What Actions Characterize Authoritarian Governments Check All That Apply

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Zac Beauchamp is a senior correspondent covering the challenges of ideology and democracy, both at home and abroad. Before joining in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress dedicated to the ideas shaping our political world.

What Actions Characterize Authoritarian Governments Check All That Apply

In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law restricting LGBTQ rights, including a provision banning the teaching of LGBTQ issues in sex education classes.

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About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the Don’t Say Gay bill, which prohibited “school personnel or third parties from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom” until the third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely related.

“The don’t tell gay law actually came about after what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, editor-in-chief of the American Conservative magazine, said in an interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter … he said he spoke to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary and he said, “Oh yes, we were seeing Hungarians, so Hungary.”

(When I asked press secretary Kristina Pushau DeSantis about the possible connection, she initially denied knowing about the Hungarian inspiration for the Florida law. After being shown the Dreher quote, she did not respond. Dreher did not respond to two requests for comment.)

It is easy to see the connection between bills, clauses and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent homosexuals from preying on children. Pushaw described the Florida law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding: “If you’re against the Anti-Trafficking Bill, you’re probably a babysitter,” meaning someone who grooms children so they can be targeted. sexual assault, abuse Targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters, which is increasingly common on the right.

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This is not the only example. DeSantis, who has established himself as a pugilistic culture warrior running for president, has steadily developed a political agenda that resonates with Orbán’s governing ethos, in which a perceived existential cultural threat from the left justifies the aggressive use of state power. against the enemies of the right.

Most recently, there was pressure from DeSantis against a special tax break for Disney. One of Orbán’s signature moves is to use regulatory powers to punish dissenting political speech. From higher education to social media to bullshit, DeSantis has followed in Orbán’s footsteps, turning politics into a tool for fringe groups while consolidating his own party’s power.

Orbán has recently emerged as an aspirational model for many on Trump’s right. During his presidency, many observers on both sides of the aisle compared Trump to a Hungarian autocrat, and not without justification. But after a visit to Hungary in 2018, I concluded that Trump is not competent or disciplined enough to implement Orbán-style authoritarianism in America on his own. The real concern, I argued, was the GOP adopting the characteristics of Orbán’s Fidesz party.

DeSantis’ shift in the Republican agenda in Florida suggests that it is continuing, perhaps accelerating, in that direction. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus building, instead focusing his governing philosophy on using politics to have a free policy. While Trump may have been the ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian overthrow, DeSantis shows how it could play out in practice. The consequences for Florida and American democracy in general could be dire.

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Undoubtedly, Hungary, an authoritarian state that is anything but, is increasingly important in the American right-wing imagination.

Tucker Carlson, the most influential media personality in the GOP today, is leading the effort. In January, Carlson released a “documentary” about Orbán’s government, lionizing his regime and encouraging Republicans to emulate him. That month, Donald Trump endorsed Orbán for re-election, calling him a “strong leader” who has “done a strong and wonderful job protecting Hungary.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, on April 3. Petr David Yosek / AP

This highlights the resonances between DeSantis’ agenda and Orbán’s agenda in particular. The “Don’t Tell About Gays” law and the fight with Disney are the most prominent examples.

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Orbán’s political model often uses two demagogic steps. his regime. Targets include Muslim immigrants, Jewish financier George Soros, and more recently LGBTQ Hungarians. Hungary’s version of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which the government called the Anti-Child Abuse Bill, expanded the government’s control over curricula and powers to regulate Hungarian broadcasting.

You see similar logic in DeSantis’ Florida. Arguing that LGBTQ-themed classroom education somehow threatens children, the governor and his allies pushed a vague and far-reaching bill that would give both the state and private citizens the right to attend schools that teach LGBTQ identity. The moral panic surrounding alleged LGBTQ “grooming” serves to justify the imposition of ideological control over public education and the right of progressive and LGBTQ teachers to speak out. (In this sense, both Orbán and DeSantis have targeted the curriculum and textbooks used in K-12 schools for purely political-cultural reasons.)

Predictably, Florida’s bill sparked a backlash against corporate America, which DeSantis used as an excuse for more Orbán-like behavior.

After Disney released a statement criticizing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis moved to strip the corporation of its special tax status for the 40 square miles surrounding Disney World. In this area, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Florida allows the mega-corporation to act largely as a local government, for example by giving it the right to collect taxes (from itself) and build roads. Those exemptions, first granted by the state in 1967, are highly beneficial to the company, and on Friday DeSantis signed a bill to repeal them.

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His reasoning was very clear. the move was a direct punishment for Disney’s stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” law. In a fundraising letter, DeSantis wrote: “Disney and other woke corporations will no longer get away with selling their out-of-control pressure campaigns.” On Newsmax, Janet Nunez stated that Disney has “really changed what they stand for,” denouncing the company’s “very public agenda to indoctrinate our children.”

Such use of regulatory power to punish political opponents is outside of Orbán’s playbook. In 2015, Lajos Simiczka, a very wealthy Hungarian businessman and longtime ally of Orbán, attacked his patron using a common term used to describe the prime minister.

In response, the government cut back on Simicka’s media advertising and withdrew contracts from construction companies. After the 2018 Fidesz elections, Simicka sold his corporate holdings (mostly to pro-government figures). He moved to an isolated village in western Hungary; His last remaining business was a farm business owned by his wife.

DeSantis isn’t the first Republican to follow Orbani here. Trump attempted such a move several times, most notably trying to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner because CNN hated its coverage of his campaign and administration, according to Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. But he didn’t follow through, while DeSantis made good on his threats (at least for now).

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Higher education is another area that DeSantis, like Orbán, has specifically targeted. On April 22, DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE Act, a bill that specifically regulates what professors can teach about race and gender in college courses. In a letter to Florida State University, the free-speech group FIRE argued that the bill (also known as HB 7) is so obviously unconstitutional a curtailment of speech that administrators can “decline the bill.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis poses for a photo after signing HB 7, the Stop WOKE Act, at a school in Hialeah Gardens, Florida on April 22. Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“By rejecting any ‘instruction’ that ‘marries,’ ‘promotes,’ or ‘advances’ a prohibited concept, HB7 chills the broad range of debate and academic research protected by the First Amendment,” FIRE wrote. “Florida’s new ban will silence discussions about (among other issues) systemic racism, the gender pay gap, affirmative action and slavery, or reparations for indigenous peoples.”

Orbán’s attack on higher education has been more pronounced. In 2018, his government issued a decree de-accrediting Hungarian gender studies degrees, a move that banned Hungarian universities from offering the subject. That same year, his government kicked out the Central European University in Budapest, a highly respected liberal arts university founded by Orbán.

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