Insights from Hungary to beat Trumpism

It is not only workers who are propping up national-populist politics. The primary beneficiaries of Trumpism and Orbánism are the elites. Even though inequality undermines economic development in…

It is not only workers who are propping up national-populist politics. The primary beneficiaries of Trumpism and Orbánism are the elites. Even though inequality undermines economic development in the long run, upward redistribution can bolster growth in the short run. Thus, national populists can also attract the support of the national bourgeoisie, foreign investors, and the upper-middle-class.

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Finally, moderate status-quo politics is not enough to beat Trumpism.

Progressives have to go mainstream and avoid being stigmatized as fringe; such slurs can cost elections. Yet, this is no vindication of status quo politics. Centrist Democrats should recognize that their party’s rightward shift in the 1980s and 90s set the stage for Trumpism. When the left moves right on social and economic policy, right-wing populists win. After waves of avant-garde neoliberal reforms, the Hungarian Socialist Party collapsed in 2010, when most electors viewed the party as the economic elite’s parliamentary wing.

Bokros Lajos – who’s he?, 2013. | Wikicommons/Tibor Végh. Some rights reserved.

In 2014, four years after Orban’s return to power, when his party’s popularity was relatively low, the opposition united behind Lajos Bokros as mayoral candidate. Bokros was a former finance minister in 1995, a well-known liberal technocrat, a former director for the World Bank. Even though Budapest is by far the most liberal city in Hungary, Bokros lost by 13%. Five years later, with Fidesz significantly more popular than in 2014, the opposition united behind a young progressive candidate, Gergely Karácsony, co-chair of a small green-left party, after he had beaten one of the country’s most well-known centrist-liberal media celebrities in the primary election. Mr. Karácsony then went on to beat the incumbent mayor supported by Fidesz, Istvan Tarlós, by 6%.


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