Trump welcomes another authoritarian to the White House

Polish president Andrzej Duda.
Polish president Andrzej Duda.

Struggling to cement a far-right majority on the Supreme Court, Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomes to the White House the president of Poland, whose far-right party has effectively put its formerly independent judiciary under strict political control.

Trump is evidently a fan.

He made his first European stop as president in Warsaw in 2017, where he effusively praised Poland for ardently defending Western values and democratic ideals – something Poland had been doing, more or less, since communism collapsed more than 25 years ago and until 2015, when the virulently nationalist Law and Justice Party swept the elections and began establishing one-party rule.

The party used the same authoritarian playbook that has been so successful for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. As Stanford international studies professor Anna Grzymala-Busse described it for me last year: “First, target the highest courts and the judiciary, then restrict the independence of the media and civil society, and finally transform the constitutional framework and electoral laws in ways that enshrine their hold on power.”

Tuesday’s meeting is not precisely between two strongmen, however. The visiting  president, Andrzej Duda, is more of a figurehead; Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Law and Justice party’s chair, is the man who calls the shots.

Duda will be asking Trump to put a permanent U.S. military base in his country. Poland is offering $2 billion to build it, as protection against Russia.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin hosts Hungary’s Orbán in Moscow on Tuesday.

In addition to Putin and Orban – who was the first leader of an EU or NATO country to endorse Trump’s campaign — Trump’s closest friends among world leaders include China’s president-for-life Xi Jinping, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, and Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines leader overseeing a bloody, extrajudicial slaughter in the name of a war on drugs.

Update: The New York Times has published a marvelous article on Trump and Poland: Poland’s Leader Finds an Ally in Trump, Even as He Brings Courts to Heel.

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