Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Orbanization of the Republican Party

I was glad to see that Zack Beauchamp made the same connection between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Hungarian President Viktor Orban that I made a few days ago. This is a story that should be front and center in our political discussion today. 

DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power...
Orbán’s political model has frequently employed a demagogic two-step: Stand up a feared or marginalized group as an enemy then use the supposed need to combat this group’s influence to justify punitive policies that also happen to expand his regime’s power.

Beauchamp does a good job of making a direct connection between the moves by DeSantis on LGBTQ issues, higher education, social media, and gerrymandering to policies implemented by Orban in Hungary. But he left out Orban's "procreation, not immigration" policies." 

Hungary’s “procreation, not immigration” policies have their roots in “replacement theory.” This doctrine holds that white women are not producing enough babies and Christian, western civilizations will be “replaced” through the twin forces of falling birth rates and increasing immigration. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, has argued that “there are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population” and has vowed to fight those who want “an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others.”

In case you're wondering where that one is headed in this country, take a look at this Ohio state legislator talk about the "opportunity" presented by forcing a woman to give birth when the pregnancy is a result of rape. 

While Beauchamp does suggest that this "Orbanization" of American politics isn't limited to DeSantis, he doesn't really address the depth of the way it has been embraced on the right. However, almost a year ago Ben Rhodes outlined the steps Orban took in Hungary to consolidate his power. A lot of this is going to sound very familiar.

In his first term, [Orban] systematically worked to remold Hungary’s democratic institutions. Parliamentary districts were redrawn to benefit Fidesz [Orban's party]. Ethnic Hungarians outside the country were given the right to vote. The courts were methodically packed with right-wing judges. Fidesz’s cronies were enriched and, in turn, members of the business elite funded Orbán’s politics. The government constructed a massive propaganda machine, as independent media were bullied and bought out and right-wing media were transformed into quasi state-media. Whereas Fidesz once had a foreign policy formed in opposition to Russian dominance, Orbán embraced Vladimir Putin and courted Russian investment and the corruption that went along with it...

[T]o justify his efforts, Orbán has skillfully and relentlessly deployed a right-wing populism focused on the failings of liberal democracy and the allure of an older national story: Christian identity, national sovereignty, distrust of international institutions, opposition to immigration, and contempt for politically correct liberal elites. Smash the status quo. Make the masses feel powerful by responding to their grievances...

After his first reelection, Orbán’s focus on the persecution of his enemies intensified. Political opponents, civil society, and independent media have learned to live with various forms of harassment, including ceaseless disinformation and legal threats. Hungary completed a fence to keep migrants out. Conspiracy theories about Soros evolved into a campaign used to justify everything, including onerous restrictions on civil society and sham investigations. Corruption mushroomed and became a backdrop of Hungary’s government spending. Hungary’s historical sins—including complicity in the Holocaust—were whitewashed, as prominent statues and revised curricula rooted Hungary’s future in right-wing aspects of its past.
The structural changes to Hungary’s democracy enabled this: Orbán was elected to a third term in 2018 with less than half the popular vote, yet he presides over all of Hungary’s levers of power like a colossus.

While DeSantis might want to quietly implement Orbanism in Florida as a stepping stone to the White House, National Conservatives are openly touting it as a way to ramp up the so-called "culture wars." Nine months ago Tucker Carlson traveled to Hungary and paid homage to Orban. In less than a month CPAC - America’s most prominent conservative gathering - will hold a conference in Budapest with Orban as the keynote speaker. In other words, the Orbanization of the right is not a secret. It is precisely where the Republican Party in this country is headed. The threat could not be more clear.

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