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Commentary: Trump’s Role Model

Posted on Tuesday 7/30/2019
David Driesen

Trump’s Role Model

By Professor David Driesen

(Project Syndicate | July 30, 2019) US President Donald Trump did not invent his immigration policy. Instead, he borrowed much of it from his fellow autocrat Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, who fanned anti-migrant sentiment among a large enough share of voters to gain the political power he needed to dismantle Hungarian democracy.

Given Trump’s imitation of Orbán, US liberals who bewail the cruelty and stupidity of Trump’s immigration policies, and conservatives who advocate “border security,” miss the point. Trump is not using such measures to try to make America great; like his role model, he is trying to manufacture an immigration-related crisis to help him establish an autocracy. And although Trump’s efforts in this regard are less far advanced than Orbán’s nine-year-old project in Hungary, he has made more progress than most Americans realize.

Orbán, like Trump, has made demonization of immigrants a defining feature of his administration. Both leaders pursue racist policies of turning back immigrants from the south (mostly Central American asylum seekers trying to enter the United States, and Syrians coming to Hungary). Both justify their policies in part by claiming – with little or no evidence – that immigrants fleeing extreme violence and poverty are engaged in terrorism.

Hungary has not experienced a terrorist incident. But Orbán nonetheless managed to secure a terrorism conviction of an exhausted and frustrated Syrian asylum seeker (later released) for throwing stones when the government built a razor-wire fence on Hungary’s southern border to block migrants making the arduous journey across the Balkans.

Similarly, Trump has sought to deflect attention from low crime rates in America’s immigrant communities by highlighting violent incidents among the much larger naturalized immigrant population. In particular, Trump repeatedly cited three brutal murders in California to bolster support for his harsh immigration policies.

The Hungarian government built its fence on the country’s border with Serbia in 2015. Trump has since copied Orbán by advocating construction of a wall on the much longer southern US border. And, just as Orbán used emergency powers to deploy Hungary’s army along its border and to build his fence, Trump has tried to use similar powers to order the US Army to fortify the southern border.

In defiance of international law, Hungary has limited asylum claims in order to prevent even immigrants fleeing extreme violence from entering the country. The Hungarian authorities have also put asylum seekers in detention camps pending processing of their applications, and have tried to restrict the number of asylum claims by relying on a third country, Serbia, to absorb the refugees ...

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