Judicial Independence in Hungary – The Slide

Of the three countries mentioned in the prior post – Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela – Hungary’s democracy is the youngest.

Hungary found itself pulled behind the Iron Curtain as a satellite of the Soviet Union beginning in 1949, and through the mid-1950s suffered such severe political repression that Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter its 1956 “Man of the Year.” Over the next several decades, however, Hungary’s communist leadership implemented some privatization and free-market policies, leading to higher living standards, and earning Hungary a reputation as one of the Eastern Bloc’s least restrictive members. Communist rule ended in the spring of 1989, and the country held its first open elections as a parliamentary democratic republic in May 1990, more than eighteen months before the U.S.S.R. officially dissolved.

From then until 2010 Hungary enjoyed life as a healthy, feisty democracy.[1] Each of the four quadrennial parliamentary elections from 1990 through 2002 saw the incumbent political party ousted from power, resulting in a new government every four years. Hungary also began turning its attention westward, joining NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

Then in 2006 the Hungarian Socialist Party became the first party since the end of communism to win consecutive elections. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, its victory marked the commencement of democracy’s slow erosion in Hungary.

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Independent Judicial Systems

In the aftermath of our election last November, as the sitting President of the United States launched an unprecedented assault on the legitimacy of an electoral defeat, I appreciated anew the American legal system. Our courts, imperfect and unfair as they often are, thwarted Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the election results through a multitude of baseless lawsuits.

The thing is, he and his allies never intended to succeed using laws but rather employed the strategy of flooding the court system with frivolous litigation, believing that one of those cases would slip past the gatekeepers, all the way up to the Supreme Court, which would then have had no choice but to intervene. The intervention, of course, would have proven a fait accompli, with the six conservative Justices anointing Donald Trump as President without any regard for his vast deficit in both the popular and electoral vote.

Fortunately, this did not occur. The courts instead applied the laws, reviewed the evidence, and refused to participate in Trump’s devious, though ham-fisted and ultimately fruitless, dictatorial efforts. In doing so, the judicial branch demonstrated independence from executive influence, which proved to be one of several factors, including our federalism[1] and decentralized electoral process, that preserved, for the time being, the United States’ version of democracy.

But why? How did it work?

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… and Helots

I originally intended to write one brief entry that focused on slavery as the foundational element allowing ancient Sparta’s existence. The forced-labor parallels between Reverend Leonidas’ Louisiana – and the antebellum south in general, not to mention the colonial, pre-abolitionist north – and King Leonidas’s Sparta were too striking to ignore. But I became captivated by another intriguing parallel, religious fanaticism, and ended up down that rabbit hole for a little while.

Thus, a short one-issue post ended up as a two-parter on the twin pillars of slavery and theocracy.

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Zealots…

While writing about the Reverend General Leonidas Polk recently, I thought about his more famous namesake, King Leonidas of Sparta. Known for fighting, and losing, a bitterly contested engagement against a superior enemy twenty-five centuries ago, King Leonidas and his Spartans are still widely celebrated in western popular culture. Though annihilated that day, they were forever lionized in the process, mythologized for sacrificing themselves in the name of liberty, ensuring that all of Greece remained free and, in turn, preserving western civilization for all time.

As I read about the Spartans for the first time in a decade or so, it occurred to me that the legendary Greek monarch[1] and the Confederate general shared several significant attributes. Most notably, beyond both falling in battle against a more powerful foe, they led lives entirely dominated by theology and slavery.

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A Coda on Benevolence

I wanted to follow up briefly on some issues I came across while researching Confederate General Leonidas Polk. If you come across an article or book about him, what you are likely reading is a sympathetic historian explaining what a complicated, misunderstood, and dedicated man of God he was.

You might learn that he did everything in his power to maintain a high standard of living for the people he enslaved. That he was, for modern readers, an exemplary practitioner of a distasteful enterprise. I will omit specific articles and books, primarily because they are not difficult to find.

But although I will ignore his admirers, I want to address the lie of “the benevolent master.”

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I Thought You Left? Oh.

No, we are not going to see any state secede in the foreseeable future.

But if we did…

Texas makes for an interesting case study because of its enormous landmass, population, and economy. Although any competent attempt to forecast the impact secession may have on the departing state – not to mention the jilted country – requires much more information and insight than a thirteen-hundred-word blog post from a non-expert can provide, here are a few thoughts.[i]

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Secession? Really?

On December 11, 2020, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the state of Texas’ ill-conceived and disrespectful lawsuit challenging the election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That same day, Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West expressed his and the GOP’s disapproval of the decision, stating that “perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.”

Although West was later perplexed that people interpreted his words as a call for secession, his statement came only a few short days after Texas Republican State Representative Kyle Biedermann announced his intention to introduce a bill called the Texas Independence Referendum Act. This was, he said, because “the federal government is out of control and doesn’t represent the values of Texans.” The legislation would “allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation.”

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One Past Midnight

It is a few minutes after midnight on Inauguration Day. Earlier, now yesterday afternoon, we walked through our neighborhood over to the Capitol and reached the edge of the red zone, 3rd St SE on East Capitol St, and then over to where 2nd, Penn, and Independence all converge. The razor-wire topped fence started on 2nd and warded off the Library of Congress and Supreme Court. My partner was a little unsettled at the sight of so many National Guard troops milling about and lining up for their duties, all bearing M-4 assault rifles (unloaded). It felt a bit odd having it all right in the middle of D.C., but not all that out of place for me, growing up as I did on army bases. It felt rather banal. My faith in the military is congenital.

A friend of ours swung by our place a few hours later and our collective sentiment was that we are approaching the “dawn of a new day.” It felt short of relief, a bit dampened because of the uncertainty regarding how events will transpire a later today. So, while we are almost at dawn, the immediate feeling was that the train left the station, has yet to arrive but is near, and the momentum cannot be stopped. We are almost there.

I believe the day will proceed smoothly. At 12 noon, Joe Biden will be President of the United States and Kamala Harris will be Vice President of the United States. No security events will arise. Donald Trump will immediately begin receding from memory. Joe will give his address.

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A Normal Election

Last week’s domestic terrorist assault on the U.S. Capitol was just one of this presidency’s many episodes that portend an ominous future for America. Most pertinent: is this the last time a mob attacks the Capitol to overturn an election because the loser’s followers are unhappy with the results?

Or are insurrectionists storming the Legislature, or Supreme Court, or any other federal building something that we should now expect?

We all watched history unfold on January 6th, many – like me – in horror, others in glee, as forces hostile to the U.S. government occupied the Capitol for the first time since 1814. The riotous tide quickly overtook the police on duty, and the nerve-wracking event lasted several televised hours before the building was cleared and Congress could conclude its constitutional duty, counting the Electoral Votes.

What should have been a prosaic box-checking ritual finalizing Joe Biden’s victory became an unprecedented terrorist attack on democracy. It defied comprehension but surely cannot happen again.

Right?

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The Rig

On January 6, 2021, the sitting President of the United States incited his supporters to riot at the heart of America’s government during another dangerous tantrum he threw because he lost the election. This took place an hour before the ceremonial, procedural, ministerial, non-substantive act of counting the Electoral Votes.

Counting.                                                            

Not debating. Not arguing. Not repeating the falsehood that the election was stolen. And certainly not adjudicating. The Electoral Vote Count was not the platform to present evidence or delay proceedings. It was not the platform to air grievances. It most certainly was not the platform to spout lies repeatedly disproven or, worse, that are so far beyond the realm of possibility they cannot be disproven.

But that is how the proceeding was used. This was inappropriate and not permitted by the governing statutes or the Constitution.

It occurred because the people involved in the shameful display, Trump and his multitudinous allies, have created and perpetuated the lies that they argue require remedy.

These people are not debating or factfinding for any legitimate reason. Their goals nefarious and their means dishonest, they are instead engaging in the most basic and effective form of propaganda and doing so at the highest form of government.

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