An interesting, in the horrible Chinese sense, and frightening opportunity for reflection and self criticism is unfolding in Central Europe now. We are seeing what happens, in fast forward, when an authoritarian right wing conservative government uses the leverage of economic fear and nationalistic xenophobia powered by a politically controlled media organization. The country in question is Hungary. They’ve basically been taken over by a radical gang that has changed the laws — and the Constitution — using legal means, to be sure, to that the gang in power will never lose power or be challenged by any other part of the government.
You can read about the latest developments here from Kim Lane Scheppele, via Paul Krugman.
This matters because this is what a “constitutional coup” looks like. This is particularly relevant to Michigan and Ohio.
On New Year’s Day, the new Hungarian constitution became law. The Hungarian parliament has been preparing for this event by passing a blizzard of “cardinal” – or super-majority – laws, changing the shape of virtually every political institution in Hungary and making the guarantee of constitutional rights less secure. In the last two weeks alone, the parliament has enacted so many new laws that it has been almost impossible to keep up. And to top it off, there was also a huge new omnibus constitutional amendment – an amendment to the new constitution even before it went into effect. By one commentator’s count, the Fidesz government has enacted 359 new laws since it came to power 18 months ago.
All of the laws connected to the new constitutional structure kicked into action yesterday if they hadn’t already taken effect. As a result, with the new year, Hungarians began living in a new constitutional order. In this new order, all of the escape hatches that would permit reentry into a constitutional democracy have been bolted shut. If constitutions are supposed to guarantee checks on political power and ensure the rights of citizens, this is an unconstitutional constitution.
The report makes fascinating reading. Scheppele starts with changes to the banking laws which guarantee control of the central bank by the political process.
There are also changes to the tax structure, in particular, the institution of a flat tax. Flat Tax, where have we heard this recently? As the author notes: “Prime Minister Orbán has been very dependent on a group of wealthy Hungarians to support his media operations and his political party” and this will guarantee them freedom from progressive taxation. In other words, the powerful become even more powerful and elite in this system. The Hungarian people who elected them were manipulated into believing that they were electing a conservative christian nationalistic protectionist system that would save the economy.
Also, if you read the Schepple piece, you will understand how the new laws that have been enacted are a sort time bomb. The government is poised to trigger a mechanism to seize the banks. It isn’t being done at the present time, because doing so would violate the European Union Financial agreements that Hungary adheres to as a member of the EU, but the Hungarian Government seems to be counting on and is ready to profit from the collapse of the EU. This of course has already caused big problems in the European EU Banking system which Hungary is a part of. It is seen as a sort of cynical sabotage by the Hungarians.
(Side note: It really helps to have something like a pocket-Murdock operation, a well-funded propaganda service disguised as “media.” Berlusconi benefited hugely from self-owned media but this is what FOX and the sensationalist conservative media is attempting to become in America)
“All of the escape hatches have been bolted shut.”
It’s fascinating to see what that involves.
The escape hatches in America involve an informed and enabled electorate. The manipulation and limiting of access to the electoral system by the Conservative Republicans in America is one way they are trying to insure that they control all means of access to power and making sure they stay in power once they are elected. The escape hatches in America involve a free and independent legal system. Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have made powerful anti law statements in the last week placing themselves and their idea of executive power above the realm of legal jurisdiction.
All of the conservative candidates have made a campaign habit of expressing contempt for court decisions they don’t agree with and expressing how they would deal with judges who didn’t toe their party line.
By the way, guess what happens when constitutional means of democratic redress are removed? Stalinism — a smothered state in which everyone hunkers down and watches his/her back; chaotic rebellion — where angry people play with the tumbrels a while; or that fun Brown Shirts era in Germany. We are already seeing the direct results of authoritarian rule elected with the assistance of the media and a compromised electoral system in America. The threat of economic catastrophe has already enabled States like Michigan, Florida and Ohio to elect State governments that have destroyed constitutional law and enacted laws and regulations that will take years to undo in the courts. The Citizens United Ruling by a corrupt faction of the United States Supreme Court has already pushed the levers for the destruction of American Constitutional safeguards. Hungary gives us an unique opportunity to see in fast forward the results of an unbridled compromised and corrupt authoritarian conservative regime when it is let loose.