In the morning before the World Cup final, 15 July 2018, my sister and father found curious activities in their WhatsApp groups. There were messages in English asking people to support Croatia to win the World Cup, because Croatian players are devout Catholics. The messages said that the Croatians refused to stay in luxurious hotels and stayed in dormitories instead – when, in fact, they stayed at Forest Rhapsody Resort, 150 euros per night.
At the Sunday morning service, other men confirmed to my father that they received similar messages, and indeed they were supporting Croatia because the Croats were good Catholics. What about the French? France, unfortunately, is a land of lapsed Catholics and Muslims. They just didn’t say aloud that half of the French players are black.
The talk went nasty from there. People who had visited France complained that there were too many Arabs and Africans there. It’s the same story with other western European countries – the Netherlands, Germany, and even Italy. They said the European Union was harming Christianity with its liberalism, while letting Muslims and Africans in. They didn’t believe my father when he said that the Belgian star Romelu Lukaku is a Catholic.
After France won the World Cup, the mood got worse. People in dad’s WhatsApp group shared videos supposedly showing riots committed “by migrants” in Paris (no one shared the storming of an IKEA store in London by white English fans). These Indonesian commenters, ironically writing in Sundanese and Javanese, said “these brutes” deserved to be deported. Some said this is why Indonesia must reject immigrants. Never mind that as Chinese-Indonesians, they are seen as immigrants whereever they are.
Meanwhile, a senior from my high school wrote that he was reading the books of Donald Trump, and he found the man to be “inspiring”. He is a president with business background – his political inexperience is supposed to be a plus point. Trump has written two books with Robert Kiyosaki, a popular name in Indonesia a decade ago. Joko Widodo could learn from Trump in being tough against crime and the opposition, my senior wrote.
Perhaps it sounds inexplicable that some Indonesians can like Donald Trump. The whole world agrees that he’s a clueless and dangerous man, and very unpresidential. Don’t these Indonesians catch the news every day on how he’s endangering the world economy and world peace? What can be admired from him?
The active members of WhatsApp groups I mentioned are overwhelmingly Chinese-Indonesians above 40 years old, mostly Catholics. While they didn’t mention Trump, their messages were similar to white supremacists’ tweets I found in the same week. Croatians were lauded as the true winners of the World Cup because “they are real Europeans”, while the French are “just African mercenaries”. The message that the European Union “is declining” because of liberalism is repeated every day by white supremacists, and Christian supremacists in Indonesia copy and paste them into social media.
Islamophobia runs deep among several Christians Indonesians, and they see Trump as an anti-Islam leader. Evangelical Christians in Indonesia get their materials from the United States and Singapore, and American evangelists keep their faith on this immoral man based on several convictions. He lets Christian lawmakers have their way, he is stopping the decline of Christianity in America, and he appoints anti-gay, anti-abortion (paywall) people into his cabinet. If he’s good enough for Christian Americans, he’s good enough for Christian Indonesians. I am still figuring out the radicalization of Catholics in America, and how they have also influenced Indonesian Catholics.
There are two reasons why some Indonesians like Donald Trump. First is Islamophobia. Second is the support for white supremacy.
There are also alternative right (alt-right) Indonesians. They are aware that Trump is awful and incompetent, and like to share “dumb Trump” memes. They, however, believe it’s better that he’s leading United States instead of Hillary Clinton. They also hate socialism, so no love for Bernie Sanders either. Many of them were raised as Muslims but now declare themselves atheists, at least online.
I think alt-right Indonesians won’t read a Donald Trump’s book, but they prescribe to several writers, including the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. Harari himself is not a radical conservative, but for some reason the popularity of his books in Indonesia makes him a favorite writer of Indonesian alt-right. They are also defenders of Elon Musk.
There are two reasons why some Indonesians like Donald Trump. First is Islamophobia. Second is the support for white supremacy. Like the “Make America Great Again” crowd, these Indonesians believe that Trump’s control of the White House has checked the erosions of Christian values and of Western civilization.
Both the Christians and the alt-right believe that Islam is the biggest danger for their safety in Indonesia, and they also dislike the left and the progressives, including feminists. The Christians are not familiar with feminism (and won’t like a website sharing name with Mary Magdalene), but they associate it with the sins of abortion and lesbianism. The alt-right identifies feminists as enemies, since feminists call out their sexism, racism, and homophobia, while they are frustrated that feminists don’t share their Islamophobia.
Perhaps some Indonesians like Trump because Trump teaches that it’s cool to be a creep. That it’s cool to hate and to be selfish. But while it’s exhausting to care, it’s harmful to be…deplorable. Regular readers here know that religious bigots are not happy with their lives. Jakarta’s alt-right crowds maybe think they are tough enough for Jakarta, but you can bet things often don’t go their way because they like making life harder for other people. Trump himself is never a happy man.
People who like Trump have serious issues with their own lives. Like the man himself, they are not beyond destroying other lives to make themselves feel better. We hope that someday they will see that Trump is too ridiculous and too awful to defend, but so far, they are comfortable enough to share his hate against this world.
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