If You Want to Know Trump’s Endgame, Look at Hungary

Hungary is Trumpism Gone Amok. It’s Leader Just Abolished Democracy

Most Americans don’t pay a lot of attention to international affairs, but now would be a good time to take a look at Hungary. Hungary is a central European country of about 10 million people. It used to be part of the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc, but in 1989 it threw off the communist shackles and embraced liberal democracy.

But over the last 20 years, the country has started drifting towards the right. Recently, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban used the coronavirus crisis to assume emergency powers and essentially become a dictator with supreme authority. Now he can rule by decree. His decision effectively suspends the legislature and he now has the power to overrule the judiciary.

But here’s the real scary part Hungary has been held up as an example of what could happen to the United States. And as shocking as that sounds, consider this fact. Attorney General/Trump consigliere Bill Barr used the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to try to suspend habeas corpus and hold prisoners indefinitely. Fortunately, this idea was shot down by politicians on the left and the right.

Orban has capitalized on the fear of the declining population to demonize immigrants. He’s also a fan of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory advocated by American neo-Nazis such as FOX News’ Tucker Carlson and Rep. Steve King. “If we let tens of millions of migrants travel to Europe from Africa and the Middle East… the young people of Western Europe will know the day when they will be in a minority in their own country,” said Orban in a LeJournal Du Dumanch article.

However, there are some frightening similarities between Hungary and the United States:

  • Xenophobia. Like Trump, Orban is a xenophobe who has ridden to power by selling fear of brown-skinned invaders. With Trump, it was Latinos, with Orban it’s Muslim refugees flooding into Europe as they escape the Syrian war. However, both politicians use fear mongering to rile up their supporters. According to the 2014 CIA Factbook, Hungary has a 1.47 fertility rate. However, a growing country needs a birth rate of 2.0 to sustain its economy. Orban has capitalized on the fear of the declining population to demonize immigrants. He’s also a fan of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory advocated by American neo-Nazis such as FOX News’ Tucker Carlson and Rep. Steve King. “If we let tens of millions of migrants travel to Europe from Africa and the Middle East… the young people of Western Europe will know the day when they will be in a minority in their own country,” said Orban in a LeJournal Du Dumanch article. However, ethnic Hungarians (who would be considered white by American standards) make up 90 percent of the population. And non-Christians only make up 1 percent of the country’s population. Similarly, anti-immigrant sentiment and Trump support is high in red states such as Alabama, which are still overwhelmingly white.
  • Hate of George Soros. Over the years, Orban has demonized billionaire donor George Soros, who tends to favor more liberal political causes. Soros, a Hungarian native and former refugee, was critical of Orban’s hostility towards migrants. Orban ended the asylum process and tried to bar refugees by installing razor wire on the border. Soros criticized Orban’s anti-immigrant policies saying, “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle,” according to Bloomberg. Orban has launched a propaganda campaign against Soros that tapped into anti-Semitic tropes. Soros is also hated by the right in America, who often use the derisive term “globalist” to refer to him. Globalist is a far-right code word for “jew.”
  • War on the media. Trump has an infamously hostile relationship with the media. He’s branded them fake news and “the enemy of the people,” a Stalinist phrase. Orban was even more blatant. In January 2010, his government created the National Media and Communications Authority, which has the power to fine news coverage they deem “unbalanced” or “unfavorable.” According to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Hungarian journalists can face up to five years in jail for publishing fake news. Trump has threatened to take away media licenses (he doesn’t have the power to do that) and sue media organizations. But both Orban and Trump’s actions have the same goal — muzzle news they don’t like.
  • Friendliness with Putin. I have written extensively about Trump’s love of Putin. He’s even repeated Russian propaganda. Orban has also cozied up to the Russian strongman, which is ironic because a few decades ago his country threw of the Russian/Soviet yoke and have even joined NATO.
  • Dictatorship. Orban declaring himself the supreme leader and essentially abolishing democracy shouldn’t be surprising. According to Dr. Elesa Zehndorfer, a scholar of far-right populists, this is always the endgame. Trump has frequently talked about staying beyond a second term, which is a violation of the Constitution. And even worse, many of his rabid followers have backed this idea and support creating a Trump dynasty. If Trump could get away with what Orban did, he’d do it. And if he wins a second term, you can guarantee he’ll have toadies, such as Barr, try to figure out a way for him to stay in office. Trump also tends to ally himself with authoritarian leaders such as Putin, Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un.

But in spite of Orban’s far-right drift, he was warmly welcomed when he visited the White House. Trump said, “He’s probably like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK.”

Looking at Hungary you can see America’s future. We know how the Trump story ends. In November, let’s make sure that never happens.

Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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