This was late crossing my consciousness, perhaps because I do not trust Tucker Carlson and will not watch his allegedly sincere rants because we know, or should, that he is more interested in ratings than principles. The idea of prominent conservatives suddenly deciding the the U.S. can learn from Hungary, of all places, is ridiculous on its face, but I did not realize the extent to which the current wokeness epidemic has driven many conservatives and Republicans into the mouth of madness.
Carlson has been broadcasting nightly from Budapest, as he has interviewed and celebrated Hungary’s corrupt and authoritarian leader, Viktor Orban.There is no excuse for this, but Carlson thinks Fox News viewers will approve of his: Orban has defied the European Union on the issue of accepting illegal immigrants and refugees, and has installed harsh measures against trans individuals and LGBTQ people generally. He also has taken action to intimidate and control the news media. In embracing such a leader, Carlson (and others—I’ll get to them shortly) is realizing the worst stereotypes of conservative Americans.
Orban is a central-casting anti-democracy thug. Last year, he pushed the Hungarian parliament, which his party controls, to pass laws creating a state of emergency without a time limit, granting him the ability to rule by decree, suspending elections to fill positions that have become conveniently vacant between regular elections, and permitting prison sentences for spreading “fake news.” But his real appeal to Carlson and the Cro Magnon subspecies of conservatives is his persecution of gays and trans individuals. In 2020, Orbán’s government ended legal recognition of transgendered people, and his party has proposed legislation to ban “LGBtQ positive content” in movies, books or advertising.
Gee, what a great guy! Do conservatives comprehend the cognitive dissonance scale at all? This autocratic creep is so underwater on the scale, I’d say a minus hundred or more…
…that he would drag the Puppies Are Adorable Party below zero if it endorsed him. But on their own currently warped scale, conservatives’ terror over losing such culture war battles as the same-sex marriage debate and illegal immigration restrictions has wokeness so low on the their scale that an aspiring dictator who opposes gays and illegals appears to be in positive territory.
He’s not, though. And I doubt that Tucker Carlson really thinks he is, though the Fox News star has praised the Hungarian leader as a champion of family values and a model for the United States. Carlson’s father, Richard Carlson, is listed as a director of a Washington-based firm that has lobbied for Orban in the United States. In 2019, the firm, Policy Impact Strategic Communications, disclosed in a filing that it “coordinated an interview of Minister Szijjarto on the Tucker Carlson show.” Szijjarto is Hungary’s minister of foreign affairs and trade.
What a coincidence! As for “family values,” censorship, government control of the news media and treating people as second-class citizens because of their sexual orientation aren’t values in my family.
Never mind, though: apparently Tucker’s brand of Woke Derangement Syndrome (WDS) is extremely contagious. Rod Dreher, a usually articulate and thoughtful conservative pundit whom I have referenced positively on Ethics Alarms a few times, was moved to submit a fevered piece seconding Carlson’s man-crush on Orban. Oddly, Dreher never mentions in the piece that he also has been in Hungary since April on a paid fellowship at an institute funded by Orban’s government. Nor does he mention that Carlson sits on the board of his employer, the American Conservative.
Compared to his usual careful style, Dreher’s essay “Tucker To Hungary, Nixon To China” is a stumbling, illogical, embarrassing mess, beginning with the idiotic headline. Carlson going to Hungary has about as much in common, either in purpose, impact, context and significance, as me going to the 7/11. Over and over again, Dreher writes sentences like this one: “You don’t have to agree with everything that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has done in order to come here, study what’s going on, and think about what lessons it might have for American conservatives, who have been routed by the Left and the Establishment Right.” That’s the equivalent of the “Hitler did some good things” rationalization. What’s “going on” is that a momentarily powerful strongman autocrat is putting in place some measures that conservatives wish could be enacted here, through methods that Americans would justly find intolerable. Never mind the bad stuff, Dreher says, just look at how he’s put those uppity gays in their place!
Fortunate, not all conservative pundits have fallen victim to WDS—maybe they’ve had a vaccination or something. Conservative Jonah Goldberg’s calm, methodical explanation of why Carlson’s Orban lovefest is easily summarized by the “Murder by Death” clip above puts Dreher’s babbling to shame. He writes in part,
“[T]he best argument against adopting the Hungarian model is practical: It won’t work. Indeed, it can’t work. So pretending that Hungary illuminates the path forward is just a huge waste of everyone’s time. A relatively poor, ethnically homogeneous (98 percent of Hungarian citizens are ethnically Hungarian), landlocked country, about the size of Michigan with the population of Oregon, with less than a robust democratic tradition, isn’t just a bad (and dumb) model for the United States. It’s an impossible model for the United States….“it worked in Hungary” is kind of a childish argument to make about a country almost nobody wants to immigrate to (including the people claiming it’s so awesome). Moreover, who needs to look to Hungary to make an argument for restricting immigration?
“…Indeed, as a political matter, if you actually want to persuade people that restricting immigration is a good idea, I’d argue that saying your point of view is inspired by Viktor Orbán is a really bad idea. Think of it this way: I think there’s a perfectly legitimate argument, at least in principle, for banning or sharply curtailing free and easy access to internet porn. That sort of argument has a deep tradition in America, again on both left and right. But if you were going to try to mount a serious campaign to censor internet porn, you wouldn’t frame your argument by saying, “Look at what they’re doing in Saudi Arabia!”..Flirting with a personality cult surrounding a corrupt, demagogic foreign leader who—justifiably or not—has earned a reputation as a wannabe despot is a great way to limit the appeal of your arguments and invite skepticism about your larger motives.
I especially like this…
“I find all of this stuff to be a depressing sign of conservative rot. For my entire adult life, conservatives have heaped scorn—and rightly so—on progressives who looked to Europe for inspiration on how to transform America. “Europe banned guns!” progressives would exclaim. “So what? We’re not Europe,” conservatives would answer. You can substitute the progressive pleading about how “Europe has socialized medicine!” or “Europe has a massive welfare state!” etc., and the argument stays the same…I really can’t emphasize enough how much opposition to this sort of thing was definitional to conservatism. The Cold War honed and concentrated the arguments, but “We’re special! We’re different!” was at the heart of both the internationalist and isolationist strands of conservatism for more than a century. It’s also part of American character generally…This conviction was the very heart of the American exceptionalism debates a decade ago (and a century ago, and two centuries ago). Obama wanted to “Europeanize” America’s political system…Conservatives wanted to conserve what made America unique….
“I still believe that…Even if the reality of Hungary is exactly what its right-wing fans claim (I am far from persuaded), I still don’t give a rat’s ass. Again, because it doesn’t really matter as a practical matter.“
“Conservative rot” is about right.
So is ethics rot.