An exceptional session of America’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is currently being held in Budapest, Hungary, the first-ever CPAC meeting held in Europe, which has been described as ‘an effort to cement bonds between the radical right on both sides of the Atlantic under the banner of the “great replacement” ideology.’ The conference is being hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights and the American Conservative Union. Hungary was chosen because, in the words of Viktor Orbán, its fascist president, ‘Hungary is the laboratory where we have managed to come up with the antidote for progressive dominance.’ He went on to affirm in his signature arid terminology: ‘The nation comes first: Hungary first, America first.’ ‘I see the great European population exchange as a suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilisations – migrants,’ he declared in a speech.
Orbán also attacked ‘gender madness,’ referring to the expansion of LGBTQ rights. He made explicit reference to the Great Replacement Theory, which claims there is a nefarious plot by liberals ‘to dilute the white populations of the US and European countries through immigration.’ Orbán warned: ‘Progressive liberals, neo-Marxists dazed by the woke dream, people financed by George Soros and promoters of open societies … want to annihilate the Western way of life that you and us love so much,’ said Orbán in his speech. ‘We must reconquer the institutions in Washington DC and Brussels,’ Orbán said. For those that don’t cover international politics, it would do you well to note that ‘over the last several years Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s proudly “illiberal” Hungary has become the centrepiece of American conservative vision-boarding. Yes, many on the US right would love to emulate Hungary’s pronatalist policies to encourage early marriage and large families; its crackdowns on press and academic freedom, including the defunding of university gender studies; its effective ban on Muslim immigration, and its actual bans on same-sex marriage, adoption and LGBTQ content for minors.’ Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is one of the biggest cheerleaders for Orbán and his fascist regime.
If this scenario doesn’t disgust you enough, consider that the Supreme Court in the United States will soon outlaw abortion, which is no surprise considering the lunacy displayed by Republican witnesses that have been called upon to testify at Congressional hearings on abortion access – witnesses like Katherine Glenn Foster, who claims, straight-faced, that municipal electric companies in Washington, DC are powered by incinerated foetuses to light the city’s homes and streets. Amanda Marcotte depicts this scenario as living ‘in a janky version of The Matrix, except powered by foetuses instead of actual people.’ Before you jump to the conclusion that Katherine Glenn Foster is ‘some random nut that Republicans pulled off a soapbox at a subway station minutes before the hearing started. She is a Georgetown law school graduate who is paid $190,000 a year to be the president of Americans United for Life, one of the largest anti-abortion non-profits in the country. So it’s not surprising that Foster believed she would get away with this absurd nonsense. Hers was merely one of a truly overwhelming number of lies that poured out of Republican lawmakers and witnesses alike throughout the course of Wednesday’s hearing.’
Republicans who support QAnon and other conspiracy theories are not known to be polymaths or multihyphenates, but these practices are well thought out. We are permitting conspiracy theories so luridly false and bizarre to cast our politics into a sewer where even the rats are shaking their heads, and one is left to wonder what kind of world you can spin and have people not only believing it, but wanting others to believe it, like one big collective hallucination. As Marcotte notes,
Want to ban schoolchildren from reading about Martin Luther King Jr.? Just falsely claim that something called ‘critical race theory’ is being taught to school kids and use that as cover. Want to deny trans kids the right to be treated with dignity in public schools? Roll out some wild story about how kids are now ‘identifying’ as cats and using litter boxes in school. Want to rile up the GOP going into the midterms? Screw making any substantive arguments! Just claim that Democrats are conspiring to ‘replace’ white Christians with people of different races and ethnicities, a conspiracy theory lifted directly from neo-Nazis, with the details barely tweaked before being repeated hundreds of times on Fox News.
What are the consequences of such conspiracies? Just a few massacres here and there in synagogues, supermarkets, churches, mosques or schools by white men who get off on writing manifestos and posting them on the internet. Maybe bombings of a few clinics, the assassination of a handful of doctors, or mass shootings – I mean, it’s getting to be just part of the normal ebb and flow of life in America. If you consider this scenario difficult to comprehend, the biggest con game that’s been going on for years is the manner in which Republicans have been claiming to be passionate populists and getting away with it.
Fascist Republican politicians are now masquerading as populists, completely resignifying the meaning of the term. It used to mean that populists were opposed to the interests of corrupt elites. Populism used to designate an ideology in which ‘the people’ challenge, along race, class or ethnic lines, the vested interests of a corrupt elite, often through a charismatic political activist, or it referred to an emancipatory process in which ordinary people challenge dominant, entrenched power structures. But, now, it means that Republicans mention the working class or middle class in some of their prepared speeches. While there are, and have been, right-wing populists, it is difficult in this political climate to consider the Democrats as more of an elite power structure than the Republicans. Tom Hartmann writes: ‘Newt Gingrich suggested Republicans should always try to work the word “elite” into any reference they make to Democrats.’ This is masquerade politics. Populist politics has now exceeded itself simply as performance art. Hartmann continues:
But, like most of what Newt did during his political career, it’s a lie that Democrats are the party of the elites. And, pointing to Barbara Streisand as an ‘elite,’ as if she were an elite right-wing billionaire who opposes workers’ rights, doesn’t make it so. The Republican Party is almost exclusively funded by giant corporations, foreign governments, and the morbidly rich. It doesn’t get more elite than that. It’s time, therefore, to stop using the word ‘populist’ to describe any Republican politician unless they have turned on and renounced the positions of their party.
But what is more difficult to pull off is the argument that Republicans are the party of traditional values. In his brilliant article, ‘An Eccentric Tradition: The Paradox of “Western Values,”’ Peter Harrison contends that the concept of Western values is a quite recent, 20th-century Western emergence, despite being traced back to classical antiquity and the New Testament. His argument is a useful way of revealing what is actually behind the Republican calls for protecting at all costs traditional values in America (meaning Euro-American values founded on Biblical injunctions, legal precepts and cultural traditions that are associated with the Anglosphere). In other words, a smiling White family sitting before a Christmas tree, each holding an AR-15 (including the six-year-old), with the words ‘Merry Christmas’ spelled out in large red sparking letters. It was Trump who claimed to have saved Christmas in America from all those pagan religions and cults that have infested America from Latin America and African ‘shithole countries.’ Republicans are stout – often fanatical – defenders of traditional values and lament with hand-wringing and wailing the loss of ‘the Western canon’ and blame the Democrats for choosing woke culture over Judeo-Christian values without seeming to understand that the Western canon is quite a recent invention. According to Harrison, ‘Donald Trump has jumped on the bandwagon. In a rare moment of coherence, Trump delivered a speech ahead of the 2017 G20 summit in Poland, urging the defence of “our values” and “our civilisation.”’
Harrison notes the ‘fundamental paradox [that] lies at the heart of this advocacy.’ He writes that ‘the phrase “Western values” calls to mind a long moral tradition dating back to classical antiquity – the thought of the ancient Greeks, the traditions of Roman law, New Testament moral ideals. But the idea that there are such things as “Western values” cannot be found in any of these traditions themselves.’ If, as Harrison suggests, ‘[t]he specific concept of “Western values” is not itself part of the tradition to which it putatively refers,’ then what exactly does the concept ‘Western values’ mean, and how can conservatives defend the idea as they whip out their Bibles, rush to quote passages from Leviticus with headlong precision and pretend these words betoken a coherence in the world? American values are spoken about as if they constitute some twentieth-century Weltanschauung. Harrison is adamant that ‘no-one ever thought there was such a thing as “Western values” until the middle decades of the last century.’ Consider that the expression ‘moral values’ was not in use before the middle of the mid-nineteenth century. And bear in mind that the concept of ‘Western’ is also very recent. Europe, for instance, was always looking beyond itself, according to Harrison. Western values are not something the original, so-called proponents of Western values would have recognised about themselves. If the expression ‘Western values’ does not appear in English until the middle of the twentieth century,’ then what is particularly traditional about them?
The negative valence of the descriptor ‘judenchristlich’ changed following World War II and the Holocaust, after the Nazis revealed to the world that the greatest horror known to humankind could be hatched in the brainpans of a so-called civilised and enlightened Western country. Thus, the idea of Western or Judeo-Christian values became a way of historically thinking about and constructing a tradition. Harrison notes that ‘[t]his late invention of Western values nicely illustrates the general paradox – the concept of a long tradition that arguably was never really a part of that tradition’s own self-understanding.’ The reason that there could not have been a traditional idea of Western values was because the central moral category in the West had been virtues rather than values. The idea of a set of values cannot be found in the writings of the Greeks, or in the Old or New Testament. They are not, Harrison notes, in the works of the church fathers, medieval scholastics or early modern moral philosophers. The term values was used to denote monetary wealth or physical quantities. In nineteenth-century America, you can begin to see the idea of value being linked to measurable worth, and, later in that century, you can find the idea of moral values. Virtues and values are not the same thing. Modern quantification and commodification of morality occurred.
So, a question: Are we now praising the commodification of values as something that should be measurable in order to provide a net value of somebody’s worth? For anyone who works at a university, that answer should be self-evident. It used to be the case that scholarship and public intellectual work nationally and internationally were valued in the professoriate. That has receded in importance when placed against success at bringing in lucrative grants. But how do you rope in the big grants if you haven’t enjoyed national or international reach in your work? It’s a double bind. But, in any case, the money that you bring into your university is valued over the knowledge that you and your students produce and the debates you generate over issues that affect the quality of life of people living on the planet. So much for cognitive capitalism. As Harrison notes, ‘Values in this mode are imagined to serve the specific goals of the organisation, often quite independently of the question as to whether those goals themselves might be good.’
When Fox News television host Tucker Carlson – the highest-rated host in US cable news – is ‘helping to mainstream one of the most contentious and troubling ideologies of the contemporary right,’ we need to pay attention to what he means by preserving our ‘traditional values.’ Is he advocating that we adopt the utilitarian moral tradition, which is focused more on outcomes, on acts and on rules of behaviour than on the moral formation or intentionality or character of the individual? It would seem to me like that clean-cut, far-right influencer with the naughty frat boy grin organises his moral life around corporate values and his Fox News ratings, powered as they are by his outrageous acts? If anything, these so-called values are antithetical to the idea of inculcating virtues. Harrison notes, ‘[w]hereas ‘virtues’ are necessarily understood as personal qualities and are not so much defined and articulated as practised, ‘values,’ by way of contrast, can be set out in propositional form. Corporate values can thus be enumerated as dot points in glossy publications and on home pages. There are even websites designed to assist corporations in the enumeration of a marketable set of values. One of these helpfully suggests that all one needs to create a core values list is 50 Post-It notes, a pen, and ‘the core values list.’
Values can be shopped around, like choosing condiments in a supermarket. And if you can afford it, there are plenty of white shoe American hedge funds that can help you make the right decisions on stock market options in the arms industry. There is a whole marketplace of values available for those who like to have the freedom to choose and not be held accountable for consistency. Tucker’s duty to himself is to make money and spread lies – as it is those lies bandied about so adventitiously that speak to the virtue of the man – and to those who pay his salary. Carlson can choose any number of values – such as the value of being a White male and the entitlement that it gives him in a racist country such as the United States. Harrison notes that, ‘[u]nlike duties, to which one is in some sense already bound, or virtues, which represent the embodiment of a gradual process of a natural moral formation, values understood in this mode can be freely chosen.’ He goes on to say that ‘the values adopted by an individual on a particular issue can now be a source of disapprobation on the part of others, because values are seen to be a matter of choice rather than irresistible conviction.’ This insight appears to be the through-line with people like Carlson or Steve Bannon who identify as nationalist and conservative. Bannon could also be described as a Roman Catholic ‘integralist’ who ultimately wants to see the United States governed according to a conservative Catholic vision of the ‘common good.’ Maybe the term ‘values’ is not the best term to associate with the moral tradition of the West.
Harrison maintains that the historical demise of the virtues ‘occasioned the disintegration of Europe’s common moral language, giving rise to different and, arguably, incompatible ways of grounding morality.’ This led to a lot of confusion and disagreement about how moral positions can be justified and what would count as a moral commitment. Maybe we should have stayed with a tradition that advocated the cultivation of virtues that are aligned with a particular conception of the good. So, if it is virtues that we are talking about, which are long-standing within the Western moral tradition, we can avoid ‘increasingly incommensurable understandings about what it is that morality consists in.’ But what would that do to Donald Trump if we ignored his intellectual frippery and trumpery (couldn’t resist) and suddenly considered him a man of virtue rather than a man who shopped around for values that he thought would give him the advantage in winning elections? It would be hard to overlook his penchant for pussy-grabbing, for lying, for his racism, and his advocacy of violence if we were attempting to justify Trump as a virtuous man. Americans were always these things – they always embodied Trump – but it was never a speaking incarnation (i.e., it was an incarnation that kept silent about its horrors and hid itself under a veneer of condescending politeness and Southern-style hospitality). Trump gives Americans permission to openly lie, to be in-your-face racist, to be sexist and misogynist and homophobic. And to speak those shameful and uncomfortable truths under cover of Making America Great Again. And, if you get called out publicly on any of these egregious behaviours, you can now scream ‘cancel culture’! It’s the ‘woke’ crowd of liberals trying to get me because I support Trump! Racists and sexists hit a gold mine in Trump.
If, ‘throughout the Middle Ages and into early modernity, Western European identity can be characterised in terms of its dependency upon, and perceived inferiority to, traditions that lay beyond its geographical and temporal borders,’ as Harrison argues, how is it that Republicans unrepentantly valorise the West as a repository of the greatest values on earth, as the Republicans like to claim, since for much of its history, Christian Europe ‘stands in a kind of secondary relation to previous cultures – in particular, those of ancient Palestine and Greece’? If the Christian West ‘was indebted to something both prior to and outside itself,’ it hardly deserves the acclaim the Republicans accord it. Especially in the US, we would need to consider slavery and lynching, Jim Crow, the banning of teaching about slavery, the school-to-prison pipeline and structural racism. And what about those true Americans, ‘winning the West’ for civilisation that annihilated all those ‘redskins’ who strived to defend the plains and sacred lands? Yes, Tucker, that appears to be the grounds of your own valuing which includes un-diversifying the demonic perfection of immigrants and substituting them with pure European stock (with traditional breeding) who appear undeviatingly perfect and preferable to those dark-skinned ‘rapists’ from ‘shithole’ countries that Trump so disparages. No, Tucker, we prefer entertainers whose exegesis is sounder and less racist, and who don’t waste viewers’ time prowling through reshuffled arguments about white supremacy without the slightest discomfort.
I understand, young lad, your firebrand commentaries are simply the excrescences of your personality, and you can’t help what you are saying, especially when you are getting such a hefty salary for saying what you do; yes, I get it, when you are making up your world as you go along, there is no safeguard against over-reaching, thinking you could work with waggish composure through unforeseen circumstance without embarrassment therein. You would have been perfectly happy in Mussolini’s Italy (so long as you were rich), where you could dispense with the ballot box and not have to think for yourself, whereas one of my intellectual heroes, Antonio Gramsci, had to suffer eleven years in Mussolini’s prisons where ‘[h]is teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food … he had convulsions when he vomited blood and suffered headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell.’ In contrast, Tucker, my lad, you would have had it cushy.
Rather than permanently absorbing other cultures, like a sponge sucks up a spilled martini, Europe went through a series of renaissances, reformations and intellectual revolutions that drew upon sources outside itself – and would often go back to the canonical texts of ancient Greece and Palestine to fuel its own internal renewal. Harrison likes to refer to this specific European intellectual culture as one that engaged in ongoing conversations with cultures that preceded it, cultures it regarded as fundamentally superior. We haven’t absorbed Judeo-Christian values as a nation in the US so much as we have had continual conversations with its canonical texts. Tucker Carlson seems to think that we have absorbed Judeo-Christian values to the point at which he can unabashedly and unguardedly describe them as white, Christian, masculine and heterosexual. In the modern period, we see the conservative tradition emerging but as a work in progress, but Tucker seems to think these values are a done deal. There is always a tension when it comes to Western Judeo-Christian values between the transient and the inextinguishable, and that tension is always mediated by circumstances not of our own making.
It follows that until the modern period, Western Europe had been something of a ‘work in progress’ at an intellectual level, intrinsically ‘multicultural.’ Harrison writes: ‘No culture, according to Remi Brague, was so little centred on itself and so interested in others. Europe, in this sense, has an ‘eccentric’ culture because, historically, it found its centre outside itself. Rather than a repository of specific values, it was an attitude: a resolution ‘to be a container, open to the universal.”’ This sounds like the antithesis of Carlson the isolationist, who would rather have a conversation with a Cocker Spaniel than with somebody outside the comfort zone of his frail, frightened white community. I’m sure that Tucker secretly admires those reform movements in the West that employed the rhetoric of a repudiation of the past, bringing about a potential paradox: a Western tradition based upon a rejection of tradition. I can’t see him opposing the scientific revolution as long as that suited him – I’m sure he keeps a copy somewhere of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray.
There did arrive a new-found confidence in Western superiority and distinctiveness, but that happened during the Enlightenment – and that surely is what Tucker is pretending to admonish in his defence of tradition. In this sense, Tucker is really a man of the Enlightenment who is pretending to be a tradition-defender because he values the broad audience that he attracts by being a hateful racist because racism sells in America. But, ironically, in relation to Western values projects, Harrison reports that
the chief agents of the Enlightenment actively sought to sever their own ties with the past and disguise the historical trail that showed that period’s deep indebtedness to earlier religious and philosophical traditions. Much present-day deference to the Enlightenment and adulation of its imagined ideals proceeds not from insight into the historical realities of the period, or any understanding of the plural forms of Enlightenment, but from a naive acceptance of the crude propaganda of French philosophes.
Tucker gets his white supremacy from the idea that the West is the ‘unique end-product of the unfolding of history.’ But the West got to this point precisely because, in its arrogance, it rejected tradition at the same time as it famously ‘enshrined the cultural superiority of Europe by proposing progressive stages of social evolution, typically beginning with primitive religious or magical phases, and moving ineluctably towards scientific, rational phases, best represented by an increasingly secularised Western Europe,’ as Harrison puts it. Tucker, with all your picaresque verve, you seem to be a jumble of contradictions. When do you want to take off your white robe, denounce traditional Judeo-Christian values and admit you are a social evolutionist who fits squarely in the modernist strain? The establishment of this new elite ‘Western Republic’ – of which America is the most shining example – is what Tucker believes should serve as a model for the rest of the world. And admit it, Tucker, you have milked the Anglosphere for all it is worth, and it has produced great dividends for you – if you enjoy being a millionaire many times over more than you mind history remembering you as one of the great white supremacists, panderer, and populariser of the Great Replacement Theory.
As the West takes on this new burden of imperial manhood, the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ takes on yet another meaning. In its twentieth-century Anglo-American uses, the term ‘Judeo-Christian became inclusive of Jews. But, now, as Harrison argues, ‘it is routinely used, implicitly or explicitly, to exclude Muslims.’ And this exclusion seems to fit you just fine, Tucker. You are right there in sync with Donald Trump banning Muslim immigrants, and you also seem in sync with Francis Fukuyama, holding, in essence, ‘that secular, capitalist, liberal democracy is the only game in town.’ Now you are imagining various threats to the integrity of the West, which terrifies you, which is why you want to build Trump’s Wall on the Southern border because Euro-American civilisation ‘is imperilled by civilisations with different values, either because of the external security threats they pose, or because the liberal West too readily welcomes immigration from populations that bring with them inimical values.’ Here your plangent foolishness on Fox mirrors the ideas in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations and the ideas of Putin’s court philosopher, Aleksander Dugin.
I agree with Harrison that
European heritage cannot simply be reduced to a core set of ‘Western values.’ For much of its history, Europe was focused on virtues rather than values, and was characterised by an openness to past cultures that were essentially non-European…. The study of what we might call ‘the Western tradition’ will not turn out to be as comforting to advocates of conservative moral and political values as they might imagine. We will see that there is no neat alignment of the study of tradition with traditionalism and political conservatism. Rather the relevant history will bear witness to an ongoing conversation and a continuous dialogue with other cultural traditions. That dialogue was as robust in the middle ages and early modern period as in the post-Enlightenment era…. It is here that the great potential of a ‘Western tradition’ project lies – not in the fetishising of some imagined canon of fixed values, but in the preservation of a rich and varied past that can continue to serve as an ongoing challenge to the priorities and ‘values’ of the present. And it follows that it is not just long-gone cultures that can play this role, but also those that we encounter in the contemporary world. Knowledge of our own cultural traditions can be deeply enriched by perspectives gained from knowledge of other cultures.
There is also a real danger in legitimising the concept of ‘traditional values of humankind’ as the basis for human rights law. Traditional values are hard to codify and impossible to define unproblematically, and it is clear that tradition and culture can be used to undermine the universality of human rights principles. Equality is rarely given consideration. The US talks a good talk about human rights, but it does not want economic rights. It deliberately excludes that category. Human rights are to be seen as separate from economic rights. But how is that possible? Economic rights go against the spirit of capitalism. You are entitled to nothing! Nothing is free! You have to earn everything you get! This makes the idea of human rights ambiguous and regressive. Without equality at the core of human rights discussions, the very universality of human rights is threatened and impossible to achieve.
Here are some questions that I would like, in conclusion, to pose to Tucker: Why is respect for the GLBTQ community not considered a traditional value? Do we base traditional values on where we can digitally locate customs and beliefs on a time graph? In which case, we would need to turn to cultural anthropologists to determine what might be considered Neanderthal values (how best to rip open a mammoth’s intestines, perhaps?). Are European cultures that included the drawing and quartering of prisoners or the burning of witches at the stake by Christian communities more ‘traditional’ and therefore more desirable than our modern treatment of murderers on death row because those practices occurred further back in time? And does that make them better? (There are Christians to this day calling for the execution of gays and lesbians – and public executions at that.) Was European culture wrong to turn to the canonical texts of ancient Greece and Palestine, or other cultures considered much more superior? Are traditional cultures really the outcome of historical constructions, something determined to have been already absorbed into the West, or can various cultural values that percolate through the multicultural universe we call America be considered more in the vein of ‘conversational partners’? Who decides who are the most advantageous conversational partners? Should we scour the European landscape for fascists like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán or Russia’s Vladimir Putin and implore them to join us in determining what we collectively regard as traditional values? I suppose, Tucker, if it resonates with your lifelong values, and you like them, and so does Hungary’s president, Victor Orbán, then they must be regarded as a sacred traditional Euro-American value that needs to be defended from those ‘woke’ libtards, correct? Once those values are enumerated and collected and measured by some supposedly ‘neutral’ algorithms (devised, of course, by Fox News technicians), what if they translate into those values most associated with a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, fascist state? I can already see your lips smacking, Tucker. Don’t give yourself away. And what if the response is: yes, our values may be fascist according to your evaluation, but our traditional self-understanding is that they are closer to populism, or libertarianism, with a decidedly American flavour, of course, since they are the same traditional values expressed by Trump. We like lots of flavours, but our favourite is vanilla! After all, we Republicans have a long tradition of deciding what is traditional! And how to measure it. That’s why we are going to demand all teachers take loyalty oaths and pledge that they will honour our traditional American values in their lessons. And if they can’t wear the Stars and Stripes or dress like Uncle Sam when they teach that slaves in America were treated like part of the slaveowners’ own family, then, well, we will find teachers that will comply! And for those who truly love America, we will be happy to invite them to our nightly book-burning parties, but they need to bring their own robes and tiki torches. After all, we’re not that generous.
Tucker, Orbán and Trump: A Threesome Made in Hell
It’s hard to imagine at this scabrous political moment in history that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán once led a functioning European democracy. It didn’t take this Al Capone-like figure very long to shatter that democracy and transform it into a fully functioning fascist and oligarchic regime of single-party rule. He did what Trump desperately wanted to do – but failed. He borrowed some of Trump’s tactics along the way, using MAGA-sounding themes such as ‘Christian purity‘ and ‘making Hungary great again.’ He was successful at building a wall across the entirety of Hungary’s southern border to keep out the ‘rapists and murderers’ fleeing Russian violence in Syria. And he altered Hungary’s Constitution so that his party will win elections far into the future. As Thom Hartmann notes, he’s ‘packed the courts just like Trump and McConnell did, particularly Hungary’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, so thoroughly that even the most serious legal challenges against him and his party go nowhere.’ He ‘passed laws requiring “conservative” sex education in schools (“gay is bad” and “abstinence only”) and banning any positive portrayal of LGBTQ people on TV. In public campaigns … [his party has] … conflated homosexuality with paedophilia. The latest anti-gay law passed the Hungarian Parliament by a vote of 157 to 1.’ And if this wasn’t enough, he has ‘railed against teaching multiracialism and racial tolerance, instead, rewriting elementary school textbooks to proclaim that refugees entering the country are a threat because ‘it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist.’ Yes, he is saying this all out loud, and with vehemence, something the Republicans are eager to do. And, as Hartmann reports, ‘[u]sing this logic, he has locked up refugee children in cages with the enthusiastic support of Hungarian white supremacists.’ His supporters have viciously attacked Roma families, threatening to set their homes on fire. Hartmann writes that ‘Orbán has handed government contracts to his favoured few, elevating an entire new class of pro-Orbán businessmen (it appears all are men) who have now seized almost complete control of the nation’s economy, as those who opposed him have lost their businesses, been forced to sell their companies, and often fled the country.’ All-white militias prowl the streets like packs of hungry wolves, scouring neighbourhoods for vulnerable victims. And what about the propaganda machine that runs all of this? Not a problem. As Hartmann notes: ‘Virtually all of Hungary’s press is now in the hands of oligarchs and corporations loyal to Orbán, with hard-right talk radio and television across the country singing his praises daily just like right-wing media here. Billboards and social media proclaim Orbán’s patriotism.’
Orbán told the recent American CPAC conference in Budapest that they should do the same in America when Republicans seize control of the US government: ‘Have your own media,’ he said. ‘It’s the only way to point out the insanity of the progressive left. The problem is that the western media is adjusted to the leftist viewpoint. Those who taught reporters in universities already had progressive leftist principles.’ About the media, Orban singles out Tucker Carlson for effusive praise: ‘Of course, the GOP has its media allies, but they can’t compete with the mainstream liberal media. My friend, Tucker Carlson, is the only one who puts himself out there. His show is the most popular. What does it mean? It means programs like his should be broadcasted day and night. Or, as you say, 24/7.’ Orbán recently began attacking the Hungarian Science Academy, ‘replacing or simply firing scientists who acknowledge climate change, which, like Trump and the GOP, he has called ‘left-wing trickery made up by Barack Obama.’
And have we so quickly forgotten that Orbán became one of Trump’s two primary sources of lies about how Ukraine’s Zelensky allegedly tried to sabotage Trump? And he is continuously meddling in religion, working with both far-right Catholics and protestant evangelicals. And he was the force behind The Central European University fleeing Hungary, since Orbán would not tolerate, even for an instant, any progressive teaching. Classes were banned, and organisations threatened with violence. Its rector, Michael Ignatieff, said, ‘There’s just no doubt that this is organised as a way of saying that “Christianity” means “white conservative Europe.” It’s a trope. Say the word “Christian,” and it says everything else that you want to say.’ He has spoken out against ‘countries that accept non-Christian or non-white refugees are producing “mixed-race nations.’” Women have been marginalised in Hungarian politics. And, further, says Hartmann, ‘Orbán is now ruthlessly using his own nation’s diplomatic and criminal justice systems to aid foreign criminal oligarchs, having installed his own versions of corrupt senior officials like Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo. He has increasingly turned Hungary into a place of refuge for corrupt oligarchs and neofascists from other nations.’
You can understand why far-right conservatives in America adore him! Perhaps he, not Trump, is the ‘Chosen One.’ He certainly is leading the way. It is very easy for implacably indignant ideologues like Orbán to assert the historical primacy of fascism as a means to propagandise against its most bitter enemy: democracy. For ethno-nationalists like Orbán, white purity is the normative quintessence of the Judeo-Christian tradition he propagates, not because of the power of scholarly exegesis or a singular commitment to Christianity (although he professes to be a Christian), but because of the prevalence of racism among Christians, especially against Jews and Roma. But I wouldn’t count Vladimir Putin out quite yet. The sly little elf from what was once called Leningrad, who wears his nuclear missiles on his hips like General Patton wore his ivory-handled pistols, is still very much Orbán’s master tutor, but Orbán can’t quite acknowledge that publicly yet, with the European coverage of the bloody invasion of Ukraine not in favour of Putin at this moment. And Trump, he has a far more difficult challenge ahead than faced Orbán. Americans would prefer fighting in the streets before they let Trump tamper with the Constitution or abolish the mainstream media. Trump will make more inroads into the fascist metaverse, but his success is not a foregone conclusion.
But Tucker Carlson – infamous for pushing the conspiracy that a cabal of liberal elites are using non-White immigrants and Black people to intermarry with and ‘outbreed’ White people until they replace ‘legacy Americans’ who comprise the ‘current electorate’ – isn’t helping matters as he prepares the ground for Trump’s impending fascist rule. Carlson has been one of Orbán’s most obedient and gratuitous media incubi, seducing vulnerable Fox News listeners, and going even further than visiting Orbán in Hungary and promoting his corrupt regime on his news show. As the courageous Craig Unger reports:
Earlier this year, Carlson went even further, releasing a ‘documentary’ called Hungary vs. Soros: Fight for Civilisation, which portrays the country as a rightist utopia that has conquered illegal immigration thanks to its supposedly impenetrable border fence. Not one to shy away from antisemitism, Carlson depicts Soros as a villainous Jewish financier pulling the strings of the world leaders, directing a global conspiracy to keep borders open, and serving the interests of leftist ideologues through his support of civil society groups. ‘It’s appalling to see Tucker Carlson and FOX invoke the kind of anti-Semitic tropes typically found in white supremacist media,’ tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. ‘There’s no excuse for this kind of fear-mongering, especially in light of intensifying #antisemitism.’
Viktor Orbán is now the top dog in Europe as far as authoritarianism and corruption are concerned. Putin and the Russian oligarchs are no longer de rigueur since they now stink of war, so Orbán is the new substitute for Russian authoritarianism in Europe. If Orbán claims to be against Putin now because of the invasion, that is very likely for show, as Orbán is a master at playing politics in the big leagues. As Craig Unger notes:
[N]ow that Russian atrocities in Ukraine dominate the news cycle 24/7, the mechanisms through which Putin’s propaganda, disinformation, and dark money flow to the West are finally being shut down. More than a thousand Russian businesses and individuals have been sanctioned. Russia has defaulted on foreign loans. Its banks have been removed from Swift. All Russian flights have been banned from the United States, the UK, the EU, and Canadian airspace. New investment in Russia from the West is being shut down. Yachts are being seized. One by one, the faucets are being turned off. And, as The Bulwark put it, that’s why the right has begun to increasingly ‘launder its Putinism’ through the support of Orbán. Indeed, Putin has become so toxic that even the sponsors of CPAC Budapest take pains to assert – rather unconvincingly, I might add – that the Hungarian prime minister is no friend of the Russian ruler. ‘It’s untrue to say that Orbán is an ally of Putin,’ ACU’s Daniel Schneider told me in a phone interview in which he further asserted that ‘Hungary and Orbán voted for sanctions’ against Russia. But that assessment does not hold up under close scrutiny. Even in the wake of Russia’s murderous attacks, Orbán has declined to criticise Putin directly, has prohibited arms shipments to Ukraine through Hungary, and has fought proposals for EU sanctions on Russian natural gas.
Initially, as Unger writes, it looked like the slippery Orbán was convincingly against the invasion of Ukraine, but that contradicts Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko:
It is true that, initially, Orbán condemned the Russian invasion and did not veto the EU sanctions against Moscow, a stance that helped him win re-election on April 3. But just four days later, on April 7, Hungary announced that it would continue to receive nuclear fuel for power plants from Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said that now that Orbán’s election is over, Hungary is ‘on to the next step – to help Putin continue his aggression against Ukraine.’
CPAC is treading dangerous ground in hosting its conference in Hungary and embracing white supremacy with a brashness that should make us all squirm. But I am sure that CPAC’s planners are aware of the perils ahead, since, for the organisers of the conference, Orbán’s brand of fascism is good for Republican morale. And there is a lot of dirty money to be had. But for those attendees who are not happy with the idea of rubbing shoulders with Russian intelligence agents, there are some risks. Unger reports:
For CPAC to have its conference there, it’s absolutely a security threat,’ says Richard Kraemer, senior fellow at the European Values Centre for Security Policy and the co-author of a recent report for the centre that characterised Hungary as a Russian proxy state. ‘Just take the International Investment Bank [IIB] in Budapest as an example. It’s essentially a staging ground for Russian intelligence interests. Everyone at the bank has diplomatic immunity. Why you need that is completely beyond me.’ Kraemer noted that the president of the IIB, Nikolai Kosov has long-standing ties to Russian and Soviet intelligence through his parents, Nikolai Kosov and Yelena Kosova, both of whom were well-known KGB agents.
Unger presses the question that most Americans should be asking but are not: ‘Why did CPAC choose to have the conference in the centre of criminal activity?’ And his answer is unhesitatingly, brutally honest: ‘Because they can make financial transactions with the criminal class of Central Europe for funding that provides the leverage to gain political influence.’ This makes eminent sense when you consider the sly machinations of Arthur Finkelstein, the late GOP political consultant who secretly worked to get Orbán elected. Unger writes:
Finkelstein, you may recall, was the legendary Republican attack dog and ‘merchant of venom’ who did more than anyone else in the US to transform the word ‘liberal’ into a vile political epithet. Finkelstein’s greatest strength as a political warrior was a shamelessness so profound that it allowed him – a gay Jew – to mastermind viciously homophobic and virulently antisemitic political campaigns without the slightest compunction. In 1996, Finkelstein was ‘outed’ by Boston magazine in an article by Steve Rodrick that I edited. It noted that his clients – Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), and Don Nickles (R-OK) among them – were instrumental in defeating a bill that would ban anti-gay job discrimination.
Finkelstein shamelessly helped to demonise George Soros in a series of unrelenting antisemitic attacks on the billionaire investor: as Unger reports, apparently, Soros
was a rich Jew and a liberal who supported protecting the climate, equality, and the Democrats, so Finkelstein devised a massive campaign that transmogrified Soros into a dangerous and conniving Jewish billionaire who could be portrayed as an enemy in different countries all over the world. Before long, there were billboards all over Hungary featuring Soros with the text Don’t let him have the last laugh.’ With the exception of Paul Manafort, who helped elect pro-Putin candidates Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine and Donald Trump in the United States, no American political consultant did more for the Russian president than Finkelstein.
The campaign against Soros was so successful
that Finkie, as Orbán called him, got a home in Budapest and served as the prime minister’s chief strategist for ten years, according to the Hungarian Free Press. As Steve Bannon put it, by helping Viktor Orbán get elected prime minister, Finkelstein allowed Hungary to give birth to ‘Trump before Trump.’ Meanwhile, Orbán had his own ties to Russia’s mafia state through Semion Mogilevich, the so-called Brainy Don of the Russian Mafia, who is alleged to have orchestrated a vast array of global crime scams, often working out of Budapest, and is back in the news with a bounty on his head.
We really don’t need to say more about why Hungary is such an attractive site for CPAC and the Republican Party. When you look at Hungary now, you are looking at the America of 2028, once Trump is finished with it. And how many Americans will be happy with that? It disturbs me to say, more than you think. Imagine what the country will look like then? I am not a huge supporter of the Democrats, although I have voted for them since becoming a dual Canadian-American citizen. They have their own corruption scandals and are famous for selling out the working and middle classes, but as bad as they are, they pale in comparison to today’s unremittingly fascist party, the Republican Party. The virtuous Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have no socialist counterparts in the Republican Party, and are often derided as ‘far-left.’ But for many socialists struggling for democracy, these two important figures appear quite moderate. Politics in America is a slugfest, and for any democratic socialist in the Democratic Party (there is a small handful) to grab the attention of the voters, new strategies will need to be implemented.
When I see the capitalised letters, IMHO, I immediately associate it with The International Marxist-Humanist Organization (IMHO), one of the key organisations in the country for advancing the cause of Marxist humanism. But for many more people, the letters bring to mind a popular acronym that stands for ‘in my humble opinion,’ a typing shortcut in online communication. While there is some humour in this observation, it gives us a sense of how far we need to travel in order to bring some serious leftist politics to the American stage. Once we become the North American Hungary (one with a vast nuclear arsenal), it will affect the political arrangements of countries the world over. There will be no non-fascist country in the world powerful enough to challenge us. So we, ourselves, must challenge this fascist politics from the inside. That is our duty as virtuous citizens.