Lessons of the events in Washington – The Weekly 35
If you followed the events unfolding in Washington on 6 January, you saw some shocking images. Instigated by Donald Trump, who lost the presidential election but refused to admit his defeat, the crowd broke into the Capitol. This botched attempt at a coup was unable to shake the political system of the US.
However, the event has a much larger significance: this example may lead to quite a lot of problems in Europe in the future…
Even though you can be sure that Donald Trump will step down at the end of January at the latest to let Joe Biden’s presidency begin, there’s something frightening about the fact that the United States of America got to this point despite being one of the homelands of democracy. Of course, we are witnessing decades-long taboos being lifted these days, while loud and narcissistic “mobocrats” are busy trying to shape to their image all those political systems that have so far been built upon pluralism, tolerating different opinions, seeking compromises and trusting each other. From now on, Donald Trump, the role model for the world’s populist leaders, will be represented in the history books as the man who thought that he could use his Tweets to single-handedly control the sophisticated system of checks and balances that forms the very core of the United States, and when he failed, he instigated his followers with conspiracy theories and sparked a skirmish that eventually led to human casualties in the Capitol.
Trump will leave, but the people whom he has been leading by the nose for years will stay here with their questions and their doubts raised by the president’s refusal to acknowledge the election results.
The next administration will have a huge task at hand to restore peace in the American society.
On the other hand, the politicians who considered Trump as their role model will stay among us. Not just in the US, but here in Hungary, too.
As a Hungarian, I obviously cannot ignore Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s acts but I think the debate of the EU budget clearly revealed for everyone that he was no longer just a “Hungarian affair” and his acts can destabilize Europe as a whole. Just as Hungary is much smaller than the United States, our political system is that much more vulnerable, which allowed Orbán to completely shape the state administration to his own liking over the past eleven years. Trump could only dream of what Orbán has already put into practice.
While Trump relied on his personal magic and communication to cling to the hope, perhaps even until early 2020, that he might spend a second term in the presidential seat, Orbán methodically reshaped Hungary’s electoral system, wrote a new, customized constitution and put tried-and-tested Fidesz cadres in key state administration positions. This is how Orbán’s loyal servant could become the chief prosecutor, and active Fidesz politicians were appointed to head the tax authority and the State Audit Office.
When he had some concerns in terms of keeping his power in 2018, he used this network to bombard his challengers through administrative means before the elections.
In 2022 however, the next national elections will be held in a different Hungary, which has suffered a significant economic decline due to the pandemic and lost almost all of its European allies, and where the united opposition will nominate joint MP candidates, a joint list and a joint PM candidate to face Fidesz that is weakening according to the polls. Fidesz is likely to keep following the example of its American role model with the same fervour it demonstrated in supporting Trump during the US election campaign.
To illustrate Fidesz’ attitude, it is enough to note that such a key politician as Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szíjjártó personally accused Joe Biden’s family of criminal acts while Viktor Orbán used every platform to announce that he rooted for Donald Trump’s victory. They insisted on their positions even after Joe Biden’s triumph, in fact, Orbán was among the last to congratulate Biden while Speaker of the Parliament László Kövér has repeatedly said in public that he thought the American election was marred by fraud and Biden was helped into his seat by the same “powers that be” which are also behind the Hungarian opposition, according to Kövér.
All these acts mean that the Hungarian opposition is likely to face a difficult period until the 2022 national elections as well as a less than seamless transition of power in the weeks after. Fidesz’ involvement of the far right to quickly amend the election law in December is probably just the first step of its manipulation scheme to stay in power at all costs. Considering how Orbán and other key Fidesz figures, including those currently heading supposedly “independent” institutions, have constantly been throwing the same accusations at opposition leaders that Trump used for inciting hatred against his rival, it seems naive to hope that the Hungarian elections can be held in order. Fidesz has already begun preparing for such a scenario. Among other things, Speaker László Kövér has questioned the outcome of the election in advance, provided that the winner is not Fidesz.
This is especially frightening because while the US political system clearly determines what happens when a president’s mandate expires, Orbán has built a country where the leaders occupying nearly all key institutional positions are loyal to Orbán and Fidesz rather than Hungary or the Hungarian people. We can only hope that Hungary’s 2022 elections will not bring such events that we saw in Lukashenko’s Belarus.
Populism and the political agenda based on instigating people against each other has indeed lost a major battle in America.
In Hungary however, it still lives with us for the time being. We hope it doesn’t stay much longer.