Opinion | What America Would Look Like in 2025 Under Trump – The New York Times


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Guest EssayFeb. 2, 2022“If it requires pardons, then we will give them pardons.”Credit...Meridith Kohut for The New York TimesBy Thomas B. EdsallMr. Edsall contributes a weekly column from Washington, D.C., on politics, demographics and inequality.What will happen if the political tables are turned and the Republican Party wins the White House in 2024 and the House and Senate along the way?One clue is that Donald Trump is an Orban worshiper — that’s Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, a case study in the aggressive pursuit of a right-wing populist agenda.In his Jan. 3 announcement of support for Orban’s re-election, Trump declared: “He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for re-election as Prime Minister!”What is it about Hungary under Orban that appeals so powerfully to Trump?“Call it ‘soft fascism,’ ” Zach Beauchamp of Vox wrote on Sept. 13, 2018: a political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to “hard” measures like banning elections and building up a police state. One of the most disconcerting parts of observing Hungarian soft fascism up close is that it’s easy to imagine the model being exported. While the Orban regime grew out of Hungary’s unique history and political culture, its playbook for subtle repression could in theory be run in any democratic country whose leaders have had enough of the political opposition.In “How the American Right Fell in Love With Hungary” in The New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Zerofsky quoted Rod Dreher, the combative conservative blogger, on Orban’s immigration policies — building a fence on the border to keep Muslims out, for example. “If you could wind back the clock 50 years and show the French, the Belgian and the German people what mass immigration from the Muslim world would do to their countries by 2021, they never, ever would have accepted it,” he remarked.In contrast to conservatism as practiced in the United States, Zerofsky wrote about Hungary under Orban: “Here was this other, European tradition of Catholic conservatism that was afraid neither of a strong state nor of using it to promote a conservative vision of life.”In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, political scientists at Barnard and Georgetown, argued that Orban has “emerged as a media darling of the American right,” receiving high praise from Tucker Carlson, “arguably the single most influential conservative media personality in the United States.”The Conservative Political Action Conference, “a major forum of the American right, plans to hold its 2022 annual meeting in Hungary,” Cooley and Nexon wrote. What has Orban done to deserve this attention?The two authors briefly summarized his record: “Orban consolidated power through tactics that were procedurally legal but, in substance, undercut the rule of law. He stacked the courts with partisans and pressured, captured or shut down independent media.”Cooley and Nexon demonstrated a parallel between what has taken place in Hungary and current developments in the United States: “Orban’s open assault on academic freedom — including banning gender studies and evicting the Central European University from Hungary — finds analogies in current right-wing efforts in Republican-controlled states to ban the teaching of critical race theory and target liberal and left-wing academics.”In an email, Nexon elaborated: There is definitely a transmission belt of ideas between the U.S. and European right; for various stripes of conservatives — reactionary populists, integralists, ethnonationalists — Hungary is becoming what Denmark is for the left: part real-life model, part idealized dreamscape.Trump and Orban, Nexon continued,are both opportunists who’ve figured out the political usefulness of reactionary populism. And Trump will push the United States in a broadly similar direction: toward neopatrimonial governance. During his first term, Trump treated the presidency as his own personal property — something that was his to use to punish enemies, reward loyalists and enhance his family’s wealth. If he wins in 2024, we’re likely to see this on steroidsTrump, in Nexon’s view, will be unable to match Orban — by, for example, installing a crony “as president of Harvard” or forcing “Yale to decamp for Canada” — butit’s pretty clear that he’ll be better at installing absolute loyalists at the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense. So, if Trump succeeds, we’ll be able to find a lot of similar parts, but it won’t be the same model. I suspect it will be worse. The U.S. is a large federation with a lot of capacity for private violence, a major international footprint and a multitrillion-dollar economy. Hungary is a minor player in a confederation dominated by democratic regimes.Cooley stressed in an email the “active networking among right-wing political associations and groups with Orban,” citing the Jan. 24 endorsement of Orban’s re-election by the New York Young Republican Club: Today, both the United States of America and countries in Europe like Hungary face an existential crisis. The ruling elite and political establishment’s failed leadership and ideology have eroded the meaning and purpose of citizenship. For those against this ideology and for the preservation of Western civilization for all countries in the West, it is imperative that we stand in support of one another as national communities.Orban’s appeal to the right flank of the Republican Party, in Cooley’s view, lies in anideology — which rests on redefining the meaning of “the West” away from liberal principles and toward ethnonational ideals and conservative values — and his strategy for consolidating power is to close or take over media, stack the courts, divide and stigmatize the opposition, reject commitments to constraining liberal ideals and institutions and publicly target the most vulnerable groups in society — e.g., refugees.Orban has described Hungary under his rule as an “illiberal democracy.” In 2019, Freedom House downgraded Hungary from “free” to “partly free,” making it “the first country in the European Union that is not currently classified” as “free,” according to the Budapest Business Journal.I asked a number of European scholars about the agenda Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress would be most likely to push in 2025.In a March 2021 paper, “Authoritarian Values and the Welfare State: The Social Policy Preferences of Radical Right Voters,” Philip Rathgeb, a professor of social policy at the University of Edinburgh, and Marius R. Busemeyer and Alexander H.J. Sahm, both of the University of Konstanz, surveyed voters in eight Western European countries to determine what kind of welfare state voters of populist radical-right parties want and how their preferences “differ from voters of mainstream left- and right-wing parties.”Rathgeb and his co-authors found that populist European voterswant a particularistic-authoritarian welfare state, displaying moderate support only for “deserving” benefit recipients (e.g., the elderly), while revealing strong support for a workfare approach and little support for social investment.Rathgeb wrote in an email: From an ideological perspective, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump prioritized Medicare over Medicaid, given that the former is targeted at the “deserving” poor, i.e., the elderly and disabled. A pro-elderly outlook is very typical of the radical right in Europe too, because the beneficiaries of schemes like Medicare are typically native (white) citizens who have demonstrated their willingness to “work hard” over their lifetime, thus being deserving of welfare support. By contrast, I expect little support, perhaps even cuts, for Medicaid.Rathgeb noted that populist parties oppose social investment policies because such programs are often based onprogressive gender values and a commitment to “lifelong learning.” For example, public provision of child care helps working women to reconcile work-family life (versus the male breadwinner model), while training and education foster social mobility in the “knowledge economy” (e.g., high-end services). These ideological considerations are reinforced by material interests, as the main target groups of social investment policies (i.e., the new middle classes, including women and the young with high levels of education) are distant from the typical radical-right voter, who usually displays lower levels of formal education.In an email, Busemeyer described some of the differences and similarities between Trumpism and European populism: In Europe, the welfare state and social policy more generally are much ingrained in people’s minds. This means that in the U.S., Trumpism goes along with criticism about the welfare state in general (see the attempts of the Trump administration to get rid of Obamacare), whereas in Europe, it’s really more about “welfare chauvinism,” i.e., protecting the good old welfare state for “deserving” people, namely hard-working natives.In addition, Busemeyer wrote, “there is a strong ‘corporatist’ element in the Trump movement (i.e., business elites), whereas in European right-wing populism that’s typically not the case.”The right-wing populist movements on both continents, he continued,are similar in their rejection of a liberal attitude toward globalization, both regarding the economic side as well as the identity part of globalization. Also, they both subscribe to a traditional role model in the family and traditional gender roles.Cécile Alduy, a professor at Stanford who studies French politics and the far right, wrote in an email: If in 2024 Trump or a Ron DeSantis wins the presidency and Republicans control both the House and Senate, the general agenda would be a backlash against any anti-discrimination, against inclusive policies implemented by the Biden administration, for an attempt to shift further the Supreme Court pendulum toward anti-abortion, for originalist constitutionalists, for implementing voter suppression policies and for federal funding limitations on some forms of speech (critical race theory, the teaching or research of segregation, antisemitism or racism in the States) as well for as a return to extremely restrictive anti-immigration policies (rebuilding the wall, for curbing down further visa and green cards and for increasing deportations).The Republican agenda, Alduy argued,would be fueled by increased moral panic about white America’s decline, a professed sense of having been spoliated and “stolen the election” and a renewed sentiment of impunity for his most extreme backers from the Jan. 6 insurrection. My bet is that there is an active plan to reshape the political system so that elections are not winnable by Democrats, and the state be run without the foundation of a democracy.ImageDonald Trump has made it clear that he is a Viktor Orban superfan.Credit...Photo Illustration by The New York Times; Photographs by Attila Kisbenedek/AFP,Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images, Cooper Neill for The New York TimesTrump signaled his intentions at a rally last week in Conroe, Texas, declaring that in the case of the Jan. 6 attackers, “if it requires pardons, then we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”Trump went on: “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C.; in New York; in Atlanta; and elsewhere.”Or take DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who may challenge Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. On April 10, 2021, DeSantis signed the Combating Public Disorder Act into law, which his office described as “a robust approach to uphold the rule of law, to stand with those serving in law enforcement and enforce Florida’s zero tolerance policy for violent and disorderly assemblies.”On Sept. 9, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a 90-page opinion declaring that the law’s “vagueness permits those in power to weaponize its enforcement against any group who wishes to express any message that the government disapproves of” and that “the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians.”On Dec. 15 DeSantis proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which would give parents the right to sue school systems if they believe their children are being taught “critical race theory,” with a provision granting parents the right to collect attorneys’ fees if they win.The enactment of laws encouraging citizens to become private enforcers of anti-liberal policies has become increasingly popular in Republican-controlled states. Glenn Youngkin, the newly elected governor of Virginia, created a tip line that parents can use to report teachers whose classes cover “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory.”Youngkin told an interviewer: We have set up a particular email address, called [email protected], for parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools. We’re asking for input right from parents to make sure we can go right to the source as we continue to work to make sure that Virginia’s education system is on the path to re-establish excellence.“We’re seeing dozens of G.O.P. proposals to bar whole concepts from classrooms outright,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote this week: The Republican governor of Virginia has debuted a mechanism for parents to rat out teachers. Bills threatening punishment of them are proliferating. Book-banning efforts are outpacing anything in recent memory.In a parallel strategy focused on abortion, Texas Republicans enacted the Texas Heartbeat Act in May, legislation that not only bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected but also turns private citizens into enforcers of the law by giving them the power to sue abortion providers and any person whoknowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise, if the abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subchapter, regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation of this subchapter.Winners of such suits would receive a minimum of $10,000 plus court costs and other fees.Not to be outdone, Republican members of the New Hampshire legislature are pushing forward legislation that proclaims thatno teacher shall advocate any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices. Such prohibition includes but is not limited to teaching that the United States was founded on racism.The use of citizens as informants to enforce intrusions of this sort is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with democratic norms — reminiscent of East Germany, where the Stasi made use of an estimated 189,000 citizen informers.One of the early goals of a Trump White House backed by Republican congressional majorities, in the view of Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown, would be the immediate rollback of legislation and executive orders put in place by the Biden administration: The first priority of a Trump or DeSantis presidency would be to undo any major changes Biden had implemented through executive orders. That would include a vaccination/testing mandate for health care workers, environmental regs, bolstering A.C.A. and anything Biden had done on race relations or immigration.A critical issue for Senate Republicans and a second Trump administration would be whether to eliminate the filibuster to prevent Democratic senators from blocking their wilder legislative plans.Holzer remarked that he is sure thatthey would love to pass laws outlawing mask mandates in schools, the teaching of critical race theory or liberal voting rules, but they won’t have 60 votes in the Senate for that unless they also manage to kill or limit the filibuster. If they kill the filibuster, they might try to outlaw abortion, although Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and others would balk at that.Herbert P. Kitschelt, a political scientist at Duke, emailed a selection of likely Republican initiatives: The new government will use regulatory measures to support the sectors and industries that support it most in terms of electoral votes and party funding: carbon industries, the construction sector, domestic manufacturing.The Republican regime will exit from all participation in efforts to stop global warming.The politics of a populist Republican administration will aim at undermining American democracy and changing the level playing field in favor of a party-penetrated state apparatus.Kitschelt cited Orban as a model for Trump in achieving the goals of: Undermining the professionalism and neutrality of the judiciary, starting with the attorney general’s office.Undermining the nonpartisanship of the military, using the military for domestic purposes to repress civil liberties and liberal opposition to the erosion of American democracy.Redeploying the national domestic security apparatus — above all, the F.B.I. — for partisan purposes.Passing libel legislation to harass and undercut the liberal media and journalists, with the objective to drive them economically out of business, while consolidating conservative media empires and social websites.The politics of cultural polarization, Kitschelt argued, “will intensify to re-establish the U.S. as a white Christian evangelical country,” although simultaneouslyefforts will be made to attract culturally traditionalist strands in the Hispanic community. The agenda of the culture war may shift to gender relations, emphasizing the traditional family with male authority. At the margin, this may appeal to males, including minorities.Kitschelt’s last point touches on what is sure to be a major motivating force for a Republican Party given an extended lease on life under Trump: the need to make use of every available tool — from manipulation of election results to enactment of favorable voting laws to appeals to minority voters in the working class to instilling fear of a liberal state run amok — to maintain the viability of a fragile coalition in which the core constituency of white noncollege voters is steadily declining as a share of the electorate. It is an uphill fight requiring leaders, at least in their minds, to consider every alternative in order to retain power, whether it’s democratic or authoritarian, ethical or unethical, legal or illegal.
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