, the Cultural Revolution, the great leap forward, famine which killed tens of millions of people, an era of absolute chaos, terrible suffering. So one-party rule is pretty dangerous when you’ve got an extremist in charge or someone who's unbalanced. They forget that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think we get what the government feels about Trump. Do you have any sense of people across the political spectrum, what kind of take they have on him?
SIMON DENYER: Yeah, I mean, it, it's very hard to tell what people really think in China because so much of, of it is censored and so much of it is filtered through the Communist Party's own system. But people do express their opinions on social media. There are people who are pro-US, who are pro-democracy and freedom of speech who wouldn't particularly like Trump.
[LAUGHS] You know, the funny thing is that there were a few people in the US, Chinese dissidents, and not just Chinese dissidents, Vietnamese dissidents and Cuban dissidents, and they said there’s surprising support for Donald Trump among people like that. The reason was they thought, well actually, he’s strong, he’ll stand up to China, he’ll stand up to China on a range of things, including perhaps, you know, the way China treats his own citizens.
Now, that view has completely changed. They have been disabused of that notion, if you like, in the last week, when at the latest Republican debate, Donald Trump talked about the Tiananmen Square protesters as rioters and seemed to be praising China's government for showing a strong hand and putting them down.
DEBATE MODERATOR JAKE TAPPER: You’ve said, quote, “They were vicious, they were horrible but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”
DONALD TRUMP: I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong powerful government that put it down with strength and then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.
SIMON DENYER: I mean, if some of them were attracted to Trump, none of them are now. They’ve really changed their view.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how about the view towards Hillary Clinton or, or Bernie Sanders, for that matter?
SIMON DENYER: Well, I don’t think that many people know much about Bernie Sanders, but they do know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has always stuck up for human rights, for women's rights in China. That makes her popular with some people in China. It doesn't make her popular with the government and it doesn't make her popular with people who follow and believe in government propaganda, which is a large proportion of the population. So there is a strain of thought, which was expressed on [LAUGHS] social media, as well, you know Donald Trump might be scary but anyone's better than Hillary Clinton.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Boy, that sounds familiar. Simon, thank you very much.
SIMON DENYER: That's a pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Simon Denyer is China bureau chief for the Washington Post. We spoke to him via Skype.
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BOB GARFIELD: It’s not just the Chinese government weighing in on Trump’s ascent. The Economist’s Global Forecasting Service recently rated a Trump presidency among the top ten global risks, right up there with the collapse of the European Union and the Jihadi terrorist threat. Back in December, the British Parliament considered a measure that would have banned Trump from visiting the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron opposed it but he also opposed Trump.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: I think his remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong, and I think if he came to visit our country, I think he’d unite us all against him.
BOB GARFIELD: Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tweeted to Trump, “You are a disgrace, not only to the GOP but to all America. Withdraw from the US presidential race, as you will never win.”
And a German newspaper recently quoted Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel, saying that, quote, “Right-wing populists like Trump are not only a threat to peace and social cohesion but also to economic development.” And former Mexican President Vicente Fox had this to say about one of Trump's chief campaign promises:
FORMER MEXICAN PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: I declare I’m not going to pay for that [BLEEP] wall.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On the question of that [BLEEP] wall, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed with Fox, albeit more Canadianly.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Being open and respectful towards each other is much more powerful as a way to defuse hatred and anger then layering on, you know, big walls and oppressive policies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa sees an upside to Trump. This week he suggested that while a Trump victory would be bad for the US, it could invigorate progressive Latin American leaders. And at least one world leader is unreservedly excited about Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
INTERPRETER FOR PRESIDENT PUTIN: He is a brilliant, intelligent person, without a doubt, but it is not our right to identify his virtues. It is the prerogative of the US voters.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another upside: Trump sets the bar so comfortably low, it’s easy for even the most bellicose politician to vault, for example, when Trump called for closing US borders to all Muslims, quote, “until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” he was likened to the far-right president of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, to which she said, seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that? And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he rejects Trump's remarks about Muslims. So, we got that going for us.
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BOB GARFIELD: And that’s it for this week show. On the Media is produced by Kimmie Regler and Meara Sharma, Alana Casanova-Burgess, Jesse Brenneman and Mythili Rao. We had more help from Dacha Lisitsina and David Conrad, and our show was edited - by Brooke.
Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Cayce Means and Casey Holford.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC's vice president for news. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I’m Brooke Gladstone.