The founder and Editor in Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group sat down with HuffPost Italy’s Lucia Annunziata in Rome to discuss the rise of Donald Trump and why Europe should be worried about the "myopia" of Angela Merkel.
What makes this American electoral campaign unique?
It's the first time a candidate running for president in the United States has called for a ban on an entire religion, Muslims. And even after making this proposal, he's still in the lead and being taken seriously by the media. The greatest danger I can see in this situation is that extremism could become mainstream, become systematic. There are extremists everywhere; the difference here is that the media is treating Trump like a legitimate candidate, when he's not. Even if he does boost ratings.
But some people in the media have tried to challenge him. The Huffington Post, for example, kept him in the entertainment section for a long time. Then that changed. Why?
Because of his proposal to ban Muslims. Now we're following him as a grave political danger. Every time we talk about him we repeat that he is sexist and racist, and we're always looking for new ways to denounce him for what he is. For example, we shot a video with a 13 year-old boy talking about why he doesn't want to grow up in Trump's America. It's a very moving testimonial, and has received over 2.2 million views. We'll do a lot of other things like this.
Like all demagogues, Trump preys on people's fears. We're experiencing a moment of great transition. We're in the middle of an industrial revolution, salaries for the middle class haven't grown, while economic inequality has increased, the US has lost two wars -- one in Afghanistan and another in Iraq -- and America is no longer a superpower.
So there really is some chance Trump might become president?
Of course there is. At Davos even David Gergen, who served as an advisor to a number of presidents, said so.
Conversely, does this mean we're facing major failure of the American Democratic party?
I'd say it's a failure for the entire political establishment, which hasn't understood the fears and anxieties of millions of Americans. When Obama and others say that the economy is doing well, in truth they're underestimating reality: productivity is high, but salaries are still low and people are exhausted, both physically and psychologically.
You've used the term "political establishment" instead of right and left...
At the Huffington Post, for years now we believed that the division between right and left has become obsolete. The big issues of our time -- climate change, inequality, technological revolution -- are neither right nor left wing. They have to do with global stability. This is exactly what the political establishment as a whole fails to understand."
The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, may run as an independent. Could he beat Hillary?
If the race is between Trump and Sanders, Bloomberg has a chance. If it's Hillary versus Trump then he doesn't have as much of a chance. Bloomberg is certainly thinking about it, but it will depend on the primaries.
Sanders and Trump… are they two faces of the same brand of extremism?
No, that's completely wrong. Anybody who interprets them this way is watering down the danger Trump represents. Sanders talks to young people, to the Millennials, who are asking for a more equal, less divided America. In the US, people still believe that Wall Street has yet to pay for the devastation of homes and elimination of pensions of millions of Americans. Just like what happened with the election of Corbyn in Great Britain. Also, in the US Millennials are the primary force behind the success of Sanders, a sort of reconnection between grandparents and grandchildren. Ultimately, Sanders is perceived as an authentic person, while Hillary isn't. The search for authenticity is a peculiarity of Millennials, and affects consumption, relationships, social media, everything.
Hillary is disappointing me. She is trying to get into the White House with the help of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, she’s relying on money from lobbyists. These are values that are foreign to those once championed by feminism…
For me, the most important thing is that she be clear about what she's proposing. I'm not surprised by her alliances. When you want to be elected president you use everything at your disposal. But I'd like to know more about what she supports, where she draws the line, what things she refuses to compromise on. With Sanders all that is clear, with Hillary it's not.
Does Hillary risk losing the elections?
Yes, but she's very good during election campaigns. She has the support of women and a large war chest she can rely on. She can win, even though she'll lose in Iowa and New Hampshire.
I'm listening to you, and I can't help but think how much The Huffington Post has changed. When I started working here, four years ago, it was a generically liberal newspaper. Today it seems to make much stronger positions, for example the defense of Tsipras in Greece. Or was that position dictated by your Greek origins?
More political? I don't think so. We're simply bigger, since we're now present in 15 countries. Above and beyond my Greek origins, I sincerely believe that Germany's position is unsustainable. They're defending punitive solutions that don't make any sense. You can't grow simply by cutting and slashing. The fact that the International Monetary Fund now wants to return to cutting pensions is inhumane, not to mention a disaster. My choice is dictated by common sense. If the European Union adopts measures that destabilize Greece, the latest of which concern immigrants, what do we gain? If Tsipras loses, either right or left-wing extremists will win. Is that really what Europe needs?"
Have you ever met German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Do you admire her? Respect her?
I have respect for her charisma, but I'm surprised by her shortsightedness, by her lack of understanding of history. If Germany hadn't had all its debt cancelled, the German economic miracle would never have happened."
Have you ever imagined returning to Europe at some point, leaving journalism behind and embracing a political career?
No, not at all. I believe that we’re in the best possible position to make a difference. Politics has become the last place to be for people who want to actually explain things...
This interview first appeared on La Repubblica and has been translated into English with permission and edited for clarity.