Dyer: Western populists feel momentum stall with Trump’s defeat

In this file photo taken on April 05, 2019 Fidesz-KDNP Member of the European Parliament Jozsef Szajer gives a speech to launch the campaign of the right-wing Fidesz ruling party ahead of the European Parliament elections in Budapest. – The news that Jozsef Szajer, a ‘confident’ of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was caught by surprise at a gay libertine party in Brussels during lockdown hit ‘like a bomb’ in Hungary, where the opposition and the press denounce the hypocrisy of a power which targets the LGBT movement. Szajer, Hungarian MEP, member of Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party and the EPP (center-right), announced on November 29, 2020 his resignation and his withdrawal from political life for personal reasons, in the midst of a crisis between Brussels and Budapest. (Photo by PETER KOHALMI/AFP via Getty Images)

“There is nothing wrong to participate in a sex party of any kind,” said a source in the European Parliament. “However, such kinds of meetings with many people are illegal under the coronavirus laws.”

Twenty-five naked men attending a loud party above a gay bar in central Brussels is clearly against Belgium’s coronavirus laws, which restrict indoor meetings to four people, so somebody called the police.

József Szájer is a senior founding member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, an ultra-nationalist, populist, authoritarian grouping that defends “family values” and condemns homosexuality, but he was arrested while fleeing that orgy (with ecstasy pills in his backpack). Yet it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him.

Szájer was a leading anti-gay agitator in Fidesz, and boasts he personally drafted changes to the Hungarian constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. This is the end of his political career, but there’s a bigger story here.

There was another scandal in Hungary last week, in which Szilárd Demeter, a senior cultural official linked to Fidesz, compared Budapest-born U.S. billionaire George Soros, a Jew who fled the Holocaust, to Adolf Hitler.

Demeter also called the European Union “George Soros’s gas chamber,” and claimed
that Hungary and Poland, the two Eastern European EU members with extreme right populist governments, are “the new Jews” of Europe. It’s utterly unhinged — and yet it sounds vaguely familiar.

The unbridled arrogance, the self-pity, the shameless, hysterical exaggeration are all hallmarks of the new breed of “illiberal” populists — and when they think they are losing, they always up the ante. I’m thinking, of course, of Donald Trump’s recent electoral defeat and subsequent behaviour.

Could that extraordinary recklessness be a communicable disease? Could it be spreading to Trump’s acolytes overseas as well? Well, consider Poland.

The leader of the ruling populist Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, 71, was widely supposed to have his finger on Poland’s pulse. But it all fell apart when a PiS-appointed court declared in late October that abortions would not be permitted, even in cases of severe fetal abnormality where the child would die immediately after birth.

Poland already had tight restrictions on abortion rights, but this was the last straw. Millions of young people, and especially young women, filled the streets of Polish cities in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Communism fell in 1989. “I wish I could abort my government,” read one banner.

The PiS backed down, postponing publication of the court’s decision indefinitely. But something has definitely changed in Poland: support for Kaczyński has now plunged to only 30 per cent.

Then there’s President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (“Tropical Trump”), whose favoured candidates were thrashed in Brazil’s big cities in local elections last month, and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (“Britain Trump”), now trailing the opposition leader in polls for the first time.

It’s just straws in the wind at this stage, but the defeat of Trump, the populist standard-bearer, is creating a sense in other populist-ruled countries that the juggernaut has stalled.

Was there really a coat-tail effect? Hard to say. But populist leaders across the West seem to believe that somehow or other their fates are tied to Trump’s. It shows in the growing recklessness of their behaviour, and in the frequency of their failures.

Does this mean they are all destined to vanish in his wake? Probably not, but that would be nice.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist based in London, England.

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