Hungarian president Viktor Orbán announced yesterday that he was endorsing President Trump’s reelection campaign. It is fairly uncommon for sitting American presidents to receive election endorsements from foreign leaders, and yet the endorsement fits into a pattern of sorts. Trump has already been endorsed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. He has worked openly with Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine, who represent the corrupt, Russophile wing that was deposed, despite the efforts of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort. And perhaps even more unusually, Trump has given his own endorsement, to Polish president Andrzej Duda.
This odd network of international support has no geopolitical logic. Russia’s support for Trump is rooted primarily in the — shall we say, special — relationship between the two leaders. But the links with Hungary and Poland reveal a deeper ideological alliance. What draws these leaders and their regimes to Trump is a shared contempt for liberal democracy. Putin, Orbán, Duda, and Trump all rose to power in democratic systems and have turned them toward authoritarianism. They are joined in a common project to discredit liberal democracy.
Mainstream conservatives have steadfastly ignored mounting evidence of Trump’s authoritarianism. If they acknowledge any flaws, they reduce them to manners or style. Even portions of the left persist in mocking the notion that the administration poses a novel threat to democracy. “I don’t believe Donald Trump is a fascist or a dictator in the making,” argues Shadi Hamid. Glenn Greenwald likewise points out that Trump is competing in an open, regularly scheduled election.
Since the terminology has created some confusion, a bit of clarification is helpful. Contrary to the popular imagination, democracy and dictatorship are not a simple binary. They are splayed along a continuum, with some systems more or less democratic. Fascism is an especially severe form of authoritarianism, involving a one-party state that exerts control over most facets of daily life.
Trump is not a fascist. Nor, for that matter, are his Eastern European allies. But that hardly dispels the concern. Experts in the field express serious concern that Trump has moved the United States along the continuum toward authoritarianism, and that a prospective second Trump term could very well do enough additional damage that the government would no longer be characterized as democratic at all. Democratic governments do not usually perish in a sudden march of jackboots, but instead see their democratic norms slowly disintegrate. [Continue reading…]