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DeSantis, Magyar Of The Sunshine State?

Viktor Orban and the emerging Budapest-Tallahassee axis
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This is a pretty good story from Vox’s Zack Beauchamp, about how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is kind of Viktor-Orbanny. Of course Beauchamp means it to tarnish DeSantis. For me, as an Orban fan, it makes me excited about a DeSantis presidential candidacy. For those American conservatives who have bought the media line critical of Viktor Orban, you should read the Beauchamp piece and understand that if you like what Ron DeSantis is doing, you ought to take a look at how Viktor Orban runs Hungary. Excerpts:

In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.

About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.

“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’”

(When I asked DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw about a possible connection, she initially denied knowing of Hungarian inspiration for Florida’s law. After I showed her the quote from Dreher, she did not respond further. Dreher did not reply to two requests for comment.)

It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.

This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power.

Let me draw a fine point on this. Vox is written by and for liberals and progressives. It is obvious to them, of course, that linking Orban and DeSantis is a blow to DeSantis. But to my eyes, it goes to show that the thing that I began saying last summer when I first went to Budapest — that American conservatives have a lot to learn from Orban’s politics — may finally be starting to happen.

More Vox:

Orbán’s political model has frequently employed a demagogic two-step: Stand up a feared or marginalized group as an enemy then use the supposed need to combat this group’s influence to justify punitive policies that also happen to expand his regime’s power. Targets have included Muslim immigrants, Jewish financier George Soros, and most recently LGBTQ Hungarians. Hungary’s version of the “Don’t Say Gay” law — which the government labeled an anti-pedophilia bill — expanded both government control over curricula and its powers to regulate programming on Hungary’s airwaves.

You see a similar logic in DeSantis’s Florida. Alleging that classroom education on LGBTQ topics somehow threatens children, the governor and his allies pushed through a vague and broadly worded bill that empowers both the state and private citizens to go after schools that teach about LGBTQ identity. A moral panic about alleged LGBTQ “grooming” serves to justify the imposition of ideological controls on public education — and the speech rights of progressive and LGBTQ teachers. (Relatedly, both Orbán and DeSantis have taken aim at curricula and textbooks used in K-12 schools on expressly political-cultural grounds.)

You see the dishonesty here. Gosh, y’all, we’re only educating children about LGBTQ topics. That’s like handing little children a copy of Playboy and saying you’re only educating them about human anatomy. To DeSantis’s credit, he sees through this liberal gaslighting — unlike so many other Republican politicians, who quiver at the thought of being called a bigot, such that they lack the stones to stand up for common-sense legislation.

And notice Beauchamp’s “feared or marginalized” groups and figures. Standard, boring liberal analysis, in which groups declared to be “marginalized” are assumed to be sacrosanct. Why did Orban not want to let Muslim migrants into Hungary in 2015? Because he judged that they would not assimilate well (especially given Hungary’s very difficult language), and would end up being hugely problematic — as unassimilable Muslim immigrants in other European countries have been. (Curiously, I overheard a conversation among conservatives in the Netherlands this week talking about how North African Muslim immigrants have brought endless troubles to the Netherlands, but Turkish and Iranian Muslims have assimilated fairly well.) For Western liberals, migrants can never be bad or problematic; therefore, opposing them coming into your country can only ever be an act of bigotry.

Similarly with “Jewish financier George Soros”. Beauchamp means to smear Orban as anti-Semitic — an ugly canard that can easily be disproven by spending time in Budapest. The Orban government lavishly funds Jewish cultural organizations. It is closely allied with Israel. What Orban hates about Soros is that Soros is a liberal globalist billionaire who uses his fortune to try to change Hungary (Soros’s homeland) in progressive ways. Libs love billionaire oligarch types if they can be counted on to push progressive policies. And Western journalists are so knee-jerk in their analyses — it’s all identity politics with them — that they can’t recognize that by attacking Soros, Viktor Orban is playing class politics, not ethnic politics.

Similarly about LGBT, to the liberal mind, there are no limits on how far queerness can be taken. To object to any of it is to show yourself to be a bigot. You may believe that the Hungarian law went too far, but only a parochial cosmopolitan can believe that the only reason people wouldn’t want their children propagandized to embrace transgressive sexual and gender roles is plain bigotry. Orban’s media law was popular with Hungarians, just as DeSantis’s far softer education law is popular with Floridians (and not just Floridians).

More Beauchamp:

Predictably, the Florida bill provoked a backlash from corporate America — which DeSantis used as a justification to engage in even more Orbán-like behavior.

After Disney put out a statement criticizing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis moved to strip the corporation of its special tax status in a 40-square-mile area around Disney World. In this area, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Florida allows the mega-corporation to essentially function as a local government, giving it the power to, for example, collect taxes (from itself) and build roads. These privileges, first granted by the state in 1967, are hugely beneficial for the company — and, on Friday, DeSantis signed a bill revoking them.

In doing so, he was very explicit about his reasoning: This move was direct punishment for Disney’s stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” law. In a fundraising email, DeSantis wrote that “Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer.” In an appearance on Newsmax, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez noted that Disney had “changed what they really espouse,” lambasting the company’s “very public agenda to indoctrinate our children.”

Yep, and bless DeSantis and Nunez for doing a very un-Republican thing, and blasting Big Business. DeSantis seems to be learning the Orban lesson that the state should be used at times to rein business in. Conservatives like me (remember Crunchy Cons from 2006?) have been saying for a long time that corporate America has too much power, and doesn’t use it for the common good. I’m not a statist, but there’s nothing wrong with a balance of powers in our society. Now that we are afflicted with Woke Capitalism, Ron DeSantis understands that the only way we will ever cause these extremely rich, extremely powerful, extremely progressive corporations to back off is to use the power of the state to punish them.

Overall, regarding Orban, I find it fascinating to watch the Left’s obsession with him and the way he uses power. It reveals at times that left-wing figures simply assume that large areas of public and private institutional life belongs to them, and should not be contested. In the Netherlands this week, I heard a conservative academic talk about how every cultural institution in his country is totally owned by the Left, and generously subsidized by the taxpayer, through the state. This is common throughout the US and Europe; liberals think it’s simply the natural order of things. Viktor Orban contests that — and he wins, and he keeps winning.

After a conservative dinner in the Netherlands, I overheard one man present say that if he didn’t have a good job that kept him busy, “I would go to Budapest.” It’s where things are happening now on the intellectual Right. It’s where the future is being argued over, and worked out. I’m on my way home from Budapest now,  but I’m going to get back as soon as I can.

Maybe Florida is becoming our American Hungary. I was having drinks this week with a prominent US intellectual conservative, who told me that so many important conservatives have moved to Florida in the last couple of years that things are really starting to happen there. He lives in the DC area, and said he has never really had to go to Florida before. But now that’s changing. Good.