Wednesday, January 6, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt five)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Americans are of course familiar with the ways a lie can increase polarization and inflame xenophobia. Long before he ran for president, Donald Trump entered American politics promoting birtherism, the false premise that President Barack Obama was not born in America—a conspiracy theory whose power was seriously underestimated at the time. But in at least two European countries, Poland and Hungary, we now have examples of what happens when a Medium-Size Lie—a conspiracy theory—is propogated first by a political party as the central plank of its election campaign, and then by a ruling party, with the full force of a modern, centralized state apparatus behind it.

In Hungary, the lie is unoriginal: It is the belief, now promoted by the Russian government and many others, in the superhuman powers of George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish billionaire who is supposedly plotting to destroy Hungary through the deliberate importation of migrants. This theory, like many successful conspiracy theories, is built on a grain of truth: Soros did once suggest that wealthy Europe might make a humanitarian gesture and admit more Syrians, in order to help the poorer nations of the Middle East cope with the refugee crisis. But the propaganda in Hungary—and on myriad European and American far-right, white supremacist, and “identitarian” websites—goes far beyond that. It suggests that Soros is the chief instigator of a deliberate Jewish plot to replace white, Christian Europeans—and Hungarians in particular—with brown-skinned Muslims. These movements do not perceive migrants just as an economic burden or even a terrorist threat, but rather as an existential challenge to the nation itself. At various times, the Hungarian government has put Soros’s face on posters, on the floors of subway trains, and on leaflets, hoping that it will scare Hungarians into supporting the government.

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