The European Union Is Not Just in Disagreement, It Is Afraid of Hungary – conversation with Jeff Sessions
Írta: Dr. Sándor Lénárd
You have served as a United States Senator representing the State of Alabama for two decades and then served as the 84th United States Attorney General. Based on your career path, what are the characters that you consider necessary to statesmanship? How can you nurture these characters?
I think the number one requirement for a national leader is to have a sense of service. In America, we call government officials public servants. What it means is one should seek to advance the interests of the nation and the people and to avoid special interests that are sometimes powerful.
The public officials’ duty is to advance the common interests
even over their own political interests. Sometimes you have to compromise. You cannot do everything you want. But sometimes powerful forces push a direction that you, as an informed and honorable public servant, believes is wrong. When official stands for right, he is serving the public and national interest. It seems that we are losing this today in the Western world, where ends justify improper means.
How do you recognize the public interest?
One way in America is by following the Constitution. Even if a specific provision is unpopular, following it is still important for protecting the strength of the whole document. One professor testified in the Senate that it is important to follow the plain requirements of the Constitution, “the good and the bad parts”. What he meant by good and bad parts is what you think is good or bad. If you respect the Constitution you enforce it as written.
What are the responsibilities that a true statesmanship comes with in your view?
Well, the Western world is facing real challenges today. That is why I think it is very valuable that we not only have strong leaders and principled public servants but somebody who has a correct vision for the future. I, as a conservative American, believe that the Trump program was a good agenda. People could like him or not personally, but as evidence can show, his policies served the common good. The same seems true in the case of the Prime Minister of Hungary. At this juncture of history, Viktor Orbán’s courageous vision of the important role of faith and culture shows the right direction Europe should take. He is thinking beyond today and in terms of who we are as people.
In light of the increased globalization and cosmopolitanism of the past decades, there is a renewed aspiration on both sides of the Atlantic to discover, understand and protect the unique American and European way of life. What principles and virtues characterize the United States and what is the best way to preserve them and pass on the next generations?
There are a number of important and unique characteristics of the American life, but
one of the most significant is individual responsibility and local government.
People used to go out to the frontier, they built farms and houses and no government ever came close to them. So they learned to be responsible for themselves and help their neighbors and be proud of that. In addition, Americans are religious more than most of the Western world. We have a strong religious tradition that is protected by our law. Our legal system has provided us with stability, respect for nation, economic progress, public safety and national security. People, when called, are willing to give their lives to defend their native land.
What is the role of the state in all that?
Well, in the first hundred and fifty years of American history, it was expected that schools would teach how America was founded and the great principles that we adhere to, such as one cannot be taxed without having the right to vote on it through their representatives. All of those things were taught to every school child in America. The past of course was not perfect. But if a country did something in the past that we now know to be wrong, that does not mean that the country is no longer legitimate. Of course no nation has a perfect history.
That leads me to another question. Many American thinkers including Charles R. Kesler or Christopher Caldwell are of the opinion that the United States is not only extremely polarized but it actually has two constitutions or at least two versions of it at the same time. One of them is the original constitution while the other one is its progressive narrative that altered the originally designed structure of governance and is committed to expand rights through judicial interpretation. Do you agree with this description? If so, what remedy would you consider necessary to restore a unified vision of constitutionality?
Yes. I too am very concerned. But perhaps some are a little too pessimistic. But it is still scary, because the entire news media, academic elites, Silicon Valley and certain political radicals have dominated the news media, and are hostile to traditional values. The key legal dispute in America is how to interpret our Constitutions and laws. Originalism says judges are bound to enforce the law according to the original meaning that the people gave to it when the law and the constitution were passed. Judges are not entitled to take the words of a document and give them a new meaning so that they can impose a political result on the society that the society does not get the vote on. Nevertheless, the counter philosophy called “living constitution”, has celebrated judges who “boldly” or “courageously” change the meaning of the constitution to declare that the document means something it never was intended to mean. This is a fundamental assault on democracy. Unelected, unaccountable, lifetime-appointed judges cannot set policy. One liberal pointed out many years ago that we
liberals are asking the courts to do for us that which we cannot win at the ballot box.
They are saying “Congress won’t pass the law so, judge, you have to act.” That appeals to pride and ego and many judges have been moving to that direction for quite a long time. This is a result-oriented judicial philosophy. The Left does not tell the truth. This approach is all about power and about advancing an agenda without popular support. It is not law. We do not believe in that in America and I do not think you do in Hungary. But now, we have a 6:3 majority in the Supreme Court that are originalists in judicial philosophy. They see judges as neutral umpires who do not ask which side one favors but only what the law says. If Congress does not like a law, they can change it. That is the way the system works or it is not a democracy.
You played a major role in the nomination of originalist Justices to the Supreme Court. I am wondering whether the majority has the ability and willfulness to guard over the original vision of the Constitution.
Well, there are certain things you have to focus on. The 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision was contrary to any kind of originalism. Even the very liberal late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that it was unprincipled as a constitutional decision. The State of Texas recently passed a law that says if one can detect a child’s heartbeat in the mother’s womb, the child cannot be killed. From the founding of the Republic those were the kind of things that were supposed to be decided by the States not by the Federal Government. The Constitution does not say one word about abortion. Yet in Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court simply held that the Constitution guaranteed abortion rights. I think this case will be a dramatic test but the court may uphold Texas’ right to decide the issue reversing other cases. This is a clear test of originalism.
However, if we take a step back and look back to the history of the United States, we can witness a major power shift from the States to Washington. That goes hand in hand with a massive centralization that contravenes the principle of “federalism” or “subsidiarity” as we call it here. How do you see the perspective of restoring at least some federalism?
This is an important question. From our founding, America has recognized that our States are sovereign, but that principle is being eroded. Remember our name is the United States of America. Our States and the Nations must defend constantly their sovereignty, or it will be taken away by growing centralized power. This is realism. In America, the Supreme Court can help a great deal. Their opinions in which they refuse to be drawn into matters that are not federal matters would make a big difference. The Constitution says “We the People of the United States” adopt this Constitution and not some other that a judge or a politician wishes it to be. And the Constitution says all powers that are not delegated to the Federal Government are reserved to the People or States. That provision has the potential to calm a lot of our concerns. If the Supreme Court takes the traditional legal approach, every State gets to decide what it wants to do about abortion for example. It will not be dictated from Washington. Many States may keep abortion legal, but some might not or they would limit it somewhat. Perhaps then there will be a cooling concerning the intensity of the debates. Local government has many advantages.
While you served in public offices, you have formulated a firm view and policy against illegal immigration. What threats do you see in immigration in the current era?
Since the liberalization of the U.S. immigration system in the 1960s, the real question we face whether we will do anything about the resulting massive illegality. Will we continue to allow legal loopholes and legal maneuvers to frustrate the enforcement of our laws? It will take better judges, improved laws, better presidential leadership, more effective enforcement of the law including walls and fences. But there are legal loopholes that make it more difficult to enforce our law. That is a lesson the World should draw from the United States. Hungary more than most other nations understands this. If people from Central-America and South-America come to our border, get in and are allowed to stay, they call home and tell families and friends that you can do it too. But if they are being stopped, like under the Trump administration, they call home and say do not pay that smuggler ten thousand dollars since you will not get in. This has happened in the case of Hungary where people do not come illegally. But Europe and our current administration do not seem to understand this. But let me say this:
it is moral, it is right, it is just for a good nation to secure its borders
and to say how many people it is going to admit every year and under what conditions. It is not wrong or immoral to tell people who do not comply with the law that you cannot come in illegally and you will be deported if you do so. It cannot be that everybody in the World who would like to come to the United States can come to the United States. It is not a right. Former President Obama has recently said our current policy is unsustainable.
You have been staying here in Hungary for a couple of weeks. Hungary is currently in a somewhat challenging situation in the European Union as its government constantly needs to defend the country’s constitutional identity and traditional virtues in European politics. How do you see these efforts?
This is a fabulous country. I had to travel abroad as a Senator and Attorney General but I have not been in Hungary before. But now I am thrilled. The architecture is great, the landscape is wonderful, I feel perfectly safe on the streets as I walked all over and the people are kind.
This is a great country. So why would you want to change it?
What is wrong with saying we would like to maintain it? Other countries also believe in their countries. That is not wrong. I think the European Union behaves like the American Left and attacks traditional values. Moreover, I think the European Union is afraid of Hungary. They are not just in disagreement, they are fearful. If the people of Hungary work within the EU but do not allow them to take over the rights they should have as a nation, the European Union is afraid that others would do the same and then it is the European Union that should serve the interests of their respective member nations instead of the other way around. The Left lacks confidence in the justness and popularity of their cause. Thus it resorts to power. I am sympathetic what is being done here.
What role, in your view, the Hungarian or in a broader sense, the Central European approach might or should play in the future of the European Union?
I think it is possible that this leftist agenda that is dominating many nation states in Europe and in the United States might turn out to be a house of cards. Because it is not correct. I believe that if you tell the truth long enough you usually win. If more people begin to speak up then I believe the bullies can be confronted and defeated. In so many ways, the Central-European values are classical values of Western civilization.
Yours is a defense of Western civilization in the face of thoughtless and undermining forces.
The Left thinks it is on the road to winning but I am not sure. History may record that Hungary played a leading role in Europe and in the World in stopping this surge to the left and defending freedom, order, family and faith, the things that make life worth living.