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Tom Zirpoli: For many Republicans, truth is the enemy | COMMENTARY

It was a sad day for America, just before the first anniversary of another sad day for our nation. In a statement released on Jan. 3, 2022, former President Donald Trump endorsed a dictator, Hungary’s Victor Orbán, who the rest of the world — with the exception of Russian President Vladimir Putin — has condemned.

“He has done a powerful and wonderful job in protecting Hungary, stopping illegal immigration, creating jobs, trade, and should be allowed to continue to do so in the upcoming Election. He is a strong leader and respected by all. He has my Complete support and Endorsement for reelection as Prime Minister!” wrote Trump in his statement.

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It is difficult to believe that these are the words of a former U.S. president, but the two men are cut from the same cloth. The only difference is that Orbán has succeeded in destroying democracy in Hungary; Trump has failed, so far, to do the same here. How sad that after two world wars to defeat communism in Europe, a former U.S. president endorses a new dictator in the heart of Europe.

Orbán has been condemned by Human Rights Watch for making “access to asylum close to impossible,” for destroying independent media and academic freedom, and for “undermining the rights of women and LGBT people, including blocking the implementation of the Istanbul Convention that aims to prevent violence against women.”

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Trump has always been impressed with Orbán’s strongman tactics. He invited him to the White House in 2019 and praised him as “highly respected all over Europe.” This is not true, of course, except in Trump’s mind. Europe has condemned Orbán and his anti-democratic policies. Only Trump and Putin sing his praises these days. And, unfortunately, many members of the Republican Party.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News spent a week in Hungary in August and broadcast his show from there while praising Orbán. And the American Conservative Union recently announced that it would hold its annual conference in Hungary this year. So much for an “America First” theme.

The Republican Party once stood against communism around the world. Former President Ronald Reagan used to talk about America being the “shining city on a hill” and a model of democracy for the rest of the world. Now, Republican leaders are embracing dictators and doing everything they can to destroy democracy here in America. Writing for The New York Times, political scientist Francis Fukuyama stated: “What has made Jan. 6 a particularly alarming stain on the U.S. democracy is the fact that the Republican Party, far from repudiating those who initiated and participated in the uprising, has sought to normalize it and purge from its own ranks those who were willing to tell the truth. …”

The truth is always the first casualty for want-to-be dictators. The truth is now the enemy for many in the Republican Party. You can see it today when they talk about masks and vaccines, just as we saw it, as activist Rebecca Solnit, writing in The New York Times, reminds us: “When called upon to believe that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya … when encouraged to believe that the 2012 Sandy Hook murder of twenty children and six adults was a hoax … when urged to believe that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor.” And when told, falsely, that millions of undocumented people voted in 2020 or that millions of immigrants crossed the Texas border during the current administration. Then, of course, there is the Big Lie, that Trump won the 2020 election, an election he lost by more than 7 million votes.

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Perhaps this would be a good time to remind ourselves how a true patriot addresses the nation after losing an election. Here is a sample of statements from Al Gore’s concession speech. Gore lost the Florida electoral vote that would have made him president, by just over 500 votes:

“Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States. …I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we’ve just passed.”

“Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.’ Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside. …”

“I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new President-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.”

“This is America and we put country before party; we will stand together behind our new president.”

Republicans need to ask themselves: Which America do they support? Gore’s America or Trump’s America?

Zirpoli is a professor and program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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