Did Joe Biden really describe Poland and Hungary as “totalitarian regimes”?
Well, this is what he said at a recent ‘town hall’ event in Philadelphia: “You see what’s happened in everything from Belarus to Poland to Hungary, and the rise of totalitarian regimes in the world, and as well, this president [Donald Trump] embraces all the thugs in the world.”
Biden’s critics are convinced he’s made a serious gaffe — or has revealed his intention to punish countries whose elected governments dare to defy the liberal internationalist orthodoxy.
However, it’s important to note that Biden, like his opponent, is a rambler. The bit about Trump embracing “all the thugs in the world” was clearly the soundbite, which is what the mainstream media duly reported. The rest of what he said comes across as garbled filler and so shouldn’t be over-interpreted. It’s highly unlikely that a Biden administration would classify the Polish and Hungarian governments as “totalitarian” or even “authoritarian”. That would be rather awkward for US-EU relations given that Poland and Hungary are member states — and the EU requires its members to be democracies.
Still, can we expect a less indulgent attitude from the US to the elected populist governments of central and eastern Europe — and, if so, would this be justified?
There is some cause for concern in Hungary, where the government has an utterly dominant position over a weak and divided opposition. The situation isn’t remotely as bad as in Belarus, of course — and Biden was wrong to group the countries together.
So there’d be nothing wrong with a Biden White House that expected more from America’s closest allies. However, its moral authority in this matter would require that standards be applied consistently. Let’s not forget that the EU country that’s been locking-up opposition politicians of late is Spain, not anywhere east of the old Iron Curtain. America might also want to put its own house in order before lecturing others — for instance by sorting out its shambolic voting system and doing more to protect free speech on university campuses.
And then there’s the toughest test of all: China. It’s all very well Biden accusing Trump of embracing all the thugs in the world — but, as President, would he maintain Trump’s confrontational stance towards Beijing or would he soften it?
After all, if you want to see what totalitarianism really looks like then try Tibet, Hong Kong or Xinjiang.