Tucker Carlson's visit is the latest in a long line of American malcontents
He couldn’t meet with Vladimir Putin, so he had to settle for Viktor Orban.
A visit this week to Hungary by a jubilant Tucker Carlson makes him the latest in a line of American malcontents looking East. Steve Bannon was perhaps the first to make the voyage during the Trump years. At the time, it was just another tour date on the former White House chief strategist’s wild, wacky and very pre-2020 travels in Europe. More recently, my colleague at the American Conservative, the celebrated author Rod Dreher, has been there all summer.
Now it’s Carlson’s turn. On his shows this week, the Fox News host highlighted several items for praise.
First, Carlson likes the architecture. He hailed the neoclassical style of the government buildings, a clear sop to the Right and its proclivity for more traditional design. There was, of course, that short-lived executive order in the Trump administration on this front.
But the Fox journalist highlighted buildings for another reason — those still visibly pockmarked with bullet holes. They stand as a reminder of the country’s dual invasions by the Nazis and the Soviets. For Carlson, such adjacency to violence is healthy, a reminder of how close any society is to sudden, previously inconceivable oppression.
Those smitten with Orbán are often mobbed up in the still-nascent movement called “national populism,” or “national conservatism,” set to formally reconvene in October in Orlando under the leadership of Yoram Hazony. Like Hazony’s native Israel, Hungary has proven a rare success in reversing some of the problems that have dogged western democracies — reversing the plummeting birth rate, for one — and having done so without resorting to theocratic authoritarianism.
But to his critics, Orban’s little better than Putin — although most people concede that he is far less malevolent (and murderous). Still, that hasn’t stopped Never-Trumpers like David Frum warning that the Hungarian PM is a “huge crook” and that citizens “fear for their jobs, not lives” — an irony not lost on American conservatives.
Moreover, as pointed out by wonky, if glib, progressives like Matthew Yglesias, the small EU nation hardly provides a fully transferable model to the most powerful empire in history. “I feel like we should all talk more about how conservatives’ dream is to make America more like this much poorer, rinky-dink little country in Central Europe,” the pundit tweeted.
But in spite of the naysayers, it looks like the conservative interest in Hungary is set to last. After all, many feel that the country provides something that America lacks — a spine, or a genuine belief in a transformative mission. According to Dreher, he and Carlson agreed “that it is an example of a country where — unlike our own — conservatives have successfully fought against wokeness and other aspects of the liberal globalist agenda.”
One thing’s clear: the historical dynamics have shifted. American conservatives now look to post-communist Europe with envy — and at the home front with escalating embarrassment.