Editorial: Strange times? Weʼve been here before
The following is the editorial from the July 29 biweekly edition of the Budapest Business Journal.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (center) in Baile Tusnad, Romania, on July 23. (Photo: MTI/Zoltán Máthé)
The news may sound surprising, but it really isn’t. We have been here before.
In what has become an annual tradition, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán went to his party’s summer retreat in Baile Tusnad, Romania, and gave a speech designed to shock. This time Orbán endorsed the American presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the former reality TV star who used to promote professional wrestling and beauty contests.
Once again, Orbán grabbed headlines with an unorthodox pronouncement, but there is nothing surprising about his claim of admiration for Trump.
Orbán built a fence along his country’s southern border to keep migrants out, and Trump wants to build a wall on his country’s southern border to keep migrants out.
Orbán says Hungary should not have to allow Muslims in Hungary, and Trump wants to prevent Muslims from entering the United States.
Orbán has said it is important to shut out migrants to “protect our wives and daughters”, and Trump has said that many illegal immigrants from Mexico are rapists.
Orbán has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest boosters in Europe, and Trump not only publicly admires Putin but also apparently receives help from the Russian government’s hackers.
Both men need enemies: As populists, they seek to build their own support by fomenting fear of outsiders. That means they both create risks of greater divisions that can cause harm to their countries and the world at large.
Both men seem to be part of a phenomenon similar to one that the world witnessed after the Great Depression: At the time, people were afraid of the uncertainty of economic upheaval. They were afraid they could not guarantee their children the same standard of living that they had enjoyed. In the 1930s, demagogues tapped into that fear to create destructive dictatorships.
Now, shortly after the Great Recession, people are again left uncertain by a rapidly changing economy, and their fears are exacerbated by mass migrations, which may have political causes but can also be traced to economic difficulties. Once again people are looking for demagogues who promise easy answers. And once again the demagogues’ answer is to blame other people and to find ways to isolate ourselves from them, or to drive them away.
Demagogues like Orbán and Trump say their extreme measures are needed in a world threatened by terrorists. But their approach is the same as the terrorist leaders: Draw clear lines between “us” and “them”, and then hate and fear “them”. ISIS recruits people who feel cut off from the society they were raised in, and it gains its strength from leaders who would isolate Muslims.
It may sound trite, but it’s true: Facing the uncertainty of the future is much easier if we do it together, instead of divided.
We should know this by now. We have been here before, and last time it did not end well. Maybe we can act differently this time.
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