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his has been an unusual year to be a for-

eign correspondent in Washington, D.C.

Apart from the usual excitement about

the question who is going to be elected

president of the world’s most powerful

country, this year has something else to

it, some other kind of spice to season our

daily coverage.

The “Donald Trump phenomenon”

dominates not just the U.S. news cycle, but the daily coverage

our bureau is producing for our Austrian audience. Indeed, it

has created so much interest throughout the entire world that

it has only been overshadowed by the horrific terror attacks in

France, Germany and Turkey.

The most common question friends, family members and

our viewers and listeners ask me is this: “How can someone like

Donald Trump become the nominee of a major American politi-

cal party?”

Some of you might expect me to answer that question with

some sort of finger-pointing or anti-American schadenfreude,

which is often an easy out for foreigners. But I must disappoint

You Are Not Alone,


Donald Trump might be uniquely American in his demeanor and rhetoric,

but to Austrians the factors behind his startling success are not.


Verena Gleitsmann has been a correspondent with the

Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) in Washing-

ton, D.C., since August 2013. Prior to her posting in the

United States, she worked at the foreign policy desk of

ORF Radio in Vienna, reporting from Finland, Venezuela, Afghani-

stan and Greece. She was born in Vienna, and holds a B.A. in politi-

cal science from the University of Vienna. Twitter: @VGleitsmann

you in that regard. While Donald Trump might be uniquely

American in his demeanor and rhetoric, the underlying factors

behind his success are most certainly not. In my home country of

Austria, as well as in France, the United Kingdom and elsewhere

in the West, we see similar figures and trends.

Elite vs. Outsiders

In June, Britons shocked the world with their “Brexit” vote to

exit the European Union. The “Remain” campaign was narrowly

defeated (52-48) despite being led by then-Prime Minister David

Cameron; his successor at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May; the

majority of members of Parliament; and even important pop-

culture idols like David Beckham and Eddie Izzard—in short,

the so-called elites. The “Leave” result was a win for the populist

political groups that orchestrated a fight for “independence” from

Brussels and the London elite, drawing upon the same fears and

xenophobia that underpin Trump’s success.

On May 22, Austria held the second round of its own presi-

dential election. It was the first in my lifetime that was too close

to call on election day. Absentee ballots narrowed the margin of

victory for Alexander van der Bellen, a retired economics profes-

sor and former leader of Austria’s Green Party, over right-wing

candidate Norbert Hofer, to a mere 31,000 votes.

Hofer and his Freedom Party (FPÖ) had speculated about

a rigged election well before voting occurred (does that sound

familiar?) and immediately challenged the outcome. The Consti-

tutional Court of Austria overturned the May 22 result, citing pro-

cedural errors in the vote count, and scheduled a rerun for early

October. Even though the court made it clear that there were no