The Dictator of France

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, June 23, 2018 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

What’s gotten into Persuasion?

First they published a ridiculous hit piece arguing Spain’s center-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is the greatest threat to democracy since Francisco Franco. Now it’s Emmanuel Macron’s turn.

Robert Zaretsky, a history professor at the University of Houston, accuses the French president of becoming “authoritarian”.

To be fair, Zaretsky recognizes that a measure of autocracy is built into France’s presidential-centric Fifth Republic. On paper, the French president is the most powerful leader in democratic Europe; both ceremonial head of state and chief executive. Every president, from Charles de Gaulle to François Mitterrand, has been accused of dominating French politics in their time.

Macron is no different. Zaretsky marshals little evidence to prove this president (ab)uses the powers of his office more than his predecessors. Read more “The Dictator of France”

Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende

German cartoon
1924 political cartoon shows the leaders of Weimar Germany stabbing soldiers in the back

Democrats in the United States are urging Vice President Mike Pence and members of the cabinet to remove Donald Trump from power under the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

That could be a mistake.

It would be constitutionally dubious. The Twenty-fifth Amendment allows a majority of the cabinet to replace a president who has become incapacitated. It wasn’t designed to topple a president who is still technically able to carry out his duties.

It can be argued Trump has proved himself “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” by inciting a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. But I can think of a dozen more examples of Trump’s behavior from the last year alone that proved his unfitness for office.

More worrisome than potentially setting a bad precedent is that a cabinet coup would add fuel to the fire of the stab-in-the-back myth Trump and his supporters are already writing. It could give the outgoing president just the pretext he needs to lead an insurgency against the next government of the United States. Read more “Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende”

Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump arrives in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 2017 (ANG/Annie Edwards)

Donald Trump’s attempt to cling to power has been going no better since we last checked in. He is trying to steal the election, as I expected he would, but there are still officials, including Republicans, who care more about doing the right thing than humoring the president.

  • Election officials in all states counted all the votes, despite cries from Trump and his supporters to stop the count in states where he was ahead before mailed-in ballots could be counted.
  • Secretaries of state and governors, regardless of party, certified the results in all states, despite appeals from Trump and his supporters to overturn the popular will where the outcome was close and appoint electors for the president, rather than Joe Biden.
  • 86 judges of both parties threw out lawsuits brought by Trump and Republicans to discard postal ballots or otherwise invalidate the election results.
  • All nine justices of the Supreme Court, including the three appointed by Trump, refused to even hear a lawsuit brought by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to overturn the election in four other states.
  • The Electoral College met in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. There were no faithless electors. Republican activists claiming to be electors in Michigan were barred from the state capitol, where the actual electors cast their votes for Biden.

Trump’s last (legal) opportunity to remain in power will be on January 6, when Vice President Mike Pence reads out the Electoral College votes in Congress. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already called on his members not to raise objections on that day. Read more “Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame”

Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 16 (European Council)

For too long has the European Union tolerated the formation of a self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” in its midst. A recent European Court of Justice ruling underscores that Hungary is not only in beach of the rule of law, but violates the very rights and values on which the EU is founded.

The court ruled earlier this month that restrictions imposed on foreign universities — which forced the George Soros-funded Central European University to relocate from Budapest to Vienna — were “incompatible” with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, commented that the ruling “should send a warning to Viktor Orbán: that it’s time to step back from the brink of autocracy and reverse the Hungarian government’s undemocratic path.”

Orbán, prime minister since 2010, has come a long way. He started his political career as a liberal anticommunist and ended up the most right-wing, authoritarian government leader in the EU.

If the rest of the bloc is to rein him in, it must first understand how he has been able to gain, and keep, his power.

This is Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian playbook. Read more “Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook”

Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary

Viktor Orbán Benjamin Netanyahu
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán speaks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in Brasília, Brazil, January 2, 2019 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

I try to avoid Nazi-era comparisons, since they’re seldom appropriate, but Viktor Orbán isn’t making it easy. The only thing that could make his power grab in Hungary more like the Enabling Act of 1933 is if, like the Reichstag fire, COVID-19 really had been manufactured (in a Chinese lab funded by George Soros, if we are to believe Russia’s disinformation).

Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, Orbán has dissolved parliament and postponed all elections — indefinitely.

The Constitutional Court technically still functions, but it is packed with Orbán loyalists and provides no real oversight. For all intents and purposes, Orbán now rules alone. Read more “Orbán Abolishes Democracy in Hungary”

Trump Attacks the Rule of Law

Caudillo Donald Trump
The “Yankee caudillo” Donald Trump (The Washington Post)

When Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2017 — before the court even had a chance to sentence him for contempt — it reminded me of that adage of South American dictators: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”

Now we know just how far Trump is willing to take America down the path of a banana republic. Read more “Trump Attacks the Rule of Law”

Leftists Denounce “Coup” Against Vote-Rigging Autocrat in Bolivia

Let’s take a break from the right-wing apologists of a would-be autocrat in the United States to check in with the left-wing apologists of an actual autocrat in Bolivia.

In the face of mass protests, the Bolivarian military has forced the left-wing populist Evo Morales to step down.

Morales served an unconstitutional third term as president from 2014 to 2019. He called and lost a referendum in 2016 on whether he should stand for a fourth term, but the Supreme Court canceled that result, arguing that “American imperialism” had influenced the outcome.

In his latest bid for reelection, observers from the Organization of American States found clear manipulations, including a 24-hour freeze in the vote count, before which Morales was losing and after which he suddenly won.

You wouldn’t know it from reading British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders or New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading light of the American new left, who have all denounced Morales’ removal as a “coup” and are calling for “free and fair elections” — no matter that’s the very thing Morales wouldn’t allow. Read more “Leftists Denounce “Coup” Against Vote-Rigging Autocrat in Bolivia”

Is Brazil’s Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics?

Brazil's president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, stands while the national anthem plays in the National Congress in Brasília, November 6
Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, stands while the national anthem plays in the National Congress in Brasília, November 6 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Brazil is the latest country to lurch toward right-wing nationalism. When Jair Bolsonaro resoundingly defeated his left-wing opponent, Fernando Haddad, in the country’s presidential election last month, news whirled around the world reporting this was Brazil’s Donald Trump.

Bolsonaro is certainly keen to be Trump’s partner in Latin America. But is the comparison apt? And is it helpful to view each new iteration of right-wing nationalism through the Trump prism? Read more “Is Brazil’s Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics?”

Donald Trump’s Strategy of Tension

Donald Trump
Voters wait outside a convention center in Rochester, Minnesota, where American president Donald Trump is giving a speech, October 5 (Lorie Shaul)

Matthew Yglesias argues in Vox that there is method to the right-wing madness in the United States.

The violence, and threats of violence, are the result of a Republican strategy, he argues, to foster a political debate that is centered on divisive questions of personal identity rather than on potentially unifying themes of material advancement.

The downside of this strategy is that it pushes American society to the breaking point. The upside for Republicans is that it facilitates policies that serve the interests of their wealthiest supporters. Read more “Donald Trump’s Strategy of Tension”

Leaders Are Not Their Countries

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26, 2017
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26, 2017 (European Parliament)

It’s a tried-and-tested strongman tactic: conflate yourself with the nation to silence your critics.

Viktor Orbán used it this week, when he told critical members of the European parliament they were condemning not only him and his government but the entire nation of Hungary.

Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president, had the right response when he called this the “coward’s way out” of a debate. Read more “Leaders Are Not Their Countries”