Tucker Carlson’s trip to Hungary and fawning interview with its dictator Viktor Orban is just the latest evidence of the right wing’s unembarrassed embrace of authoritarianism. Carlson, the most watched host on Fox News, broadcast his show from Budapest last week and spent his time there praising Orban and his brand of intolerant populism.
On August 8, Carlson even told the Daily Hungary News told that Hungary is a freer country than the United States!
To achieve Hungarian-style “freedom,” leaders of America’s right wing want to turn the Republican Party into the vanguard of a social and cultural revolution of the kind that Orban is now carrying out. And a distressingly large number of Trumpist Republicans are prepared to ape the January 6th insurrectionists and use violence to achieve their goals.
It’s no surprise that Carlson loves Orban. He, like Trump, is the master of the Big Lie and anti-immigrant hatred. Consider Orban’s mimicking the genocidal Big Lie that the Nazis rode to power: That back-stabbing Jews caused Germany’s loss in World War I as well as the global Depression. Orbach’s party, per HuffPost reporting, plastered the country with posters and leaflets asserting a clandestine conspiracy to settle “a million migrants a year in Europe and pay them each thousands of euros.”
HuffPost also reports that Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros called out Orban for “employing anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s.” In response, Orban had his cultural commissioner deploy a Trump trademark—projecting accusations against the autocrat on his opponents. The commissioner compared Soros to Hitler, labeling Soros the “liberal Fuhrer” who viewed Europe as “his gas chamber.”
Orban also built a 109-mile border wall against refugees from the war in Syria. And in his own version of “fake news,” he removed the license of his sternest radio station critic for “infringing” on “the rules.”
Carlson offers up Orban, who also has eroded judicial independence and undermined multiparty democracy, as a model of the kind leader that America needs. He admires the way the Hungarian Prime Minister has used his power to attack elites and minority groups, and to limit the rights of LGBT individuals.
And the more the European Union and other liberal, multinational organizations attack Orban, the more that Carlson and his conservative allies hold up Hungary as a model of what they want America to become.
Their hopes for this country are, however, not just hopes for political change. They want to end democracy – but even that is not a sufficiently radical description.
The Republican Party and those who have bought into its program seek to change the meaning of what it means to be an American by promoting Christian nationalism, strengthening white privilege, and discrediting the American melting pot.
They reject the idea that being American is defined by subscribing to a set of political ideals, what the sociologist Robert Bellah labels America’s “civic religion,” rather than a common ancestry, an official faith tradition, or a shared racial identity. Instead they promote an exclusionary ethnonationalism and a racialized version of patriotism as an antidote to despair among white, working-class voters.
That’s why during the January 6 invasion of the Capitol, insurrectionists carried Trump banners and Confederate flags side-by-side. All too many Republicans now see that insurrection as “legitimate protest” and stand ready to use violence to achieve their goals.
Like Orban, whose party came to power by winning elections in 2010, 2014, and 2018, Republicans hope to install via the ballot box leaders sympathetic to their revolutionary project. Rigging elections is but a small price to pay to save America from people who want to preserve and expand its promise of inclusion, equality, and openness.
If that doesn’t work, we saw on January 6 the lengths to which America’s cultural revolutionaries would go to carry out their transformative project. That they failed in their immediate goal of preventing the peaceful transfer of power does not mean that their willingness to use violence has lessened.
As Yale professor Timothy Snyder notes, history teaches that “a failed coup is practice for a successful coup.” Talking about ongoing Republican voter suppression efforts, Snyder warns that “people who are benefiting because their vote counts for more think of themselves as entitled — and when things don’t go their way, they’re also more likely to be violent.”
A George Washington University/YouGov poll released on July 26 offers startling new evidence of the wisdom of Snyder’s warnings. It found that 47% of Republican voters agreed with the statement that “A time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”
The GWU/You Gov poll found that 55% of Republicans support the potential use of force to preserve the “traditional American way of life.”
The reference to preserving the “traditional American way of life” in the GWU/You Gov poll captures the basis of today’s Republican cultural radicalism.
Like Orban, Carlson and his allies stoke fear of cultural elites who want to acknowledge this nation’s history of discriminatory exclusions and injustices as well as its noble ideals. That is why former President Trump repeatedly denounced the left’s supposed defilement of “the American story.” He went after what he described as “the New York Times’s totally discredited 1619 Project,” which he claimed “rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”
Carlson and many Trump loyalists in the Republican Party want, and seem ready to use violence to achieve, what Patrick Buchanan once labeled “a religious war…for the soul of America.” They want to “make America great again” even if doing so requires that they “take the law into their own hands.” War, after all, is a violent endeavor.
What many Republicans now call patriotism is really a call to accept a radical undoing of America, one that requires ending democracy as well as redefining both what this country stands for and what it means to be an American citizen.