Tag Archives: Viktor Orban

The Rear-View Mirror

Like many who read this blog, I get the Letter from an American from Heather Cox Richardson. Richardson is a historian, and the great benefit of her Letters is that they provide what I like to think of as a look in humanity’s rear-view mirror.

Driving a car requires checking the traffic behind us in order to navigate the road ahead. History serves much the same purpose (which is one of the many, many reasons why the rightwing hysteria over teaching the country’s history of racism is so deranged…)

A few days ago, Richardson shared an “aha” moment.

It has been hard for me to see the historical outlines of the present-day attack on American democracy clearly. But this morning, as I was reading a piece in Vox by foreign affairs specialist Zack Beauchamp, describing Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s path in Florida as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the penny dropped.

She proceeded to outline the political currents prior to the election of Trump: the evolution of today’s GOP into the pro-oligarchy party, following what she described as the usual U.S. historical pattern to that point– “in the 1850s, 1890s, 1920s, and then again in the modern era, wealthy people had come around to the idea that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran everything.”

Each of those periods was a reaction to the expansion of civil equality. Richardson reports that wealthier Americans protected their privileged status by playing on the racism of  poorer white male voters– telling them that passage of laws protecting equal rights was really a plan to turn American governance over to immigrants or to Black or Brown Americans.

The idea that poor men of color voting meant socialism resonated with white voters, who turned against the government’s protecting equal rights and instead supported a government that favored men of property. As wealth moved upward, popular culture championed economic leaders as true heroes, and lawmakers suppressed voting in order to “redeem” American society from “socialists” who wanted to redistribute wealth. Capital moved upward until a very few people controlled most of it, and then, usually after an economic crash made ordinary Americans turn against the system that favored the wealthy, the cycle began again.

When Trump was elected, the U.S. was at the place where wealth had concentrated among the top 1%, Republican politicians denigrated their opponents as un-American “takers” and celebrated economic leaders as “makers,” and the process of skewing the vote through gerrymandering and voter suppression was well underway. But the Republican Party still valued the rule of law. It’s impossible to run a successful business without a level playing field, as businessmen realized after the 1929 Great Crash, when it became clear that insider trading had meant that winners and losers were determined not by the market but by cronyism.

Trump deviated from the usual cycle in one way–he didn’t care about enriching the oligarchy, only about enriching himself, his toadies and his family. Despite his  repellent personality and embarrassing ignorance of government and policy, he was especially dangerous because he turned the Republican base into a cult that no longer respected the rule of law.

Richardson warns that Trump’s deliberate destabilization of faith in our democratic norms is especially dangerous because it creates space for two right-wing, antidemocratic ideologies. Two current Republican governors model those ideologies: Abbott in Texas, who is pursuing the South’s Civil War insistence on “states’ rights,” and DeSantis in Florida, who is emulating Viktor Orbán’s “soft fascism.”

Orbán has taken control of Hungary’s media, ensuring that his party wins all elections; has manipulated election districts in his own favor; and has consolidated the economy into the hands of his cronies by threatening opponents with harassing investigations, regulations, and taxes unless they sell out.

DeSantis is following this model right down to the fact that observers believe that Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was modeled on a similar Hungarian law. DeSantis’s attack on Disney mirrors Orbán’s use of regulatory laws to punish political opponents (although the new law was so hasty and flawed it threatens to do DeSantis more harm than good).

Richardson counsels us to look in that rear-view mirror–to access the knowledge and tools that history provides to defend democracy from the ideology of states’ rights.” But she also warns that, because the rise of “illiberal democracy” or “soft fascism” is new to us, we need to understand how it differs both from Trump’s version of autocracy and from the old arguments for states’ rights.

At risk of over-extending my somewhat strained analogy, Orbanism represents a massive pothole on the road to democratic self-governance and civil liberty–a pothole requiring us to drive carefully and keep our eyes on the road– ahead and behind.

Hot Water

Sometimes, I think America’s constitutional democracy is the frog in that over-used parable–the one that gets boiled because the pot of water it’s in is being heated just slowly enough that the frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

Every single day brings new evidence of our dysfunction–the capture of one of our political parties by people who range from evil to detached from reality to objectively crazy; the episodes of increasingly militant and unashamed racism and anti-Semitism; the growth of belief in QAnon and other bizarre conspiracy theories; and the public embrace of what most of us previously considered a European form of rightwing nationalism.

The water has become hotter this week, with news that Fox News’ most bankable  and pompous right-wing cheerleader, Tucker Carlson–he of the smarmy sneers and bow ties–had met with Hungarian autocrat and strongman Viktor Orban. As Talking Points Memo reported,

Fox News host Tucker Carlson is billed as a speaker at a far-right conference in Hungary on Saturday, according to a flier for the event. The appearance will come days after the Fox host met with the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Carlson will purportedly offer his insights at MCC Feszt, an event hosted by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, which the New York Times described in June as a government-funded plan to “train a conservative future elite.

A program for MCC Feszt touts Carlson as speaking on Saturday, delivering a talk called “The World According to Tucker Carlson.”

It’s part of a larger, four-day long program that also advertises a talk from a representative of one of America’s esteemed conservative institutions of higher education: Dennis Prager of PragerU, which makes up for what it lacks in physical space, accreditation, and discernible curriculum in Facebook virality. Prager will deliver a talk on “media and free speech.

MCC, the sponsor of the “Feszt,” reportedly benefits from both $1.7 billion in grants from the Hungarian government and the open support of Orbán, who has characterized his approach to governance as “illiberal democracy.” Orbán’s government has used anti-Semitic imagery to demonize George Soros, a native of the country and a favorite target of the Right, and has pressured universities associated with Soros and his Open Society to close. Talking Points Memo also notes that Orban has “gone out of his way” to clamp down on LGBTQ rights during his tenure.

Josh Marshall–the editor of TPM–commented on the meeting and what it reflects about the direction of the GOP:

One thing that a number of us have been saying for some time is that increasingly over the last decade-plus, the GOP has continued to present itself as a center-right party of government while increasingly operating as a rightist revanchist party on the European model. This intentionally conspicuous hobnobbing with Orbán is part of that story. Obviously, Carlson isn’t formally representing the GOP. But in practice he does. He’s far more influential in conservative politics than any elected official currently in office.

This lurch from genuine conservatism to what Marshall quite accurately labels “rightest revanchism” is one more reflection of the party’s current identity, which is as a White Nationalist cult. When you cut through all the BS, by far the most dominant conviction held by members of today’s Republican Party is a deep-seated, racist belief that the only “real” Americans are White Male fundamentalist Christians.

That belief is the reason Republicans in Congress have stopped legislating in favor of performative insanity. The party is no longer about policy or actual politics of any kind–liberal, conservative or even (as it sometimes seems) fascist. The GOP is interested only in maintaining power, but not in order to govern– it needs that power in order to protect White Male Christian privilege, and to ensure the continued dominance of “real” Americans over all of us “others.”

The members of today’s GOP now realize that White Christian Male cultural domination will inevitably erode in the absence of a governing autocracy committed to its preservation, and they are willing to trade both the American Idea and the rule of law for a despotism that will protect that domination. With his visit to Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson has made that willingness impossible to ignore.

The water in the pot is getting very, very hot.