The first segment of Tucker Carlson’s long-awaited Fox News interview with Viktor Orban has finally aired, and it does not disappoint: it offers a chilling glimpse into the true nature of the authoritarian nationalist future that Carlson and his cohorts envision for our country.
Carlson’s conversation with the Hungarian leader is tense to say the least.
Carlson gush about the “free” nature of Hungarian society, contrasting it favorably with the alleged repression of widespread anti-liberal yearnings in American society, while saying little to nothing about Orbanism’s autocratic nature.
There’s a kind of dream combination here: ethno-nationalism protected by autocracy.
Carlson spends the majority of the interview gushing about Orban’s virulently anti-immigrant policies and demagoguery.
Orban sees these as critical to defending national identity, which he defines as his country’s “population” and “culture” and “language” and “tradition” and “land,” a right of defense dictated by “God” and “nature.”
Orban also criticizes liberal internationalist Western leaders for attempting to mix “Muslim” and “Christian” communities, calling the latter “original inhabitants.” Orban claims that his country has decided to “not take that risk.”
Carlson emphasizes the importance of this national identity vision to Hungary’s success throughout the book. He even claims that people in Hungary are more free than those in the United States.
If you dare to criticize the “orthodoxy” of liberal internationalism and social liberalism — that is, if you yearn for association with a national identity that is culturally insulated and unsullied by socially liberal threats (like “transgender athletes”) to traditional conservative values — you will be silenced or fired, according to Carlson.
“Who’s freer?” Carlson asks. “If you’re an American, the answer is painful to admit.”
Carlson, on the other hand, rarely speaks out against Orban’s autocratic rule. Indeed, he dismisses international observers who criticize it as tools of US and liberal internationalist imperialism in Thursday’s broadcast.
This tension — declaring America a less free society based on paranoid notions of sinister forces suppressing anti-liberal-internationalist yearnings while accepting Orbanism’s autocratic nature — is crucial to understanding the Carlsonist right’s true dream future.
Though Carlson will not admit it, autocratic rule is preferable to democracy because the former, he believes, is the only way to achieve the closed, ethno-nationalist, culturally reactionary society he desires for the United States.
What Carlson and his ilk refuse to accept, and against which they are fighting a backlash, is that open, liberal internationalist societies can and should be legitimately democratic creations.
“If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families,” Carlson declared this week from Hungary, “you should know what is happening here right now.” He spoke on the “ferocious assault” on these things by globalist leaders, which Orban has heroically dismissed.
What is striking on Carlson’s assertion that defending democracy necessitates embracing illiberalism and autocracy. This is an outright declaration of a specific vision of what American self-rule should entail.
The slow demise of democracy under Orban has been well documented.
See this piece by Zack Beauchamp, which explains how outwardly democratic victories have been followed by a gradual autocratic takeover of institutions:
“Today, political scientists see Hungary as a textbook example of something called “competitive authoritarianism”: a kind of autocratic system where elections happen and aren’t formally rigged but are so heavily stacked in the incumbent party’s favor that the people don’t have real agency over who rules them.”
Orban openly declares that this illiberal, autocratic turn is necessary for securing the national identity and self-determination vision he espouses.
Carlson is widely seen as speaking for a much larger right-wing movement that idolizes Hungary in order to express deep dissatisfaction with immigration, diversification, and secularized multiracial democracy in the United States. This is referred to as “authoritarian tourism” by Jeet Heer.
As Anne Applebaum puts it, right-wingers in the United States yearning for an Orbanist future are motivated by a dislike of America’s “racial diversity, modern culture, and free press,” while fantasizing about a “white-tribalist alternative.”
As Applebaum demonstrates, the American right’s vision of Hungary and Orban’s own presentation of it have been heavily mythologized. In some ways, however, reality is irrelevant. Carlson admires the desire for that valorized vision of nationality, as well as the open determination to achieve it through illiberal antidemocratic means.
Indeed, for Carlson and his friends, the most vexing aspect of our open society, openness to immigrants, and growing diversity is that it has been largely secured democratically.
Carlson recently sparked outrage by claiming that Democrats want to “replace” native Americans with “more obedient Third World voters.”
Carlson insisted that this was a race-neutral issue: he simply wants to protect democracy from “foreigners,” whose presence, by definition, “dilutes” the voting power of U.S. native citizens. Carlson, on the other hand, took it for granted that immigration jeopardizes our sovereignty.
However, the decision to allow more immigrants is made democratically, by our duly elected representatives. Even if it changes our demographic makeup and influences future elections, the decision to expand the polity to include outsiders is one that the polity makes democratically about itself.
This outcome, however, is unacceptable to Carlson. This can only be attributed to nefarious elite manipulation. If these things happen as a result of majoritarian democratic outcomes, democracy has become self-destructive and no longer legitimate.
The issue, then, is multiracial democracy in the United States. Mythologized Orbanism, or ethno-nationalism secured through competitive authoritarianism, is resulting in a “freer” society, which is the future the Carlsonist right truly desires.