Perched on an armchair in a carefully staged library in Hungary, right wing firebrand Tucker Carlson cozied up to a newfound friend: Hungarian President Viktor Orban. Orban, it seems, is the type of “president” that Tucker prefers. He made that abundantly clear in his winding interview, repeatedly attacking the American President and lauding Orban’s brand of autocratic rule.
Lying at the heart of Tucker’s newfound Hungarian zeal is a kind of authoritarian fetishism that’s become frighteningly familiar among America’s extreme right. In this brand of so-called “conservatism,” the cultural ends justify the illiberal means.
In Orban, Tucker has found the competent autocrat Trump was never quite capable of becoming. In his first premiership Orban was heralded as a conservative reformer. But when he lost his reelection, he dove deeper into populism, nationalism and nativism. After he returned to office in 2010 his party rewrote the Constitution to cement his power, gerrymandered parliamentary seats to keep his coalition in charge, and even created a new judicial system under his control.
Now he calls for a country that does not mix races or religions. He builds walls with razor wire to prevent all immigration, he controls the majority of the media, requires nationalistic school curriculum that whitewashes history, and he demonizes all political opposition as “communists” in order to arrest them.
Tucker actually goes to the absolutely unbelievable lengths of telling his audience that political dissent in America is so dangerous that the “hiring of armed bodyguards” by conservatives like him is “common.” His language is peppered with absurdity, describing social media companies as “overlords”, criticism as “silencing”, and politicians as the “ruling class.”
Meanwhile, in Buncombe County, North Carolina, a group of outraged parents declared the freely elected School Board illegitimate, and undemocratically declared themselves the new board, all because they disagreed with the masking policy for schools. Of course, they have no power, and their claims are absurd on their face. But their attitude is frighteningly common in America these days.
Extremists, primarily on the right, but also on the left, have decided that their personal preferences are too important to risk in elections. They illogically conclude that in order to save their freedoms, they must curtail the freedoms of others.
That is why they have to resort to such hyperbolic language. They must convince you that “socialism” or “heritage” or any other pet cause is so important that you should surrender your most fundamental right, the right to vote.
That illogical and dangerous argument – in order to save freedom, you must relinquish your own – is at the heart of the extreme right’s love affair with authoritarianism. Itis the heart of Orban-ism, and it is the direction of Trumpism.
They will claim that their intent is to provide for the common good, or that the fate of America itself is at stake. But at its heart, their argument is against the core of America’s founding and Constitution.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the attacks on January 6th, when a mob was whipped up by Donald Trump and the far right ecosystem to overthrow an election. To those who stormed the capitol, and those who cheered on from a distance, the stakes were too high to accept or allow for democracy’s true result. But no freedom can ever truly be secure if the right to self government is forfeit.
No matter our policy or ideological preferences, without the right to vote, we are powerless. And that is precisely why Tucker and the extreme right are so eager to throw away freedom and democracy to win their cultural wars: because the end of democracy would ensure their victory cannot be overturned by the people.
Hungary’s history is far from written, and hopefully the Hungarian people will get their say freely and fairly in the end. But the rise of authoritarian proclivities in America threatens to take us in new and dangerous directions if we allow the hyperbole and scare tactics of Tucker and others to convince us to lose faith in our democracy.
No freedom is ever won by sacrificing freedom. Rather, true liberty is secured through ardent defense of self government, especially when the will of the people runs counter to our own preferences. This country belongs to us all, and we cannot surrender it to the dictatorial voices of those who wish to make it only theirs.