Autocracy is famously counter-selective. It is a well-established fact that the worst always gets on top, but very little is written about the autocrat’s minions, the personnel that executes the autocrat’s will. Does talent have any place there?
Autocrats prefer loyalists and yes men – that doesn’t look good for him to begin with. Maybe it’s losing touch, maybe it’s paranoia, but autocrats lose patience with people who tell them bad news, such as the fact that something cannot be done.
In the beginning, pushing through this resistance pays for the strongman. Political will cuts through the opposition – as long as it is human mind – in a process otherwise known as bullying. But then it runs into obstacles that cannot be intimidated because they cannot fear. Like radioactive molecules that radiate, even if you order that the radiation level must be low. The humans in your chain of command can repeat your order all they want, the dumb molecule will still be radioactive.
But yes men are only the beginning of an autocrat’s trouble. Recruitment and training is a hassle, even for such a dumb job as sitting in a position and only do things when ordered. Kick into your minions and lick the ass of your superiors. Never do anything when not told.
Sounds easy, but not every soldier understands it completely. Many labor under the misapprehension that they are somehow personally important, that they are as loved locally as the election results suggest, that they have talent.
And then there is this other thing, when they only hear the carrot – and don’t understand that the stick also applies to them. They are told which tender to apply to, which one they will win, how much they are allowed to keep for themselves, how much to kick back to their handler. They pose at stadium openings, church events, and in front of every meter of new road in their town – sometimes with the local kindergartners whom they cannot stop ordering to come and hug uncle mayor.
And they believe that the people love them and they believe that they are that smart. How could they not? They built a new house to every child of their own on non-refundable EU-grants. The town is growing, don’t you see, people?
And the stickiest of all autocrat-problems: What to do with the crooks in your ranks that got caught?
Because an autocrat (bully) cannot let go of a minion when the people (victims) demand it. That would send the signal that the people’s will or interest matters. So even the worst of scandals only make the position of these crooks even firmer. They can’t be fired now without making their boss look weak.
Just before the local elections Orbán sent a word of warning because the number of crooks that were caught in public was growing out of control. (Also perhaps because he knew that the sex-drug-corruption tape of one of his soldiers is about to leak.) He said that the 11th commandment is unquestioning loyalty. Even when someone is wrong, evil, or corrupt, Fidesz will close ranks and stay loyal. No questions asked, especially when the going gets tough.
The minions still didn’t understand. They probably took it as a reassuring signal that their boss is behind them.
They also apparently believed (many of them) that their boss will win the elections for them. That not even that is their job. After all, the Party center always sends them memos on which words to use, always tells them what to do, and they are not supposed to do anything when they are not explicitly told to do so.
They were apparently told, for instance, that every mayor has to perform at least two opening ceremony during the campaign – even if there is nothing to open. So the douches went out to hand over unfinished playgrounds (cost a few teeth and injuries to the unfortunate toddlers who believed that an opened playground is, like, open), freshly painted hospital rooms (with a startled patient still in it), and one of them even managed to ceremonially hand over a green wave of traffic lights.
We didn’t need to see the memo from the party center. We just saw the mayors scrambling to open things and push it on Facebook. That’s how we know.
So when it came to actually winning the elections, these local geniuses have left all the thinking to the Party center. And the Party center appeared to be wrong. They didn’t see the record participation coming. They didn’t measure the degree of discontent. (Although this latter could be because no one in their right mind tells a caller that they are not for Orbán.)
Orbán generously accepted (for now) that his party had lost major cities – including Budapest, but his minions who lost their warm, comfy, and juicy seats found it difficult to come to terms with the new reality.
Some of them went to election on Sunday with plans to leave for Mauritius on Monday – and they have lost their job instead, and needed to stay to hand over the keys. The shock was tangible, especially during the days after the defeat. They were scrambling, shredding documents, contesting very obvious results, accusing the opposition with election fraud they themselves committed – just to gain time.
Some even talked to independent journalists (they know they can’t talk to their own, they would get reported) and cried their little hearts out, blaming the world for their defeat. And Orbán.
Because they somehow feel entitled to do so. They complained that they have never been warned by the party center that their opposition challengers may even have a chance. In other words, they grew so complacent in their seats (that was given to them when Orbán selected them to run for Fidesz) that they truly believed that feudalism is so complete that only Orbán can take a mayoral seat away. Orbán giveth, Orbán taketh it away. (Remember the local strongman educating his mayors that there are enough positions for everyone? It all presupposes that positions are handed out by Fidesz – and that is how it was perceived.)
Discontent against Orbán among his loyalists is not something you hear about often. But the most surprising thing is their butthurt sense of resentment against Orbán, who let them down, apparently, not the other way around.
I am not sorry for either of them, but this really was surprising to watch.
These guys don’t understand the nature of Orbán’s system. The question is, whether the discontent can unsettle, hurt, or anger Orbán to the point where it influences his decision making.