Recently there has been extensive reporting on how a select group of the wealthiest Americans promotes Donald Trump’s accusation that he won the election, referred to as the Big Lie. Nothing new here.
However, the current reporting shows how multimillionaires, foundations, and news media stars use white ethnic nationalism to protect an unregulated market economy. An economy that best serves the richest from being tapped to fund government programs, like providing greater economic opportunities for the shrinking middle class. In that effort, a new role model for this strategy has emerged, the anti-immigration and anti-democratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer ignited a new round of discussing how the role of money in politics is undermining our democratic institutions. Her piece The Big Money Behind the Big Lie has received strong endorsements from other reporters, two of which are Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce and Dartagnan of the Daily Kos.
Mayer exposes who is behind the half-year-long Presidential election ballot recount in Arizona, despite no evidence that one was needed. She begins with the multimillionaire founder of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrn, who financed the film “The Deep Rig.” It claims that Joe Biden supporters, including Antifa members, stole the 2020 Presidential election. According to Mayer, “the film’s director, who had previously made an exposé contending that the real perpetrators of 9/11 were space aliens.”
The film is relevant to the Arizona recount because it introduces Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company that consults on software security. Logan asserts that CIA agents, among other “deep state” bureaucrats, have intentionally spread disinformation about the election. He warns viewers that, “If we don’t fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy.”
Ignoring this attitude or because of it, the president of the Arizona State Senate, Karen Fann, put Logan’s company in charge of the “forensic audit.” His firm had never performed an election audit. They took months to complete an analysis of Arizona’s Presidential election vote. In July, the company released figures on how they funded the audit. They reported that private donations covered 97 percent of the cost. Public funding was $150,000; private funding was nearly $5.7 million. The identifiable funding groups were ones that have promoted false claims that the election was tainted. Do you think that might have influenced the auditors?
The attempt by Trump supporters to find fraud in their audit is not rationally justified by the data available to the public. For example, although the Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, certified Biden’s victory in Arizona, state and federal courts rejected fraud claims, two previous audits of Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest county, found the count had been accurate. That county went for Biden by more than two points.
Back in May, even the Republican-majority board of supervisors of Maricopa County in a public meeting called the audit a “sham” and a “spectacle that is harming all of us.” The Board Chair called the recount a “grift disguised as an audit” because Trump supporters raised funds for the recount without any public oversight on how the donated money was spent.
In August, a new report further weakened the justification for a recount. A team of three experienced election auditors using public records showed that Biden beat Donald Trump during every day of voting in the presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona. The researchers consisted of two from Clear Ballot, a federally certified election auditing and technology firm, and an experienced Arizona Republican Party election observer. They also discovered that the number of Arizona disaffected Republican voters who voted for Biden was over four times greater than the statewide margin of Trump’s vote loss to Biden. In other words, Biden won in Arizona because many Republicans voted for Republicans running for lower public offices but not for Trump.
So, why the need for a recount since there is so much evidence that the election was a fair one and no evidence to support the Big Lie that it was stolen? The answer is that the Republican Party needs Donald Trump’s populist appeal to turn out white voters in their primaries. And just as important, multimillionaire business owners will donate unlimited amounts to elect a Trump Republican candidate. So, the white voters believe they have someone who will protect their social interests and the business owners get someone who will protect their financial interests.
For both groups, servicing the economic needs and protecting the civil rights of everyone through mandated government regulations is seen as dangerously changing the status quo. They cannot believe that most Americans were so stupid to have voted for Biden, who would undoubtedly make their lives worse off. There must have been a conspiracy to steal the election from Trump. The only way to get Trump back in office is now to show how he lost the election through fraud.
Besides identifying individual multimillionaires Byrn and Logan, Mayer also identifies a couple of private foundations funding efforts to show that the election was stolen from Trump. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation’s website notes that a guiding principle is to “combat efforts to undermine economic freedom.” However, it has funded efforts over the last six years to find fraud in elections that have elected people who threaten that free market.
Mayer says Bradley’s track record shows how it has “become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules.” The foundation’s endowment of $850 million has funded a network of groups spreading fear about election fraud. Since 2012, when Barak Obama ran for his second term, the Bradley Foundation spent $18 million supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.
Mayer also identifies the Heritage Foundation as one of the leaders in the well-funded movement to constrain access to voting. The Bradley Foundation is its third-largest contributor. Both foundations are now pursuing an objective that Paul Weyrich, one of Heritage’s founders, openly stated, according to Nancy Maclean in her book Democracy in Chains, “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative is headed up by Hans von Spakovsky, who worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, using the Voting Rights Act, to prosecute purported fraud by Black voters and election officials. Afterward, he was a lawyer for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which immediately filed a suit against Maricopa County, alleging that a Sharpie-using voter had been disenfranchised. However, Arizona’s Republican attorney general concluded after a day of investigation that the Sharpie story was nonsense.
The camaraderie between Trump and the Heritage Foundation led to at least 66 Heritage Foundation employees and alumni receiving positions in the Trump administration. According to Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times Magazine, both share the same constituencies. Much like Trump’s, Heritage’s constituency is equal parts donor class and populist base. Its $80 million annual budget depends on six-figure donations from wealthy Republicans. The Foundation website claims to have voluntary support from more than 500,000 members, but there is no breakout of how much they provide to the foundation’s budget.
Appealing to aggrieved white Americans and frightened wealthy Americans is a dynamite formula for blowing up our democracy’s institutions. The passion of a reactionary populist movement and the deep pockets of the richest can dismantle any government trying to shift services and resources to those who have not been sufficiently receiving them.
And that is why Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the hero of this nation’s most-watched right-wing populist, Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He treated his 3 million viewer audience to a whole week of broadcasting from the Hungarian capital. In addition, Tucker personally met with Orbán, and each posted photos of their meeting on social media.
He was in Budapest to address a conference of Mathias Corvinus Collegium. The New York Times reported that Orbán granted $1.7 billion (about one percent of Hungary’s GDP) to it to train a new generation of conservative elite across Europe.
However, like Orbán and Carlson, radical conservatives have relabeled a “conservative” as a proponent of primarily protecting the way of life for some racial or ethnic groups who fear other such groups from disrupting or destroying it. Immigration is the touchstone of such a fear in Hungary and America for them.
Carlson tweets that at the rate of immigration coming into Hungary, “unless something changes dramatically, there will be no more Hungarians.” Orbán’s solution, which Carlson applauds, is “helping the native population to have more children.” They both accuse liberals of supporting a policy to “import a replacement population from the Third World.” Sound familiar? Something like building a wall between America and Mexico. No need to stop Canadians; they’re one of us.
Orbán has embraced ethnonationalism (“Hungary for the Hungarians”) in opposing immigrants coming into his country who are not Hungarians. He also uses this perspective as a defense of “Christendom” against Islam and to save white Christian European Heritage from the corrupting influence of liberalism that accepts gays and women as equal citizens. Orbán banned gender studies from higher education and, in 2020, ended the legal recognition of transgender and intersex people.
Through these and other policies, he proudly hailed Hungary as an “illiberal democracy,” which he has recently renamed “Christian democracy.” But, unfortunately, the democracy component in either version has shriveled as Orbán has carefully undermined an independent press. Reporters Without Borders listed Orbán as one of the world’s 37 “press freedom predators,” arguing that he “has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010.”
Hungary’s judiciary has also been severely compromised. When Orbán’s political party, the Fidesz, achieved a supermajority in parliament, they promptly changed the constitution to expand its constitutional court, which decides whether laws passed by parliament are constitutional. Orbán filled the new seats with Fidesz loyalists while also forcing all judges over the age of 62 to retire. He then filled their seats with Fidesz-friendly jurists.
Orbán and his party’s institutional changes have led to charges that Hungary is on the road to becoming an authoritarian state. The European Parliament voted three years ago, in September 2018, to label Orbán’s government a “systemic threat to the rule of law.” More restrictions on traditional liberal freedoms have occurred since then.
Could this be America’s future if Donald Trump returns or Trumpites come to have a supermajority in congress? Carlson asked his TV audience, “Should we follow Hungary’s example?” while lauding Hungary’s pro-nationalist and increasingly restrictive laws on personal freedoms. An alliance of the very rich, the Christian white ethnic-nationalists, and the right-wing media are working very hard to win over the Republican Party to that cause. They appear to be succeeding.
Nick Licata is the author of Becoming A Citizen Activist and has served five terms on the Seattle City Council, was named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of over 1,000 progressive municipal officials.
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