‘If you aren’t feeling a sense of dread on the eve of the midterm elections, you haven’t been paying attention’, begins Paul Krugman in his latest opinion piece in The New York Times. And on this I must agree with him, albeit for different reasons. Krugman’s existential dread for the future of American democracy is forced and theatrical at best; all I see is the Democratic establishment terrified of losing power and desperately trying to win more votes by posing as worried, emotional parents over a nation led astray. I have been paying attention and saw how blue checkmarks and late-night funny men all proclaimed the same scripted message: vote Democrat in the midterms or else you won’t be voting anymore.
And it wasn’t just now that I started to pay attention. The Left’s biggest talking heads have been telling Americans the same thing in every election cycle since 2016. Crying wolf all the time does not seem like a good strategy, especially if you have elections every second year. At least during the last presidency, they had someone concrete to point their fingers at and declare him the enemy of mankind. (I wouldn’t say it was overly efficient, of course, as you can’t mock Trump’s incompetence and then tell people he’s going to take over the country. Cheeto Hitler can’t even drink properly but you’re afraid he’s already setting up concentration camps? Yeah, right…) Now that Trump is out of the picture, it is the intentionally vague, blurry phantom of ‘MAGAism’ that is apparently haunting the country in the form of every Republican candidate Congress.
Western elections appear to be democratic only when people vote in a certain way
But the real reason I’m annoyed with this perpetual charade about the imminent end of democracy is that the Left is doing the same in Hungary, too. And everywhere else in the West, for that matter. We know the script too well. The Left wins? Democracy is saved, the future is secured, and universal happiness will overflow as people dance in circles around wind turbines in gender-non-conforming hippie robes to Beethoven’s ninth. But should the Right win—whether in Sweden, Italy or Central Europe—the end of democracy is all but certain. Western elections appear to be democratic only when people vote in a certain way. Never mind what they want; plebs (pardon, deplorables) can’t be expected to make the right decision anyway.
For Krugman and many others fuelling hysteria over the dreadful fascist future with a Republican-majority Congress, Orbán appears to be the ultimate bogeyman. Ever since he was a speaker at the Dallas CPAC, the American left’s obsession with him has been growing exponentially, labelling him an autocrat with a ‘dark worldview’. Come on, there are actual dictators in the world, give the man a break.
‘Indeed, these days it’s almost conventional wisdom that the GOP will, if it can, turn America into something like Viktor Orban’s Hungary: a democracy on paper, but an ethnonationalist, authoritarian one-party state in practice’, wrote Krugman, throwing in the latest buzzwords. First, ethnonationalism makes no sense at all in the American context and has a different meaning even in the case of tiny homogeneous countries, such as Hungary, where it does. The motivation for preserving the unique cultural heritage of just ten million people is not the same as someone role-playing as George Rockwell in their mother’s basement.
Furthermore, I have to categorically dismiss the second charge: the Hungarian left had three elections to return to power and it’s not Orbán’s fault that they were rejected by the voters each and every time. They failed to present a viable alternative even after twelve years of Fidesz governance. Even after most opposition parties ran together on a single platform, their candidates’ striking incompetence handed Orbán his biggest victory ever in 2022. If the Hungarian elections were ultimately just a farce, as Krugman suggested, why would various foreign—including American—actors invest so much money in influencing the outcome? Not to mention that it is not exactly democratic to interfere in other countries electoral processes.
The most-read online publications as well as the most-watched TV channels are all leftist in Hungary
Nonetheless, Krugman goes on by saying that even though the Republicans are trying to imitate Orbán’s regime, if given power they will become much more extreme. ‘While [Orbán’s] regime is deeply repressive, the repression is relatively subtle. It is, as one perceptive article put it, “soft fascism,” which makes dissidents powerless via its control of the economy and the news media without beating them up or putting them in jail.’ To be clear: the most-read online publications as well as the most-watched TV channels are all leftist in Hungary and openly critical of the government. A true benchmark of fascism, isn’t it? True, conservative political forces in Hungary did put considerable effort into building up their own media enterprises, but only to balance the former monopoly of the Left (akin to the situation in the US). Now it’s closing on fifty-fifty, finally. But of course, leftists are welcome to continue to pursue this ‘subtle’ authoritarianism angle, we’re used to it. It reminds me of the old joke with the rabbit who’s being beaten for wearing and for not wearing a cap. Orbán’s a dictator, period, whatever he does.
Now, before closing with the necessary exhortation to vote blue, Krugman finishes his argument by saying that Republicans could transform the country into full-blown authoritarianism. ‘Do you think a MAGA regime, with or without Donald Trump, would be equally subtle? …In short, if MAGA wins, we’ll probably find ourselves wishing its rule was as tolerant, relatively benign and relatively nonviolent as Orban’s.’ As I said before, this is the same script since 2016. The establishment appeared to be terrified that Trump would imprison people left and right, take away fundamental rights and deport half the population. None of that happened. So why would it now, under a Democratic President? Krugman is of the same position as half of the DNC these last weeks. I doubt it’s a good campaign strategy to pre-emptively pose as a victim in every election, as what that reflects is insecurity. And it is especially unprofessional to throw such a melodramatic tantrum before the midterms, which statistically favour the opposition anyway (as Krugman so correctly pointed out). Voters want frankness, commitment and competence, not torture fantasy soap operas.
Relax, American democracy will be fine. If anything, a periodic red shift would only ensure that political plurality stays in place. As a Hungarian living under Orbán’s regime I can tell you that your democracy is safe, but perhaps your hypocracy isn’t.