In 2015 newly elected Polish president Andrzej Duda said “Regardless of whether they voted for me or not, I would like Poles to say after those five years that I really tried to be the president of all Poles, that I tried to answer their needs, that I was such a person.
In January 2017, newly elected American president Donald Trump said “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.”
Neither Duda nor Trump is an actual comedian by trade, but we can still laugh at the absurdity of what these men said vis-à-vis their action as they served their terms. But the punch line is especially unfunny when we realize that the Polish voters returned Duda to power yesterday by pretty much the same slim margin that they did in 2015.
Five years ago Duda’s election seemed a one-off, but then came Brexit and the rise of nationalism throughout Europe, Australia, the Far East, etc. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)—a UK-based company that measures on a scale of one to ten the state of democracy in 167 countries—Norway leads (9.97), Canada is seventh (9.22), the United States is 25th (7.96), and Poland is 57th (6.62). (Both the U.S. and Poland are now labeled "flawed democracies." For point of reference, Russia is tied with the Congo at 134th (3.11), but Russia identifies as authoritarian, America does not. Yet.
The point is that Poland returned to power a man who has vowed to rescind all LGBTQ rights, committed to the prevention of single-sex couples adopting children, openly assailed Jews and Germans, and threatened to silence the media. If the tactics sound familiar, they smack of the same authoritarianism that we often hear from Donald Trump. One difference is that Duda has an ideology—strict conservative Catholic—and so while I don't subscribe to his ideas, they make sense in context, as does his reelection in a staunchly Catholic nation. Trump’s ideas never do, since he serves only himself.
But a warning here: though Poland is drifting toward authoritarianism, its voters—given a chance to prevent it—did not do so. That decision may cost this cultured and intellectually advanced nation expulsion from the EU, further muddying eastern European diplomacy. In November Americans will be given essentially the same choice. Although the religious right in this country lacks the teeth of Poland's conservative Catholic majority (and lacks their devoutness), I no longer take anything for granted.
Andrzej Duda has another five years. Let's remember that, because we can't afford to give Trump another five minutes. let alone another term.