Putin, Trump, Orban, & Maga Followers Lead To Authoritarianism

May 21, 2023

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON

MAY 22SHARE

The list of 500 banned Americans that Russian president Vladimir Putin released on Friday makes it clear that Putin is openly aligning himself with Trump and today’s MAGA Republicans. The people on the list are not necessarily involved with U.S. policy toward Russia; they are Americans who are standing in the way of the Trump movement’s takeover of our country. 

Notably, one of the names on the list is Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who refused to “find” the 11,780 votes Trump needed to win Georgia in 2020 and thus take the state’s electoral votes from Democratic winner Joe Biden. Also on the list was Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who killed Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to break into the chamber of the House of Representatives, where more than 60 representatives and staffers were holed up, on January 6, 2021. Others made the “500 list,” according to the statement, for being part of “power or law-enforcement structures directly involved in the persecution of dissidents in the wake of the so-called ‘storm of the Capitol.’” 

Since Trump’s attempt to overthrow the will of the voters on January 6, 2021, his supporters have imitated the language and the laws that enabled Putin to destroy representative democracy in Russia and Viktor Orbán to undermine liberal democracy in Hungary. 

Attempting to set a new kind of imperial Russia up as a challenger to the liberal democracies that have held the majority of global power since World War II, Putin in 2019 declared liberal democracy “obsolete.” At a time when his own economic and social troubles at home threatened his continuing hold on power, he lashed out at democracy’s emphasis on equality before the law, saying that immigrant rights, gay rights, and women’s rights undermine “the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.” 

Like Putin, Orbán cemented power with attacks on immigrants, LGBTQ people, and abortion rights while claiming to be shoring up traditional religion. Not surprisingly, both Putin and Orbán have praised Trump, with the overlap between the former U.S. president and the autocratic leaders becoming more pronounced as Trump’s followers work to undermine U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight to push back Russia’s invasion and in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s decision to hold a second meeting in Budapest, Hungary, this month. 

That overlap is also visible in the anti-immigrant, anti-LBGTQ, and antiabortion legislation spreading through U.S. states dominated by Trump loyalists. 

When Trump was in the White House, his team worked hard to put loyal supporters into power in state Republican parties before the 2020 election, possibly aware that he was likely to lose the vote and would have to turn to loyalists to steal it for him. (Recall that on October 31, 2020, Trump ally Stephen Bannon told an audience that the plan was simply to say he had won, and now, in a lawsuit filed last week against Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Noelle Dunphy alleges Giuliani told her of the scheme on February 7, 2019.) Packing the state parties with loyalists did indeed pay off: according to a study by Nick Corasaniti, Karen Yourish, and Keith Collins of the New York Times, at least 357 sitting Republican legislators in battleground states used their official positions either to discredit or to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

Radicalizing the state parties has continued since Trump left office, strengthening his base in state legislatures. Those legislators are now advancing the illiberal Christian democracy embraced by Putin and Orbán, using the same language and politics of fear to pass laws that explicitly reject the principle of a nation based in the idea that is central to democracy: that everyone is equal before the law.

The attempt to demonize immigrants has been central to the Trump base since he announced his presidential campaign with the statement that “the U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems” and went on to say that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs…bringing crime. They’re rapists.” (In fact, undocumented immigrants are less than half as likely as native-born Americans to be arrested for violent crimes or drug offenses.)

Republicans have refused to consider bipartisan legislation that would fund immigration courts and border security, and instead have hammered on the idea that immigrants are “flooding” our borders. They fought to keep the pandemic-related Title 42 in place, insisting that its end would create, as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) put it, an “Imminent Invasion.” When, in fact, the end of Title 42 led to a 60% decrease in unauthorized crossings, Greene still pushed forward, calling for Biden’s impeachment for his handling of immigration issues.

This same antidemocratic extremism explains the anti-trans, anti-drag, and anti-LGBTQ legislation, all of which are an attack on equality before the law. A March 8 article in Mother Jones by Madison Pauly exposed how the wave of anti-trans legislation passing through Republican-dominated state legislatures is written and pushed by well-funded Christian activists and organizations who argue, like Orbán, that they are protecting children (although 86% of trans or nonbinary young people have reported the attacks on them are affecting their mental health, and nearly half have seriously considered suicide). 

Advocates for those laws inaccurately claim that they are protecting children from genital mutilation, but as Nancy Goldstein of the Texas Observerpointed out, the American Academy of Pediatrics stands behind gender-affirming care. Dr. Joshua Safer, the executive director of the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City, explains: No other countries “are reconsidering the use of hormones and surgeries as first-line treatment for transgender children because hormones and surgeries are not first-line treatment for transgender children…. First-line interventions include mental health intakes and social adjustments…. Puberty blockers sometimes follow.” Those treatments are reversible if a patient changes their mind. 

Nonetheless, the rhetoric of demonization is working: Brian Tyler Cohen reports (with video) that “Christian” pastor Jason Graber recently called for the execution of all LGBTQ people as well as the parents of transgender people: “They just need to be shot in the back of the head and then we can string them up above a bridge.”

Goldstein points out that the language of demonization Republicans are using mimics that of the “southern strategy,” by which Republican leaders from President Richard Nixon onward solidified their base by creating the idea that Black Americans threatened the well-being of white people. That strategy, too, is ongoing in the Republican Party. On Monday, May 15, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that defunds any state college or university with a diversity, equity, and inclusion program and that bans courses that “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics,” a reference to courses that acknowledge racism or sexism. Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota, Iowa, and Ohio are considering similar legislation.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization; Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have all issued advisories warning against travel to Florida. “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the NAACP said. “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

With its antiabortion legislation, the MAGA movement is also signaling its abandonment of the idea that everyone should be equal before the law. Since the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision last June, fifteen states have banned or severely restricted abortion rights. On Tuesday a supermajority of the North Carolina legislature, established when Tricia Cotham, a Democrat who ran on abortion rights, switched parties, overrode the veto of the Democratic governor Roy Cooper to ban virtually all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

In Sumner County, Tennessee, these antidemocratic Republicans have taken over the county government and, as Christina A. Cassidy wrote today in the Associated Press, promptly changed the county’s official documents to say that operations would be “most importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the nation’s founding.” They are trying to shape the county, including election rules, according to their ideology.

It is these same MAGA Republicans who are threatening to force the United States to default on its debt for the first time in our history, with catastrophic consequences, unless the Democrats agree to protect all tax cuts and slash the domestic spending that protects ordinary Americans. It’s important to remember that the global autocratic movement is not solely about creating a traditional religious society; it is about destroying democracy to concentrate wealth and power in a small group of men, usually white men, who will dominate the rest of us.

For all the talk of House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) negotiating over a budget that Republicans will then approve before they are willing to raise the debt ceiling, he has never had the votes of the extremists that he needs to make that happen. They are demanding that the Democrats dismantle the government programs that protect ordinary Americans in exchange for agreeing not to blow up the world economy. 

And so, the battle over democracy has come down to the debt ceiling. 

Today, Biden told reporters that he would not agree to the extremists’ demands. “We put forward a proposal that cuts spending by more than a trillion dollars, and on top of the nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction that I previously proposed through the combination of spending cuts and new revenues,” he said. 

“Let me be clear,” he said. “I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects, for example, a $30 billion tax break for the oil industry, which made $200 billion last year—they don’t need an incentive of another $30 billion—while putting healthcare of 21 million Americans at risk by going after Medicaid.

“I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects $200 billion in excess payments for pharmaceutical industries and refusing to count that while cutting over 100,000 schoolteachers and…assistants’ jobs, 30,000 law enforcement officers’ jobs cut across…the entire United States of America.

“And I’m not going to agree to a deal that protects wealthy tax cheats and crypto traders while putting food assistance at risk for nearly… 1 million Americans.

“And it’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely—solely—on their partisan terms. They have to move as well.

“All four congressional leaders agree with me that…default is not—let me say it again—default is not an option. And I expect each of…these leaders…to live up to that commitment.

“America has never defaulted—never defaulted on our debt, and it never will.”

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