This week, folks working for Trump ran a sort of design contest, asking for votes on a set of graphics for something called the Trump Card, the purpose of which is neither to extend credit, nor grant points, nor offer any other sort of tangible collateral benefit (not even special insider prices on MAGA gear), but merely to signify membership in the club of gulli-bulls who keep sending Donald their hard-earned money. Scads and scads of money, actually (at least 60 million so far this year). You gotta admit, it’s a brilliant piece of marketing. They’re sending in the cash already, with no added incentive. Imagine what they’ll donate if you give them a secret agent badge, a chicken inspector button, or decoder ring or something!! C’mon, America – just fork over the moolah, and get a shiny plastic card for your wallet, which will make you feel special for sure, and perhaps serve as a passport of sorts among the true believers, a proof of one’s stalwart Trump-lovin’ bona fides. A few ideas were floated (one of which purported to be an “OFFICAL” card):
…but the one that got all the attention is the option pasted at top, owing to its rather startling similarity to Nazi iconography, as reproduced in the second image. I used to be a skeptic on MAGAWorld’s alleged adoption of Hitlerite symbols, like the apparent homage to a Waffen SS collar badge, known as the Odal Rune, that formed the stage layout for a recent CPAC conference (the same one that featured the Golden Tinkerbell Donald statue being rolled up and down the halls):
Just a coincidence, I said, trying hard to believe it. These days it’s getting harder to entertain such happy little thoughts. The fawning admiration for authoritarian power, the palpable longing for it, is becoming ever more express, and ever more urgent.
As always, Fox is at the vanguard in the most painfully obvious and blatantly propagandistic ways possible, having last week sent their prime time tentpole, Tucker Carlson, to Hungary to spend an entire week extolling the virtues of Victor Orban’s increasingly autocratic regime at the heart of Central Europe. Most well-adjusted, relatively sane folk on this side of the pond have thus far paid little attention to what’s been going on in Hungary over the past decade or so – with all this shit going on, who has the bandwidth for prolonged scrutiny of a middling European nation with about half the population, and 1/8 the GDP, of Greater New York City? – so let me give you the thumbnail.
Going a ways back to the prior century, as the reader will no doubt recall, Hungary was a partner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of many such European nationalist vanity projects to vanish in the conflagration of World War I, and later sided with the Axis during the Second World War, though it was occupied by the Germans after attempting a separate peace with the Allies following some horrendous shit-kickings at the hands of the Soviets. After that, Hungary was subsumed within the Soviet sphere of influence, and became an involuntary member of the Warsaw Pact. This status continued until the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, despite an attempt in 1956 to rebel and exit the Soviet sphere, which was quelled at the cost of 2,500 lives, including that of then Prime Minister Nagy, who was judicially murdered after a sham trial in 1958. With the Soviets finally gone at the dawn of the 1990s, Hungary ditched Communism, moved towards becoming a capitalist, pluralist, liberal democratic state, joined NATO in 1989, joined the EU in 2004, and generally seemed to be on a very positive track indeed, until 2010, when controversy over alleged electoral cheating by the ruling left wing party led to the ascendance of Victor Orban, and his right wing conservative Fidesz party, which won big in that year’s election. Having secured a parliamentary stranglehold, Orban moved quickly to consolidate his position. Among sweeping legal and structural changes that followed were a new constitution, extreme partisan gerrymandering, the harassment and marginalization of academics, intellectuals, and institutions of higher learning, the government takeover of mass media, stacking of the judiciary with loyalists, and so on. In this, Orban was abetted by the advice of prominent Republican political strategists, including one Arthur J. Finkelstein, mentor to the likes of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, and master of the wedge politics pioneered by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Victor studied the masters.
In the result, Hungary is now a deeply anti-semitic, homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian nationalist ethno-state and a sham democracy in which the key message is the demonization of non-white, and especially non-Christian interlopers who mean to destroy the nation’s heritage and way of life, and which, for all practical purposes, is a self-perpetuating autocracy under the leadership of a new breed of European strongman, a Trumpanista who champions what he has actually called “illiberal democracy” as the ideal form of government. This article gives you an excellent overview of the current state of play, if you crave greater, albeit greatly more nauseating, detail:
This is also a good discussion of recent developments:
As to Tucker’s latest foray, see this:
So this is where the jewel in the Fox News crown of thorns has been spending his time for the past week, broadcasting the message from Budapest that Orban’s model is the way to go. Of course it is; Orban, in following with almost eerie precision the GOP playbook for the reining-in of genuine democracy, has revelled in using his nation as a testing ground, a sort of Spanish Civil War, for the campaign that the GOP now intends to wage on home soil.
Or, rather, keep waging. This has been going on for quite some time, well before Trump, with steps that were initially relatively modest and purely by the book, yet insidious – the stacking of the judiciary, the stifling of legislative activity in Congress, the ruthless, relentless gerrymandering, and so on – and only since Trump have become overt, unabashed, and almost deceptively transparent, so ham-fisted, and at times so inept, that one was tempted to wonder whether the various GOP actors were really serious or merely performing for the Base, and to imagine that serious or not, they couldn’t possibly succeed. All of Trump’s lunatic braying about illegal votes and stolen elections, all those futile, legally risible court cases (which even Republican judicial appointees couldn’t help but laugh out the door), the hijinks of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, Sidney Powell et al, speeding their clown car from fiasco to fiasco, culminating in the frankly hilarious shit show in the driveway of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, it was all so ridiculous.
Then came January 6. Then came the revelations that Trump and his henchmen were attempting to bully election officials in various swing states to change vote tallies and install him as winner, one such attempt, the now infamous “11,780 votes” phone call to Georgia, caught on tape. Now we discover that within the Justice Department, Trump was plotting with Civil Division Head Jeffrey Clark, a low-profile functionary with aspirations to take the top slot, to send letters out to the Governors and legislative majority leaders of several swing States, claiming that Justice had detected irregularities in the 2020 election that signalled fraud, and urging them to call special sessions of their legislatures to appoint their own slates of Electors over those that would be apportioned to Biden under State laws. This seditious scheme, to be carried out, remember, under the imprimatur of the U.S. Justice Department, was rendered plausible by the (as ever) inept, obsolete, anti-majoritarian drafting of the Constitution, the arcane workings of the Electoral College, and recent Supreme Court pronouncements on the constitutional power of individual States to determine on their own authority how the process should work. It was breathtaking in its audacity. It would have set off the biggest constitutional crisis since the shells started landing on Fort Sumter.
That’s terrifying. Those letters never went out, because, for the umpteenth time, somebody within the administration – in this case acting A.G. Rosen, Clark’s superior – stood in the way, and formed a suicide pact with his other underlings to resign en masse if Trump tried to fire him and install Clark as acting A.G. to get the thing done, a plan that was very much in the works before it was thus thwarted. Once again, we dodged a bullet; but with each near miss the aim is recalibrated, and the next shot is taken.
Now look at the scheme in action, calculated to make a future coup more successful than the last, after execution of a few easy steps:
- Sow doubt and mistrust in the electoral process with constant charges of fraud, abetted by wild conspiracy theories about rigged electoral systems, claims about the interference of nebulous foreign actors, fraudulent “audits” like the one still ongoing in Arizona, and new laws to fend off the election irregularities that never occurred.
- Use those same draconian election laws to suppress the Democratic vote, and install political partisans in the positions that determine how the votes get counted, and who won.
- Continue to gerrymander the living guts out of every district over which GOP legislatures have sovereignty, further guaranteeing control of the House of Representatives, a potential ultimate arbiter of disputed Presidential election results under the Constitution.
- Portray the January 6 insurrection as a relative non-event, while simultaneously the righteous act of patriots justified, as all patriots increasingly are, in the use of violence to resist the destruction of the American way of life, normalizing insurrection and domestic terrorism.
- Continue to demonize minorities and immigrants as the dreaded Other, takers of jobs, spreaders of diseases, agents of street violence, rape, drug distribution and anarchy, all by way of creating the perception of a crisis which only radical action can solve.
- Stoke grievance at every opportunity.
- Portray any government effort to regulate anything as tyranny, and any legislation deigned to help ordinary folk as “socialism” (for which read, Communism), again creating the impression of a crisis in need of radical corrective action before it’s too late.
- Perpetuate the Trumpian cult of personality. Resist all efforts to discredit Donald, or expose the crimes of Dear Leader, as only he can fix things.
- Promote thinly-disguised authoritarianism as a better model of government, citing foreign examples as models for America.
Thus, re the final bullet point, Tucker’s fanboy audiences with Orban and his apologists in Hungary, broadcast to millions every night on Fox, acting as the GOP’s shadow state media, thereby mitigating the inability of the Republicans to follow Orban’s lead and take over all the major news outlets directly, with thanks as always to Rupert Murdoch. Of course, in extolling the virtues of Hungary’s form of illiberal democracy, it’s necessary to ignore several socialist aspects of the nanny state Orban oversees, and which help keep him in power (just as they did for Castro in Cuba, back in the day), such as its high, typically European tax rates, universal health care, free post-secondary education, and so on, measures which the autocrat has been chipping away at in various ways, but doesn’t dare do away with entirely. In social welfare terms, Hungary still looks a lot more like France than the America of the GOP’s wet dreams. Facts – goddamnable things – they’re always so dissonant, aren’t they? Always muddying pools.
Luckily for those plotting to destroy the Republic, facts don’t matter.
This is a moment of high peril for the United States, and a moment in which those of us in the other Western liberal democracies must begin to think about what, if anything, we can do to push history in the right direction, and how we’re going to react if, as an increasing number of liberal pundits fear, 2020 was nothing but a dry run for what bids fair to be a far more sophisticated, far less farcically ham-fisted, attempt to put an end to American democracy. Only God knows what the outside world can do, at this point, or what we should plan for, though one obvious thought is the need for a policy to address mass migration out of the Blue States towards friendlier countries if the Republicans pull off their coup in 2024. Other, more dire possibilities hardly bear thinking about, but sad to say it’s high time we did. We may, in just a few short years, be dealing with an America not just riven by internal conflict, but authoritarian, aggressive, and unfriendly to its neighbours and (former?) allies, jealous of their resources, resentful of their trade policies, hostile to their liberal stances on matters such as immigration, suspicious, spiteful, and altogether dangerous. What then?
Meanwhile, if somebody could strap Rupert Murdoch to the tip of a rocket and blast him into deep space – Elon? Jeff? Sir Richard? – and also arrange for Tucker Carlson’s mouth to be filled in with Portland Cement, a much needed counter-insurgency campaign would be off to a dandy start.