Republicans who 'praise' Hungary's Orbán are no better than leftists who promoted communist dictators: conservative

Republicans who 'praise' Hungary's Orbán are no better than leftists who promoted communist dictators: conservative
Victor Orbán in 2012, Wikimedia Commons

A long list of far-right MAGA Republicans have been enthusiastically promoting Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, from Fox News' Tucker Carlson to "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance (who is seeking the GOP nomination in Ohio's 2022 U.S. Senate race) to former President Donald Trump himself. Veteran conservative columnist and vehement Trump critic Mona Charen discusses this Orbán fetish in a blistering article published by The Bulwark on August 11, arguing that Republicans and right-wing media figures who promote Orbán are no better than "leftist intellectuals" of the past who were apologists for communist authoritarians like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

"As someone who was weaned on stories of leftist intellectuals and journalists traipsing off to communist countries to pay obeisance," Charen explains, "I can only shake my head as a parade of right-wingers are making their way to Hungary to sing the praises of authoritarian Viktor Orbán. Tucker Carlson of Fox News is the highest profile rightist to make the trek, but the path was already well-trod."

Charen goes on to name a long list of right-wing politicians or media figures who have been promoting Orbán.

"I'd wager that all of these conservative opinion leaders, along with more recent pilgrims traveling to Budapest — Dennis Prager, Rod Dreher and Patrick Deneen — are deeply versed in the sad and reprehensible pattern of western intellectuals becoming seduced by leftist authoritarian regimes," Charen writes. "From Lincoln 'I have seen the future and it works' Steffens to George Bernard Shaw to Noam Chomsky to Norman Mailer to William Sloane Coffin, intellectuals have fallen into this trap repeatedly since the 1930s."

In the past, Charen writes, some "leftist intellectuals" were "so focused on equality of condition that they were willing to overlook or whitewash the brutal repression of individual rights" — adding that Republicans who "praise" Orbán in 2021 are no better.

"As George Orwell put it," Charen observes, "the communist world was 'a boot stamping on a human face — forever.' It was revealing that so many leftists were willing to sacrifice the precious rights we enjoy — a free press and trial by jury, for example — on the altar of equality. The American Orbánistas are likewise revealing themselves. Though they are familiar with the folly of political tourism, they are lining up now to laud a leader who no longer even pretends to be democratic."

Charen continues, "The nations best prepared for the future, (Orbán) declared in a 2018 address, were 'not liberal, not liberal democracies, maybe not even democracies.' The new state Hungary is building, Orbán said, 'is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.' Freedom House agrees. It no longer lists Hungary among the world's democracies."

Orbán is a different type of strongman from Spain's Francisco Franco or Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The Hungarian prime minister didn't come to power because of an outright coup d'état or a civil war, but like Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan or the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, he was voted into office and did everything he could to undermine the system of checks and balances.

Charen explains, "Orbán used his supermajority in parliament to increase the size of the constitutional court from 11 to 15, appointing four new members of the Fidesz party — and then, lowered the mandatory retirement age for judges and prosecutors, freeing up slots for party members. Fidesz has used its control of the judiciary to hound competing political parties with fines and investigations. Orbán has also taken control of 80% of Hungary's news media, and these crony-controlled outlets now constitute an enormous propaganda machine. Voting, which never had a long history in Hungary, was hamstrung by gerrymandering to give Fidesz a huge advantage."

The veteran conservative concludes her piece by lamenting that way too many right-wing American "pilgrims" who visit Hungary are willing to overlook Orbán's authoritarianism and "subtle anti-Semitism" because they like his "nationalism."

"The leftist intellectuals who leant their prestige to vicious regimes discredited themselves in the eyes of conservatives," Charen writes. "We said they were apologists for anti-democratic ideas and justifiers of repression. We said their infatuation with unchecked power was a worrying sign. Every word of that is true today of the conservative pilgrims, who, one would have thought, had more attachment to the American experiment in ordered liberty than to the lure of blood and tribe."

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