Tucker Carlson is not much to look at. A small man with a wrinkled face in the frown of a junior manager overlooked for a promotion, could walk alongside him on the street with just a glance. Only when you describe how “the elite have turned against their own people” should you realize it. Carlson is the trusted voice of the dominant force on the right that will destroy democracy in the name of the “people.”
Last week, Carlson’s Fox News aired a show of admiration from Hungary by Viktor OrbánAlthough there are signs that Orbán will make it Europe’s first right-wing dictatorship since the fall of Franco’s Spain in 1975. Fox News built its audience and Orbán built its power by creating paranoid fears of such a dangerous enemy, any tactic can justify yourself to defeat him. Usually it is the globalized liberal elite that turns against its own people by allowing mass immigration. Orbán has added a fascist twist to the grand replacement conspiracy theory by blaming Jewish financier George Soros for plotting to flood Christian Hungary with Muslims. If it is not the migrants, it is the gay men he implies are pedophiles, and if they are not gay men, it is the European Union. The name of the enemy is incidental. The point about modern far-right politics is that there must always be an enemy.
For a long time, people who should have known took authoritarian regimes on their own terms and described Hungary, Turkey and, until it became too shameful, Vladimir Putin’s Russia as “illiberal democracies.” I can see why the idea appealed in theory. By ultra-progressive standards, all democracies, including ours, follow illiberal policies on crime and immigration. There is no necessary conflict between anti-liberalism and democracy. On the contrary, traditional conservative policies are often what the majority of the electorate wants.
But paranoid illiberal politics can never be compatible with democracy. Paranoia turns opponents into traitors involved in an evil plot against “the people.” The only way to deal with traitors is to crush them and if crushing involves the destruction of democracy and the perpetuation of the power of the ruling elite, that is a price the elite are happy to see others pay.
Like the unforgivably overrated Roger scruton, Trump’s mentor Steve Bannon, that part-time defender of free speech Jordan peterson, and until recently the leaders of nominally anti-dictatorial European politics Christian Democratic partiesCarlson was comfortable with his own hypocrisy. The right wing he represents says it believes in free speech when liberals threaten it. However, in Hungary, press freedom is dying. Supporters of the regime control most of the state and private television stations and newspapers, while the rest must fear a government-appointed media council that may impose heavy fines for “immoral” reporting. Conservatives cheering Orbán are against canceling the culture, it seems, but only when their opponents are canceling.
The right wing says it believes in free societies, but in Hungary higher education is under state control, so “liberals” cannot pollute the minds of young people. He says he is on the side of the people. However, in Hungary corruption ranges from the elevation of Orbán from a childhood friend to a multimillionaire to the daily bribes that Hungarians must pay to receive health care. Elections are gerrymandered and state judges and bureaucrats are chosen for their loyalty rather than their competence.
The next elections in 2022 will be worth watching. If the opposition somehow manages to defeat a rigged system, many wonder if Orbán would give up power. Like Putin and other robbers in office, you must fear going to prison if you do so.
For Michael Ignatieff, the willingness not only of Fox News but of a stream of conservative intellectuals and politicians to humiliate themselves before Orbán, as the leftists lower themselves before the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes, raises what he calls the most important question in current politics. : Do Conservatives Abandon the Principles of Constitutional Government? Ignatieff is well placed to ask. He was rector of the Central European University of Budapest. When it lasts interviewed he, in 2017, the Hungarian opposition felt it could fight Orbán’s attempts to expel the university from the country. Ignatieff was a former leader of the opposition in Canada and not an anonymous academic. He mobilized a global protest movement and the hope was that he would force Orbán to respect academic independence. Today, he and the Hungarians who supported him are much more pessimistic. The dictatorial states did not admit resistance and Orbán forced the university to move to Vienna in 2019.
The American Republicans have already made their decision. In the upcoming elections, they will not only suppress the votes, but will have state election officials declare their opponents’ victories fraudulent.
The British right is harder to define. Boris Johnson is not an Orbán or a Trump. Outside the pages of the worst conservative newspapers there is no cult of Johnson’s personality. He does not terrorize Tory MPs to line up while Trump intimidates Republicans. In private, and increasingly in public, they show that they do not respect or fear him.
However, I find it too easy for comfort to paint a picture of the UK orbanization. The attempt to exclude 2.5 million voters no franchise identification cards, the rise of Russian property developers and oligarchs exploiting their ties to the conservative elite, attacks on the BBC that have culminated in state appointments attempting to politically veterinary journalists, the suspension of parliament and threats to the judiciary are symptoms of a system that is heading towards decline.
After Hitler’s defeat in 1945 and the fall of right-wing dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, and Greece in the 1970s, Western conservative parties pledged to abide by liberal democratic rules. But the 70s are a long time ago and the 40s even longer. The lesson of recent history is that the right can abandon the constitutional order and be rewarded rather than punished. It is not too paranoid a response to paranoid authoritarianism to imagine that one day Tucker Carlson will broadcast live from London and shower Boris Johnson with sycophantic praise while piling him on Viktor Orbán.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism