“The era of liberal democracy is over.” So said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last week as he began his fourth overall term in office. It’s a persuasive message coming from a self-proclaimed champion of “illiberal democracy” who has consolidated near-dictatorial power by fomenting anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic prejudice, rewriting electoral laws, and installing his cronies to run the media, law enforcement, the judiciary, cultural institutions, churches, schools and universities.
What Orban is doing in Hungary is reflective of a global trend. According to Freedom House, 2017 represented the “12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.” This is the era of strongmen, such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, Nicolás Maduro and Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who have brutally snuffed out the remnants of democracy in their countries. In China, collective rule has given way to Xi Jinping’s cult of personality. The Arab Spring led to greater despotism and chaos; only in Tunisia did a democracy emerge. Freedom House frets that President Trump is eroding freedom even in the United States with his attacks on the media and the rule of law while supporting dictators abroad.