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Not so fast! Trump may return with a vengeance

Not so fast! Trump may return with a vengeance
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Many Americans are relieved that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE lost the presidential election and seems set to leave the White House on January 20. Yet, many heads of state have departed because of election losses but returned with a vengeance through an election victory while making sure that they never have to face a loss again. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the most obvious example, and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party, is another. We should learn from them.

Orban was prime minister from 1998-2002 but then lost an election. He won again in 2010, and he remains prime minister with the apparent intention never to leave office again. Kaczynski is somewhat weaker and stranger. His party ruled from 2005-2007 but then lost an election. Since 2015, it has been back in power with Kaczynski as its leader. 

The personalities of these men are quite different from Trump’s, but their politics and methods are strikingly similar. Like Trump, Orban and Kaczynski claim to stand for traditional Western Christian values, opposing homosexuality, abortion and immigration. Their supporters tend to be old, rural and poorly educated. They have formed an antiliberal alliance within the European Union.

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Each was out of power for eight years. Meanwhile, they plotted what to do so that they would never lose an election again. Their tricks tell us what we must not allow Trump to get away with.

In 2010, Orban’s party won the Hungarian parliamentary elections with 53 percent of the vote. But he got more than two-thirds majority in the parliament, which allowed him to change the constitution. Orban used his constitutional majority to change the courts in multiple ways so that his party would control them for decades. Kaczynski has also benefited from overrepresentation and court-packing. He got rid of liberal supreme court judges by reducing their retirement age.

The GOP already benefits from overrepresentation in the Senate and in the Electoral College. The 2020 census can correct the misrepresentation of the Electoral College but not of the Senate. Without constitutional changes, Trump, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.), has already politicized the U.S. courts. It will be difficult to depoliticize and professionalize the U.S. courts after the Trump-McConnell onslaught.

The next step for Orban was to take charge of public cash flows, primarily through public procurement. His son-in-law is now considered one of the richest people in Hungary thanks to such benefits. Ironically, Hungary receives some 3 percent of its GDP each year in grants from the European Union. Until some real estate business recently, Kaczynski, who lives like a political hermit, was not considered personally corrupt. But his party may benefit from the cash flows of the hundreds of Polish state companies. The European Union understands what is going on. It is now intent on cutting their large subsidies unless these two countries return to the rule of law. 

In terms of finances, the U.S. situation is quite different and far worse. Trump benefited from campaign contributions from a few immensely rich, multi-billionaires, whose dominant objective is low taxes and minimal regulation. The return on investment in political campaigns for low taxes is high. The Biden administration must focus on campaign finance reform.

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The most important restriction on dark money has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), namely the Corporate Transparency Act, which would force all now anonymous LLCs to report their ultimate beneficiary owners to the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the financial police of the U.S. Treasury. My suspicion is that this is the real reason why Trump insists on vetoing the NDAA. Such transparency would devastate both his political and personal finances, about which we know far too little. 

Dark money has become ever more important for political financing. Hopefully the Corporate Transparency Act will stop most of it, but it has loopholes that must be addressed. Such money can come from foreign countries, which is illegal but cannot be traced today. Reform needs to be done through campaign finance legislation.

Orban has already taken over nearly all media in Hungary, partially through the state, but mostly through well-financed cronies. Poland is on the way, trying to prohibit foreign ownership, but here Biden can block Kaczynski. The biggest foreign-owned television channel is owned by American Discovery. Unlike Trump, Biden is not likely to stay silent during an anti-American expropriation.

In order to defend democracy and the freedom of speech, the United States must seriously rethink its media and social network policy. Truth, tolerance and openness should be central policies, but they can be managed in many ways. This is likely to be a major point of discussion for the next few years. Dark money, however, is an immediate concern that needs to be fixed at once.

Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.