If one wants to see what Donald Trump and enablers want as the new template for America, look no farther than the nation of Hungary where democracy has died. True, a veneer of democratic forms remains, but the country is in essence run by a strongman/dictator. In some ways, it should not be surprising that Hungary has fallen to such a fate give the country's history - it was a constant problem for the imperial government of the Austrian Empire and even helped sabotage the war effort in WWI (the book Ring of Steel looks at this in depth) and played up ethnic tensions. But, back to the present day and how Hungary's democracy has died with the help of reactionary forces much like the base of today's Republican Party which prefers an autocrat over a democracy where those deemed "other" have rights and equal say. Andrew Sullivan looks at the insidious process in a piece in New York Magazine. Here are article highlights that ought to galvanize decent, moral Americans (which excludes evangelicals) to action, especially in the 2018 mid-term elections:
. . . . how you turn a prosperous 21st-century liberal democracy into an illiberal one, and then into a de facto dictatorship. There are no tanks; no mass arrests of opposition politicians; no coups; no direct assaults on the rule of law; and no new totalizing ideology. There is, in fact, no moment where you can definitively say that the liberal democracy has ceased to exist. But in Hungary, an upstanding member of the European Union, liberal democracy is now dead.[Hungary] has now completed a process … that has mostly remained theoretical until now: It was once a liberal democracy. As Orbán undermined the rule of law, dismantled the separation of powers, and massively violated the rights of ethnic minorities, it turned into an illiberal democracy. Now, it is effectively a dictatorship with a thin electoral veneer.
The recipe is a familiar one by now. In a society where social mores, especially in the big cities, appear to be changing very fast, there is a classic reaction. More traditional voters in the heartland begin to feel left behind, and their long-held values spurned. At the same time, a wave of unlawful migrants, fleeing terror and deprivation, appear to threaten the demographic and cultural balance still further, and seem to be encouraged by international post-national entities such as the European Union. A leftist ruling party in disarray gives a right-wing demagogue an opening, and he seizes it.
Orbán to amend the constitution in 2011, reducing the number of seats in the parliament from 386 to 199, gerrymandering them brutally to shore up his party’s standing in future elections, barring gay marriage in perpetuity, and mandating that in election campaigns, state media would take precedence over independent sources. He also forced a wave of early retirements in the judiciary in order to pack the courts with loyalists.
As Mounk notes, Orbán also tapped into deep grievances rooted in Hungary’s loss of territory in the 20th century, by giving the vote to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring Romania and removing it from more culturally progressive expats. But it was in response to the migration crisis in 2015, that Orbán truly galvanized public opinion behind him.
Orbán responded by spreading fears of an influx of terrorists and criminals, of a poisoning of Hungarian culture, and expressing visceral nationalist hostility to the diktats of the European Union. Added to all that, of course, was a generous salting of classic central European anti-Semitism. Voters especially in rural areas flocked to him.
He further shifted the public discourse by creating and advancing new media outlets that amplified his propaganda, while attacking, harassing, and undermining all the others. He erected a huge fence to keep Muslim immigrants out, and refused to accept any of the 50,000 refugees the EU wanted to settle in his country. His political allies began to get very rich, as crony capitalism spread.
If you find many of these themes familiar, you’ve been paying attention. In the middle of a reaction against massive social change and a wave of illegal immigration, a right-wing party decides to huff some populism. A charismatic figure emerges, defined by hostility to immigration, becomes an iconic figure, and even though he doesn’t win a majority of votes, comes to office. His party is further shored up by gerrymandering, giving it a structural advantage in gaining and keeping power, including a seven percentage-point head start in the House of Representatives. That party does what it can to further suppress the vote of its opponents, especially ethnic minorities, and focuses on packing the courts, even rupturing long-standing precedents to deny a president of the opposing party his right to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat.
Openly propagandist media companies emerge, fake news surges, while the president uses the powers of his office to attack, delegitimize, and discredit other media sources, even to the point of threatening a company like Amazon. A mighty wall is proposed against immigrants on the border, alongside fears of a mass “invasion” from the South. Social conservatives are embraced tightly. The census is altered to ensure one party’s advantage in future district-drawing. Courts are disparaged and the justice system derided as rigged by political opponents.
The difference, of course, is that Orbán is an experienced politician, and knows exactly what he’s doing. Trump is a fool, an incompetent, and incapable of forming any kind of strategy, or sticking to one. The forces arrayed against the populist right, moreover, are much stronger in the U.S. than in Hungary; our institutions more robust; our culture much more diverse. Our democracy is far, far older.
And yet almost every single trend in Hungary is apparent here as well. The party of the left has deep divisions, and no unifying leader, while the ruling party is a loyalist leader-cult. [Trump]
The president’ssupporters now support a purge in the Department of Justice and the FBI, to protect the president from being investigated.
The presidenthimself has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for liberal norms; and despite a chaotic first year and a half, is still supported by a solid and slightly growing 42 percent of the public. Meanwhile, the immigration issue continues to press down, the culture wars are intensifying again, and the broad reasons for Trump’s election in the first place remain in place: soaring social and economic inequality, cultural insecurity, intensifying globalization, and a racially fraught period when white Americans will, for the first time, not form a majority of citizens.
History is not over; and real, profound political choices are here again. My hope is that the descent into illiberalism across the West might shake up the rest of us in defending core liberal democratic principles, wherever they are threatened, bringing us to the ballot box in huge numbers this fall, and abandoning the complacency so many have lapsed into.
We cannot take anything for granted anymore. What was once a theoretical collapse of a liberal democracy now has a proof of principle. Do not ask when this choice between liberalism and illiberalism will come to America. It is already here.