May 14, 2019


It's clear why Trump likes autocrats. But why are American conservatives following him (Anne Applebaum, May 13, 2019, Washington Post)

On Monday, President Trump hosted one of these exotic foreign ideologues at the White House. Viktor Orban, prime minister of a country with just under 10 million inhabitants -- less than the population of North Carolina -- has set out to persuade British and American intellectuals to join his war against liberal democracy. At embassy dinners in London and at Washington events sponsored by Hungarian government foundations, elegantly dressed Hungarian officials expound the values of their corrupt, authoritarian state -- and now some U.S. conservatives, perhaps frustrated because they can't vanquish their own opponents so easily, have come to believe them. Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation imagines that other Europeans dislike Orban because Hungarians are "constantly reminding their neighbors not to be embarrassed by Europe's history." Christopher Caldwell, writing recently in the Claremont Review of Books, admires Orban's attack on "neutral social structures and a level playing field," presuming that the Hungarian leader derives these policies from some mystical need for organic community.

In fact, European anger at Orban has nothing do with being reminded of history, and everything to do with Orban's all-out assault on his country's legal and judicial institutions, on independent media, on academia and on culture. And the purpose of this assault has nothing to do with mystical organic communities: The reason the ruling party has undermined judicial independence and expelled the country's leading university is because it wants to maintain its monopoly on power and continue accumulating wealth. No large business can operate in Hungary without ruling-party approval; many in Orban's inner circle have mysteriously managed to make fortunes; independent businesspeople who do not toe the line are quietly threatened until they leave the country.

It's not hard, of course, to see why this might appeal to an amoral operator such as Trump, who openly admires the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia. As Trump's ambassador to Hungary recently put it, in an overly honest interview in the Atlantic, Trump "would love to have the situation that Viktor Orban has, but he doesn't."

But how does it appeal to conservative intellectuals?  [...]

To be absolutely clear: We are talking about a European leader who uses overt racism and covert anti-Semitism in his election propaganda, speaking of fighting an unnamed "enemy" who is "crafty" and "international" and "speculates with money." We are talking about a European leader who has thumbed his nose at the United States, bent over backwards to welcome a Russian bank that is thought to have espionage links and undermined U.S. policy in Ukraine.

We are talking about a European leader who inspired one Hungarian academic to write, in a tragic, elegiac article, that his country had "committed suicide in plain sight." The educated young are leaving Hungary, if they aren't already gone; the prospects for anyone who rejects the public festivals of hatred and prejudice are dire. But because they don't actually have to live in Hungary, a certain kind of American conservative, just like a certain kind of American leftist long ago, will continue admiring this leader, because they can.

He's Donald without a Deep State.

Posted by at May 14, 2019 4:30 AM