‘When I’m at a loss for words to describe our political reality, I look to the work of Bálint Magyar. He is the Hungarian sociologist who has pioneered and systematized a language that political science can use to describe contemporary demagogues and the regimes they create. More than a decade ago, he described the Mafia state, a distinct political system built around a patron who distributes money and power. A year and a half ago, he told me that Trump acts “like a Mafia boss without a Mafia”: he couldn’t turn the United States into a Mafia state, but he was acting as though he could.
Since then, the U.S. has devolved in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and Magyar has continued his research on post-Communist autocracies, which, in turn, continue to offer ways to examine the American Presidency. Magyar’s new book, co-authored with Bálint Madlovics, is “The Anatomy of Post-Communist Regimes: A Conceptual Framework.” It contains, among other insights, a critique of how we usually talk about and measure corruption. Magyar and Madlovics write that the problem with measurements used by, say, Transparency International, which produces an annual index of perceived corruption, is that the index assumes that corruption represents a departure from a norm: “They understand the state by its formal identity: as dominantly an institution of the public good, with some subordinates who deviate from that purpose and abuse their position by requesting or accepting bribes and appointing cronies without a legitimate basis.” This view of corruption fails when confronted with a government to which corruption is central, or in which corruption is not voluntary but coercive—where the corrupt relationship is forced by one partner upon the other. In other words, conventional measures of corruption are not applicable to the U.S. under Trump. Corruption is no longer deviant in this country: it is instead the defining characteristic of this Presidency….’
— Masha Gessen writing in The New Yorker