Using Enemies as an Opportunity

Derzsi Elekes Andor || CC 4.0

In politics, there should be no such thing as enemies. There should only be opponents and adversaries, who acknowledge that both sides have the best of intentions. This is, however, wishful thinking. Populists like creating enemies, so there will be the others against whom they can protect the country and its people. And populists are masters at manipulating the enemies they’ve created, exploiting them, and finding opportunities in unlikely places.

Feel Good

Many members of the opposition to populists are idealists. They don’t like facing reality, they base their actions on an ideal world. They do things not with an actual goals in mind, but with the intention to sooth themself thinking that they did try, so that they they feel good. Such a thing happens, for instance, at a number of protests. Angry people go out onto the streets, and yet, nothing happens. Nobody manages to mobilize, to use the might of the masses, so everyone goes home, thinking they did their share. And they likely won’t go out again. This happened in Hungary during the protests for CEU, which the Hungarian government wanted to close. Masses took to the streets fora day, than the mood subsided, people felt a bit disappointed, and went home, not to protest again in such great numbers during the election campaign, which is happening now. This was probably Fidesz’s plan all along.

A similar thing stands true for left-wing critics of Orbán, and for the case of George Soros. The government worked hard to create the image of an enemy, embodied by the left wing, and even more so, by Soros. If a left-wing politician form the U.S., or the EU criticizes the country, the government will immediately claim “we told you so, they are trying to meddle, they are trying to take away the national independence of the country”. And it works. All the while, the actions of the critics, though they might have had the best of intentions, did more harm than good. Soros gives a lot of money to NGOs working with immigrants, to help those in need, but the actual outcome is that immigrants will be worse off, as bashing Soros and immigrants will tie in with the government propaganda. This happened in Hungary, something similar but milder will happen in the UK, where Soros announced he is funding anti-Brexit efforts. It perfectly fits into the image of the enemy created by nationalist populists.

If Soros were to step outside of this image and not criticize the government so harshly (though he might be right, more damage is done), he might instead shatter the notion that he is the enemy. He could say he is proud of Orbán, who studied political science at Oxford at a Soros scholarship, for being a brilliant politician (which for the better or worse, he is), or he could say lo and behold, how well CEU thought the spokesman of Orbán that he manages to use his communication skills to the government’s advantage. He could do it while disagreeing with Fidesz, but by considering his goal, and the best way to achieve it. He could even select issues important to the government and donate money to support them (and that would not be against Soros’ values per se), such as bringing fast and cheap internet for families, or developing e-governance. IF the government refuses, they are the ones coming out worse off.

Rule the Media

Certain politicians, such as Trump and Orbán, manage to rule the media. Inthe case of the latter, in both senses of the phrase. The focus of this discussion is not how Orbán managed to take over most of the media in the country through proxies, but how do leaders manage to have such a high visibility all the time. The recipe is simple: there is no such thing as bad press. If they say something outrageous, the media will report it as it’s newsworthy. When Trump referred to the third world countries with a derogatory term, everyone throughout the world reported on it. But Trump only cares about the American citizens who decide elections. He had realized that a lot of his voters secretly think the same way he does, thus scoring high in terms of popularity with this statement.

Those who condemn him are easily dismissed as the snowflakes of the PC culture, or as fake news. In the meantime, Donald Trump is featured in the media, even if its in a negative context. But this way he can get his message through to everyone, and by repeating himself he will push the boundaries of what is proper to his own gains. And those people who will appear in the media trying to criticize Trump or Orbán, will probably end up making the mistake of feeling good, while not achieving their goals.

There Goes a Red Herring

Sometimes the politicians of this kind will say something outrageous only to divert the opposition’s attention from more serious issues, which could really hurt them. When Hungary announced a plan to tax the internet, the opposition and the citizens were frothing to outshout each other criticizing the move. Masses took out onto the streets, and the plans were withdrawn. Chalk it up as a victory for the protests? No, it was yet again probably the government’s plan to divert attention from the corruption scandals in the country, and by actually being the bigger man, and going back on their plans, seemingly bowing to the will of the people. Not every case is worth jumping on, the opposition needs to see the bigger picture.

Those who want to stop populists need to learn how to plan strategically, set aside fantasies, and see the cold reality. They need to step out of the role of an enemy forced upon them by the populists, and they need to be proactive rather than reactive, preventively tackling the propaganda of the populists. Only when the strategic goals are achieved, should they feel good about themselves.

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation