John Shattuck writes: How is democracy hijacked? Viktor Orban, the strongman of Hungary, has shown the way, emulating Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Elected on a wave of fear and discontent, Orban attacked and undermined the media, the judiciary, civil society, the rule of law, and the protection of minority rights, consolidating his power by appealing to xenophobic extremism.
Orban is a forerunner of Donald Trump. He has used the European refugee crisis to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment, foreshadowing Trump’s pandering to the white supremacists and purveyors of hate whom he has thrust into the center of American politics.
Seven months into his presidency, Trump looks like an Orban mimic. He’s labeled journalists “enemies of the people” and assaulted the mainstream media as purveyors of “fake news”; challenged the independence of the judiciary and smeared the integrity of judges; attacked civil society by claiming massive voter fraud; presided over an increase in racism and hate crimes; and abused the power of the presidency by pressing the FBI to drop an investigation of his former national security adviser, then firing the FBI director for investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the presidential election.
Democracy in the United States may be more resilient than in Hungary, but Trump’s instability may make him more dangerous than Orban. [Continue reading…]
The real shock is how easy it’s proving to be. No coup, no assassinations, no mass violence in streets between contending factions, no military and paramilitary forces shooting up crowds.
The president does not ‘govern’; he issues brief communiques and holds rallies. Most curious.
In terms of Trump’s ambitions, I still don’t think he has any grand designs — such as establishing a dynasty of Trump family rule. On the contrary, I think he has the mindset of a conventional criminal who sees himself operating inside a legal system he has little power to change. His short-term and long-term objective is merely to stay one step ahead of the law. Moreover, instead of playing an instrumental role in crafting legal opinions that would later serve in his favor, he just floats ideas (like being able to pardon himself) in order to find out what’s possible and what isn’t. At the same time and in a haphazard way, he’s constantly testing the limits of his powers to find out what he can get away with.
Imagine Trump on trial and the frequency with which he would/will say: “I believed that as president of the United States, I had the legal authority to do xyz. Who knew the ‘most powerful man in the world’ had such little power?”