Could This Crisis Restore Democratic Leadership?

William Burns is a distinguished veteran of the U.S. State Department and joins the program to explain how the crisis could yet present an opportunity to restore democratic leadership.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But I want to ask you because you said great power. Rivalry is back. You have said that sort of a center of gravity is shifting from west to east. And we saw that “The Washington Post” talked about coronavirus claiming, killing its first democracy. As Hungary, which already calls itself quite proudly, describes itself as an illiberal democracy has now basically demanded and got total overwhelming parliamentary support for extraordinary powers and for the prime minister, Orban, to rule by decree. How do you assess that and do you think, you know, that this is kind of for this moment only or is this a troubling trend even after the coronavirus crisis?

WILLIAM BURNS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: No, I think it’s a real gathering danger. I mean, just like a virus can worsen, accelerate, aggravate preexisting health conditions, I think this virus crisis, this pandemic can accelerate, worsen, aggravate preexisting political conditions. So, in Victor Orban’s Hungary, you know, he had already bludgeoned tax and balances, the legislature, the judiciary, you know, he had already battered civil society as well as the free press. And this is proven to be an opportunity for him now to take on fairly sweeping emergency powers to be able to rule by decree. And, you know, this is an old playbook for authoritarian leaders. We saw it in the period between the First and Second World Wars in Europe. But you add on to that old playbook new tools, you know, new surveillance technologies, which, you know, for many authoritarian leaderships around the world provide an opportunity to further tighten the grip. So, it gets really worrisome.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it is extraordinary, the range of places, you know, with varying degrees that this kind of grabbing, consolidating of power, rule by decree, emergency measures have sprung up all over the place. You know, they say, well, yes, of course, we have to do this because we have to — we can’t wait to take measures regarding coronavirus. But whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s Thailand, whether it’s, as we just said, in Europe, here in the U.K., many, many places are doing this right now.

BURNS: No, it is true. And in some places, you can see the logic of it and dealing with a crisis but, you know, in other places and Victor Orban’s Hungary, I think, is a classic illustration of this, you’re seeing authoritarian leaders use this to tighten the grip and beat back democratic governance.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane speaks with former Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, who says this pandemic be an opportunity to restore democratic leadership. She also speaks with a sociologist and the host of “Couples Therapy” about the consequences a quarantine has on those affected by domestic violence. Michel Martin speaks with Republican strategist Stuart Stevens about his denouncement of the Party.