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 not only breaches 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 Austria — 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”

Demographics of the American Election

Donald Trump supporters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump has lost support across demographics since 2016. The president is down with white voters and voters of color; men and women; Catholics and Jews; millennials and boomers.

National polls give the Republican an average of just 42 percent support against 52 percent for Joe Biden.

However, because Democrats cluster in big cities, which are underrepresented in the Electoral College, Biden needs to win by 3 points nationally to have an even chance of winning the election.

Trump’s hope is to keep his losses among four (partially overlapping) constituencies in the states which hold the balance in the Electoral College to a minimum: white voters with and without a college degree, women and Latinos. Read more “Demographics of the American Election”

Why the Left Hasn’t Been More Successful

Frans Timmermans Nicola Zingaretti Pedro Sánchez
Dutch, Italian and Spanish socialist party leaders Frans Timmermans, Nicola Zingaretti and Pedro Sánchez meet in Brussels, March 21, 2019 (PES)

The 2008-09 financial crisis. Climate change. The coronavirus pandemic. Rising inequality in the United States. Stagnant middle wages.

It shouldn’t be difficult for left-wing parties to make the case for bigger government, and yet they are out of power in most Western countries.

Ruy Teixeira, who argued in 2002 that demographic changes would give Democrats in the United States an “emerging majority”, and who later criticized those same Democrats for forgetting about working-class white voters, believes there are five reasons the left has been unable to build durable mass support.

His perspective is American, but the European left has committed some of the same what he calls five “deadly sins”. Read more “Why the Left Hasn’t Been More Successful”

How to Restore American Democracy After Trump

United States Capitol
The United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in American democracy. He must be voted out in November, but that won’t be enough.

If Democrats gain power, they must make five reforms to restore fairness, restore balance between the three branches of government and reverse the polarization that has made it impossible for the two parties to compromise on everything from climate change to gun laws to health care to immigration:

  1. Abolish the Electoral College.
  2. Add states.
  3. Put Congress first.
  4. Make it easier to remove the president.
  5. Abolish the two parties. Read more “How to Restore American Democracy After Trump”

Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed

Quim Torra
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14, 2018 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Successive Spanish governments have treated Catalan separatism as a legal, rather than a political, problem. This has done nothing to weaken support for independence. It has radicalized Catalans.

The dismissal of Catalan president Quim Torra is the latest episode in a decade-long legal drama. Spain’s Supreme Court removed him from office on Monday for hanging a “partisan” banner from the balcony of his government’s medieval palace in the center of Barcelona during the 2019 election.

The banner didn’t express support for a political party, but rather called for the release of the nine separatists who were imprisoned for leading a failed breakaway from Spain in 2017.

Torra’s removal triggers early elections, which polls predict the separatists will win.

He is the second Catalan president in three years to be unseated by the Spanish judiciary. His predecessor, Carles Puigdemont, was ousted after leading the 2017 independence bid. He fled to Belgium to escape prosecution. Read more “Spain’s Judicialization of Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

How Trump Will Try to Steal the Election

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump enters a limousine at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, September 17 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

America could be heading into its worst political crisis since the Civil War.

If, as the polls predict, Joe Biden wins more votes in November but Donald Trump refuses to leave, there is no template for how to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.

Asked on Wednesday if he would commit to one, the president said, “We’re going to have to see what happens.”

You know that I have been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster. … Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer frankly. There’ll be a continuation.

He also explained why he’s in a rush to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court:

I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.

Ginsburg, a liberal justice appointed by Bill Clinton, died a week ago. The Court now has five conservative and three liberal members.

In 2016, Trump told supporters he would only accept the outcome if he won.

When he did win, Trump claimed — without evidence — that three million people had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, the very margin by which she won the popular vote. Trump prevailed in the Electoral College.

If Trump loses this year and refuses to concede, that alone could throw the period between the election on November 3 and the inauguration on January 20 into chaos.

But there’s more Trump and his party could do to stay in power. Read more “How Trump Will Try to Steal the Election”

Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High

United States Supreme Court
Mourners gather outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, September 19 (Ted Eytan)

The death of one Supreme Court justice shouldn’t plunge the whole country into crisis. The fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s has is more proof that America’s top court is too powerful.

In no other democracy does the highest court feature so prominently in the public imagination.

Here in Catalonia, Spain’s Supreme Court is controversial for consistently ruling against Catalan interests, but I doubt many Catalans know the names of individual Supreme Court justices. Certainly the average Dutch person or Italian doesn’t.

Even in Poland, where the ruling far-right party has created a parallel legal system to sideline a Supreme Court it considers to be dominated by liberals, the fate of individual justices doesn’t provoke such strong emotions as in the United States.

American justices have been aware of the danger. Antonin Scalia, a conservative, cautioned a year before his death in 2016 that America could find itself governed by a “black-robed supremacy” unless its rediscovered its tradition of “self-rule”. Read more “Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High”

Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria

Colomanskirche Schwangau Germany
Colomanskirche in Bavaria, Germany, May 26, 2019 (Zsolt Czillinger)

Caroline de Gruyter writes in EUobserver that Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — which allies with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union nationally — has moved back to the center after it tried, and failed, to outflank the far right.

Conservatives in France, Spain and the United States should take note. Read more “Conservatives Should Look to Bavaria”

How Republicans Became the Party of Trump

I don’t think I will ever get used to hearing once-sensible Republicans singing Donald Trump’s praises.

Four years ago, the likes of Nikki Haley, Rand Paul, Tim Scott and Scott Walker knew that Trump was a bully without ideas; a would-be strongman with an unhealthy admiration for Vladimir Putin; a failed tycoon who didn’t grasp the basic principles of economics; and a thrice-married philanderer who had clearly never read a Bible.

Four years later, with the economy in free fall, America’s reputation in tatters, multiple former Trump campaign officials in prison and 180,000 Americans dead as a result of coronavirus, they’re telling the Republican National Convention that Trump is the only thing standing between them and the abyss.

How did this happen? Read more “How Republicans Became the Party of Trump”

What If Trump Refuses to Leave?

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump boards Marine One outside the White House in Washington DC, July 31 (White House/Tia Dufour)

Democrats and political experts in the United States are worried that President Donald Trump might not recognize the outcome of the upcoming election.

When over 100 former politicians and government officials, civil society leaders and journalists gamed out four election scenarios, they ended up in a constitutional crisis, “featuring violence in the streets and a severely disrupted administrative transition,” in all but one: a decisive win for Joe Biden. A close result could trigger civil and political unrest not seen in a century.

The last time a presidential candidate refused to concede was in 1876. Read more “What If Trump Refuses to Leave?”