By David A. Lehrer
The past day has been a revelatory one in terms of Donald Trump and insight into his policies and character.
On the one hand he has thrown down the gauntlet against the Iranian mullahs and their efforts to destabilize the Middle East. The ostensible reason being that their ideology is one that is antithetical to our notions of liberty, freedom, democracy and security.
The president similarly has expressed his disgust for and interest in destabilizing the Maduro regime in Venezuela. A regime that has successfully impoverished a country that has bountiful resources and was once a model of democracy.
Any purported concerns Trump has expressed about "democracy" and its importance, were decimated yesterday in what was among his most revelatory meeting. He entertained Viktor Orban, the far-right prime minister of Hungary in the Oval Office. This is a meeting that Orban has sought for years to legitimize his regime in the eyes of his countrymen and his colleague nations in NATO.
With his Orban meeting, Trump revealed that there is NO rationale for what he does. Orban has praised him and sidled up to him and Trump glowingly welcomed the Hungarian despite his abysmal record---so Trump returned the favors,
Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways. Highly respected. Respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's okay. That's okay. You've done a good job and you've kept your country safe.... And you have been great with respect to Christian communities. You have really put a block up, and we appreciate that very much.
Were Orban the somewhat conservative leader of a western European democracy, Trump's effusive praise might have been appropriate. But Orban is the authoritarian leader of an "illiberal democracy" (Orban's preferred term) who undermines the norms and values that are essential to a democracy---he traffics in bigotry and any other, decent or indecent, means that further his power.
He isn't a "little bit controversial" --he is a corrupt autocrat who dabbles in explicit and implicit anti-Semitism, overt anti-Muslim hate, and has no compunctions about doing so.
The luster that he gains from entering the Oval Office and sitting vis a vis with the president of the United States who is, ostensibly, the leader of the FREE world is incalculable.
Several years ago, I attended a commemoration at the Reagan Presidential Library of the thirtieth anniversary of the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy under President Ronald Reagan. The NED and its sister organizations were feted by George Shultz and Madeleine Albright. Both former Secretaries of State quoted liberally from Reagan's speech at Westminster establishing the fund whose purpose is "to foster the infrastructure of democracy-the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities."
Orban's goals are the precise opposite,
[he] dreams of liquidating the intelligentsia, draining the public of education, and molding a more pliant nation. But he is a state-of-the-art autocrat; he understands that he need not resort to the truncheon or the midnight knock at the door. His assault on civil society arrives in the guise of legalisms subverting the institutions the might challenge his authority" (Franklin Foer in The Atlantic).
Our president has chosen to thumb his nose at what has historically been the bi-partisan effort---the promotion of democratic institutions around the world. His embrace of Orban, whose small country of 10 million could be pressured to alter its insidious course, is unforgivable and un-American.
Today's New York Times and The Atlantic have lengthy articles about what a bad actor Orban is. He is a leader who, in words The New York Times quotes from Hungarian philosopher and Holocaust survivor Agnes Heller, "has no ideology, his only goal is power and whatever means is going to get him more power, he is going to use it."
This amoral and insidiously dangerous autocrat got the privilege of an Oval Office visit and received the praise of the president of the United States. It is shameful and a stain on the presidency.