The GOP's Favorite Democracy Killer Isn't Who You Think It Is

  • In Politics
  • 2022-01-05 10:00:53Z
  • By The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty  

As we approach the one year anniversary of Donald Trump's failed coup attempt and violent insurrection in our nation's capital, the GOP remains zealously committed to ensuring minority rule. They'll do it by following the playbook established by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's authoritarian rule in Hungary.

Hungary, the bête noire of the European Union, is no longer considered a normal democracy and is referred to as a "hybrid regime" after a decade of Orban and his Fidesz party systematically chipping away at democratic institutions and freedoms.

Naturally, this "backsliding democracy" is seen as a blueprint for the GOP and conservative activists who want to preserve power in the hands of a white Christian minority.

The United States was designated as a "backsliding democracy" for the first time by a European think tank this year in its annual review of democracies around the world, in part thanks to Trump's promotion of the Big Lie. So it was only fitting that earlier this week Trump pledged his "complete support" to Orban, currently running for re-election, and praised him as a "strong leader" who has "done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary…" Orban had praised and supported Trump in 2016, and again in 2020. Birds of a hateful, vulgarian feather flock and feast together.

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Like Trump, Orban's "wonderful job" includes ginning up political support by going all-in with xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, and antisemitic conspiracy theories while telling his white Christian base that brown-skinned immigrants were going to "replace" them. In 2015, Orban installed a fence on Hungary's border with Serbia and Croatia to protect his country and its civilization from "Muslim invaders." In 2018, Orban declared, "We must state that we do not want to be diverse." He added: "We do not want our own colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others."

In Hungary's updated eighth-grade history textbook, students are taught that "it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist," and that refugees are a threat.

Like Trump, Orban also has a fondness for indulging in antisemitic conspiracy theories, often blaming George Soros, a Jewish American billionaire born in Hungary, for supposedly leading a "globalist" conspiracy to assault their society. The delicious irony is that Orban, like Trump, is actually an elitist-he studied civil society at Oxford University, funded in part by a Soros grant.

Unlike Trump, however, Orban has succeeded in retaining power since 2010. This, in part, explains why Steve Bannon sees Orban as a "hero," who he said in 2018 was "the most significant guy on the scene right now." Bannon also referred to Orban as "Trump before Trump" for his successful ability to merge white Christian nationalism and anti-immigrant populism into a mobilizing political force.

Last year, former Vice President Mike Pence visited Hungary to attend a conference on conservative values. The American Conservative Union is planning to host a version of its influential CPAC conference in Budapest. Tucker Carlson hosted his top-rated Fox News show from Budapest last year, and praised Orban's leadership. The Fox News demagogue loved Hungary's barbed-wire fence and said the border area was "perfectly clean and orderly," and free from the "chaos" he sees in the United States. He glossed over all of the horrific human rights abuses that have been documented. Enamored by Orban's Valhallah, Carlson told his American viewers that Hungary offers a "lot of lessons for the rest of us."

I wonder what those lessons could be?

The 'Visible Deterioration' in American Democracy Is Just the Start

Orban's commitment to the antisemitic "replacement theory," xenophobia, and promotion of white Christian nationalism were enough for Carlson and conservatives to overlook his coziness with China and promotion of vaccines. Rob Dreher, the conservative writer who currently attacks the windmill of "wokeness" and suggested to Carlson that he visit, admires Orban because he takes "hard stances" to protect the "stability and cultural continuity of the nation," which is doing a lot of work to simply say he's keeping the Muslims, gays, feminists and liberals at bay.

Protecting such a fragile ethno-nationalistic utopia means you have to break some eggs. In the case of Hungary, that means cracking democracy. Over the past decade, Orban has consolidated power for himself and his Fidesz party by purging the judiciary and then stuffing it with party loyalists, attacking liberal educational institutions, rewriting textbooks, stifling press freedoms, changing election laws to favor his party, investing in artistic and cultural propaganda, and defunding non-profit groups that pose a potential threat to his xenophobic ideology and rule.

Sound familiar? In the U.S., the GOP has actively promoted the Big Lie, attacked critical race theory as a Trojan horse for any discussion on diversity and inclusion, advocated banning books, implemented widespread voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, stacked the judiciary with right-wing hacks who operate like zealous culture warriors, and created an influential media echo chamber that's radicalized millions of Americans with disinformation. GOP elected officials are also aligned with violent right wing movements such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, whom President Trump instructed to "stand back and stand by." Many of them were present to help try and overthrow a free and fair election on Jan. 6, as Trump and his minions followed the six-point memo written by right-wing lawyer and activist John Eastman in their failed coup attempt. Ten individuals who participated in the violent insurrection have since been elected to office.

Currently, the GOP is purging its party of individuals who are placing the country above party, such as Rep. Liz Cheney who voted with Trump 93 percent of the time but thought a violent coup was a bit too much. Instead, loyalists at the state levels are promising to overturn the will of the people and install their own electors if necessary. Like a cheap and efficient James Bond villain, they are literally telling us their plot and their aspirations in the opening minutes of the movie. We don't have to do any detective or spy work.

It's all there, and Orban is their north star.

The European Union now regrets ignoring Orban's xenophobia and authoritarian rise over the years. Like a virus, that unchecked threat has spread and now threatens liberal democracy on the continent. American institutions can learn from their failures. We still have time. We need to view the GOP as a dangerous, authoritarian cult rather than a normal political party. It isn't that, and hasn't been for a long time.

The GOP won't stop until they install their own version of Viktor Orban, and for keeps this time. Democrats and the majority in this country have less than a year to recognize the threat and respond accordingly.

Or, we can all learn to love Hungarian goulash.

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