fbpx
Politics Foreign Affairs Culture We're Hiring

Unpatriotic Conservatives 2022

Neocons true to form, denouncing anyone who opposes US goals in Ukraine, and who likes Hungary, as fascist or fascist-adjacent
Screen Shot 2022-10-24 at 12.40.06 PM

I have never been enthusiastic about Donald Trump, though I have praised him when I believed he did good things. But I could never be a Never Trumper because the GOP establishment opposed to Trump had failed so decisively, and was utterly uninterested in learning from its failures, that they did not deserve support. If you have forgotten why, take a look at this January 2016 Tucker Carlson essay in Politico -- "Donald Trump Is Shocking, Vulgar -- And Right" -- for a refresher course.

Two things I read today online from a couple of Never Trump leading lights reminded me once again about how useless that crowd is. Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark, like so many of the clueless NT Republicans, he loses his mind when confronted by Viktor Orban. Last is scandalized that there are cafes in Budapest named after Sir Roger Scruton, and right-wing Americans in Budapest liking Orban. He calls Gladden Pappin and me "fascists." You can immediately discount anything that someone like that says after he drops the f-word. Here in Hungary, one of the Orban government's most articulate and popular critics, academic Peter Kreko, said from the stage at an ideas festival last summer that Western people who insist on calling Orban's government "fascist" are being absurd. There's lots to dislike about the Orban government, said Kreko, but it's not fascist.

Advertisement

People like Last who throw that smear around say far more about themselves than about those they accuse of Mussolini fetishism. Anyway, Last is depressed by this piece by a man who hates that the evil Hungarians have embraced Roger Scruton. He writes as if the Hungarians stole Scruton. In fact, Roger's widow Sophie donated some of Roger's artifacts to the cafes, and no less a figure than Prime Minister Orban went to Roger's memorial service, unannounced, without security or fanfare. He went because he loved and admired Roger Scruton.

In that piece, whose author, Alan Elrod, is an adjunct at Arkansas State University--Beebe, writes:

The far right—and what are the likes of Dreher and Pappin if not far right—has itself gone global.

Ah, there we go: if they're not "fascist," then they're "far right". This gives the game away. They have no idea what they mean by "far right," except "to the Right of Bill Kristol, David Frum, and Joe Scarborough." Pappin is, I think, a Catholic integralist, while I am more of an old-school Christian Democrat, back when Christian Democratic parties were Christian. "Far right," though, used to be a term reserved for skinheads and neo-Nazis. Now the Left uses it for conservatives who are not part of the controlled opposition, and the Right uses it for conservatives they hate for abandoning the neocon Narrative. The reason I texted Tucker Carlson in the early summer of 2021 and suggested that he come have a look at Hungary is because I was struck hard by the differences between actual existing Hungary, and Hungary as presented by the US media and institutional Washington. During campaign season here, various Western journalists parachuted into town to sniff around for the stink of fascism. It's hard to find in a country whose actual far-right party had formally joined the left-led anti-Orban opposition, so they had to bring what they could.

Adjunct Prof. Elrod says further:

Advertisement

The Scruton café is a salon for the Americans who have come to Hungary to study the Orbán œuvre, the ones who imagine themselves to be partaking in a new version of turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Where is he getting this? It's all projection. Dude didn't even leave Beebe, but he knows this about Budapest? I'm a right wing American who has come to Hungary, but if there's a salon at any of the Scruton cafes, nobody's told me about it. I know exactly four right-wing Americans in Budapest, and except for the one who is one of my bosses, we barely ever see each other. Shoot, I wish there were a salon at a Scruton cafe or somewhere else, but it seems that fumes from the chicken-processing plant must have gotten to Prof. Elrod, who is projecting his pitiful fantasy of the kind of life we're living here onto a blank screen of ignorance. How does he know that any of us imagine ourselves partaking in a Habsburg-era fantasy? Morons, these people.

I can't speak for Gladden, of course, but I'm over here primarily because I'm very interested in the kind of conservatism in power in Hungary, and in learning lessons that might be applied to approving our condition in the US. When I was back in America recently, a number of conservative academics I met asked me about Hungary. They sense -- correctly -- that the story about Hungary told by our media and the Bulwark types within the Regime is wildly distorted. I encouraged them to come see for themselves. Hungary is not utopia, but it's an amazingly well run country, one from which the US could learn.

Side note: Americans who don't know anything about Hungary assume that so many younger Hungarian adults leave for elsewhere in the EU because they hate Viktor Orban. They may or may not hate Orban, but the main reason they leave is that wages in Hungary are very low compared to other EU countries; if young Hungarians have good foreign language skills, they can make far more money abroad. Yesterday on a train, I talked with a young Hungarian wife and mother, who is in the working class. She is not an Orban fan, but she confirmed that that's the main reason people of her generation go abroad: salaries. I know that interferes with the Bulwark narrative about Hungary, but it happens to be true. Furthermore, as low as the wages are today, the average Hungarian is better off economically after twelve years of Orban governance than they were before. Again: come and see for yourself what Hungary is like.

In any case, if Jonathan V. Last thinks Viktor Orban is a fascist now, then he should order his publisher to remove this epigraph from future editions of his 2014 book What To Expect When No One's Expecting, which is about population collapse:

Wouldn't want to be fascist-adjacent, would we?

And then there's David French's Dispatch newsletter, condemning us conservatives who purportedly "hate America" and are engaged in "the demolition of the American spirit." (He forgot to say, "unpatriotic conservatives"). I've seen this before, both in the neocon attempt to demonize conservative opposition to the Iraq War, and in circle-the-wagons Catholics who wanted to silence strong criticism of the institutional Church in the scandal. For example, Jody Bottum, then a prominent figure at First Things and The Weekly Standard, once publicly accused me of criticizing the Church for the sake of winning friends and influencing people in the Church-hating media. This is how a certain kind of institutionalist Catholic rolled until the evidence that the Church was sick and lousy with pederasts and the bishops who covered up for them became impossible to sneer away. I've never been one of those right-wingers who jumps on David French, in part because we're friends, and in part because even though I don't often agree with him, his critique is valuable. I hate the way the Left shuts down dissident voices on its side, and I hate it when our side does it too. So I don't join the David French pile-ons. Besides, I'm not really a Trump guy, so the pro-and-Never-Trump polemics between them don't really interest me.

But French is very wrong here. He cites me in a parade of horrible right-wingers who focus too much on American decline. And:

Oh boy, where do we even begin?

The word "government" is doing a hell of a lot of lifting there. French's is a feeble legalistic argument, one that entirely ignores the reality of culture. It is true that the state will not suppress your free speech, and for the First Amendment, let us give thanks. But that's entirely beside the point. When you live in a culture in which free speech is feared and loathed within leading institutions, and you can lose your job (e.g., James Damore, Donald McNeil Jr.) for exercising that free speech in a way that offends thin-skinned lefties, or find your career ruined, your business destroyed, or yourself made into a pariah because you say and believe things that are perfectly mainstream -- well, you can be forgiven for not being as sanguine as David French on the First Amendment's power. When Dr. Silvester Krcmery, an underground church activist in Communist Czechoslovakia, was put on trial for his religious activism in the early 1950s, the Communist judges told him that religious freedom was enshrined in the constitution of the people's republic. Krcmery reminded them that the freedom to go to church is not the same thing as religious freedom. A few years back, Hillary Clinton used the same cramped definition of religious freedom. If you are only free to go to church, synagogue, or mosque on holy days, and that is the extent of your religious liberty, then you are scarcely free.

I could be wrong, but I'm betting that David French did not read my book Live Not By Lies, which advances the argument that classical liberalism has been hollowed out, and that a new kind of totalitarianism is arising, one that inhabits its institutions and even uses its language, but that is in fact illiberal, trending towards totalitarian. I make actual arguments, bolstered by facts. There's no way you can read that book and conclude that all is well with our liberal democracy. Specifically, I point out how easy it is for illiberalism to flourish within liberalism. For example, Amazon.com is entirely within its rights to refuse to sell whatever kinds of books it wants to avoid. It cancelled Ryan T. Anderson's When Harry Became Sally, which is its right. But Amazon is so powerful within the publishing industry that its decision not to sell books that internal Amazon activists decry as "anti-trans" means that it will be unlikely that those books will be published in America. This one very powerful company has a stranglehold over discourse carried out in books. The state is not forbidding Ryan Anderson to write whatever he wants to. The state is not forbidding any publisher to publish Ryan Anderson's books on transgenderism. But the effect is likely to be that few trans-critical books are likely to be published going forward, because publishers can't take a chance that the book retailer who controls between 70 and 80 percent of the retail book market will blacklist their book.

This is where we are today in our country. The President of the United States granted an audience to a pervy flibbertigibbet, a skinny dude who is trying to be the Mary Tyler Moore of Gen Z, and said in that audience that no one should have the right to stop the sexual mutilation of mentally-distressed minors:

The sheer decadence of this! Every day, it's something new. Every day, the woke-ruled system finds some new way to screw whites and Asians, for the sake of "diversity, equity, and inclusion." Every day, crime gets worse, and nothing gets done. Deaths by despair are on the rise. We are failing to produce the next generation -- a worldwide problem, yes, but an existential one, as Jonathan Last well knows. All of this is happening within a liberal order that David French insists is synonymous with the American nation. It's not! It is possible to love your country but hate what's happening to it. The prophet yells at his countrymen because he loves his country and wants it to be better, not because he hates it. Over here in Europe, it crushes me to talk to old people -- it happened again to me in Slovakia over the weekend -- who want to know what happened to America. They used to love and admire us, and now they take us as the main source of decadence. David French ought to spend some time talking to these old people, men and women who love and respect Ronald Reagan, but who see America now as more of a threat than an ally. If you saw the way the US State Department behaved over here, and American NGOs, and American corporations, you would understand why the American "brand" is in trouble with a lot of conservative Europeans.

Hungary, for example, is not a religiously observant country. But it has a strong sense of traditional family values. There are very liberal Hungarians who are 100 percent on board with wokeness, but in my experience, Hungarians -- even generally liberal ones -- really struggle to understand the point of deconstructing the family for the sake of liberating the sexually confused individuals in society. Same-sex civil partnerships are legal in Hungary, but most people want to protect the concept of marriage, sensibly enough. Something I always notice when I leave Budapest to go back to the US or to western European capitals is the fact that the Hungarian capital is a place where gay people exist, and are visible (you can see same-sex couples holding hands, and rainbow flags, in Budapest), whereas the US and western Europe are places where genderqueerness has become a public religion, from which there is neither dissent nor escape. Hungarians see that as decadent -- and they're right to. Hungarian conservatives actually want to conserve the model of the traditional family -- and unlike American conservative lawmakers and policy makers, they are willing to take measures to do it.

"Don’t let the new revolutionaries demolish the American spirit," says David French. Oh? We now live in a country where you can literally have your entire professional life destroyed in a heartbeat for expressing "unacceptable" views that, surprise!, are always on the Right. You can say any crackpot racist thing you want to if you are a BIPOC, and you will not only not be punished, you might even be lauded and professionally advanced for it. But say something that is a million miles from crackpot, but expressing a right-of-center take on racial politics, and you risk everything. The First Amendment is not going to save your job. We aren't talking criminal statements, but basic mainstream conservative ideas that are now disqualifying to anyone wishing to work in middle class institutions or professions.

Donald Trump is not the answer to all this. But he was a better attempt than the Controlled Opposition represented by Last and French. I don't think Gladden Pappin, or Yoram Hazony, or me, or anybody else yet has a clear, effective, and popular alternative to all this. But at least we are all asking the right questions, and trying to work on a way to renew our country and revive it out of its cultural exhaustion.

Over the weekend, Ross Douthat had a good thinkpiece about classical liberalism and contemporary America. He writes:

This means that there is time and space for liberal democracy’s renewal. But liberalism cannot easily renew itself, because despite what certain of its detractors and some of its champions insist, it isn’t really a political-moral-theological system in full; rather, it’s a deliberately thinned-out structure designed to manage pluralism, which depends on constant infusions from other sources, preliberal or nonliberal, to generate meaning and energy and purpose. There are moments of transition and turmoil when liberalism appears to stand alone, and liberals sometimes confuse these moments for an aspirational norm. But nobody except Hugh Hefner, Gordon Gekko and a few devotees of the old A.C.L.U. can bear to live for very long under conditions of pure liberalism. Instead, the norm for successful societies and would-be society builders is liberalism-plus: liberalism plus nationalism (as in 19th-century Europe or Ukraine today), liberalism plus intense ethnic homogeneity (the Scandinavian model, now showing signs of strain), liberalism plus mainline Protestantism (the old American tradition), liberalism plus therapeutic spirituality (the mode of American culture since the 1970s), liberalism plus social justice progressivism (the mode of today’s cultural left), etc., etc. Something must be added, some ghost needs to inhabit the machine, or else society begins to resemble the portraits painted by liberalism’s enemies — a realm of atomized, unhappy consumers, creatures of self-interest whose time horizons for those interests are always a month rather than a decade, Lockean individuals moving in a miserable herd.

This creates a curious problem for defenders of the liberal order facing off against their challengers and critics. Liberal democracy obviously has a lot to fear from illiberal and postliberal forces: In the near term, they are potential agents of crisis and disruption; in the long run they might replace the liberal order, as it once replaced the ancien regime. But the liberal order also cannot live without the forms of regeneration, solidarity, creativity and — above all — metaphysical hope that a postliberal impulse reaches for and that liberalism alone struggles to supply. So the liberal needs to be able to look even at forces that seem most threatening, whether the Trumpist right, the illiberal left or something else, and recognize in them impulses and desires and demands that require satisfaction, not just denunciation. And someone who is not fully a liberal, someone loyal to the Constitution but not really to Locke or John Stuart Mill, but who also doubts the rival paths on offer and would prefer not to plunge the liberal-democratic world into revolutionary chaos, has to live with a balancing act: Rooting for the best of postliberalism to help our society escape its decadence, while being realistic about what’s actually possible and resisting illiberal forces that threaten only chaos, or some Americanization of the authoritarianisms already on offer elsewhere in the world.

This is good. We are finding that liberalism (classical liberalism) is unlikely to survive without some outside source of legitimacy in which to ground it. It used to be the Biblical tradition in American life. It no longer is. The successor ideology of wokeness provides elites with a sense of purpose and structure, but it also requires them to persecute those who don't share it. In Live Not By Lies, I talk about wokeness as a pseudo-religion, one that endeavors to provide a sense of moral meaning, purpose, and solidarity to post-Christian people. And I've got news for French: the real danger to liberal democracy is not coming from the Trumpy Right, despite its problems, but from the woke left in charge of every American institution. These people no longer believe in liberal democracy. The political scientist Eric Kaufmann found:

Survey data from my new Manhattan Institute report, “The Politics of the Culture Wars in Contemporary America,” show the scale of the challenge. While the American public leans two-to-one in favor of cultural liberalism, a majority of Americans under 30 incline toward cultural socialism. For instance, while 65 percent of Americans over 55 oppose Google’s decision to fire James Damore for having questioned the firm’s training on gender equity, those under 30 support the firing by a 59–41 margin. Similar gaps separate young and old people on similar instances of cancel culture, such as the oustings of Gina Carano (an actor fired from Star Wars for social media posts) and Brendan Eich (the former CEO of Mozilla forced out in 2014 for opposing gay marriage in 2008). Only part of this disparity stems from the fact that young people lean left: centrist young people, for instance, support Google over Damore by a 61–39 margin, while centrists over 55 support Damore over Google 58–42.

On the use of critical race theory in school, a similar divide emerges. Eight in ten people over age 55 oppose teaching schoolchildren that the United States was founded on racism and remains systemically racist, or that the country and their homes were built on stolen land. A slight majority of young people support teaching these notions. While opposition to critical race theory in schools can take an illiberal form, compulsory CRT violates two key liberal principles: first, that pupils in a classroom or employees in a diversity training session should not be forced to agree with ideas they don’t believe in; and second, that people should not be treated differently because of their race. Recent attempts by state governments to limit whites’ access to Covid-19 medication are another manifestation of this tendency.

Another front in the culture war is censorship of speech, usually justified on grounds that such speech would inflict psychological harm on minorities and that power should be redistributed to “marginalized groups.” Activists pushing for such censorship organize online flash mobs and pressure campaigns, wielding accusations of racism, homophobia, or transphobia to ruin a person’s reputation and have them fired from their position. The problem is especially acute in higher education: the number of academics targeted for cancellation has exploded in recent years.

Young people are especially afraid of cancel culture. Forty-five percent of employees under 30 worry about losing their jobs because “someone misunderstands something you have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from your past online.” Just 29 percent of those over 55 have the same worry.

This fear, however, doesn’t appear to lead young people to oppose cancel culture. Most millennials and members of Generation Z are not cultural liberals too scared to say what they truly believe. Instead, many privilege cultural equality over freedom. By a 48–27 margin, respondents under 30 agree that “My fear of losing my job or reputation due to something I said or posted online is a justified price to pay to protect historically disadvantaged groups.” Those over 50, by contrast, disagree by a 51–17 margin. Younger age brackets are both more fearful of cancel culture and more supportive of it than are older age groups.

How, exactly, is the Zombie Reaganism of French and Last meeting this challenge? There is hard evidence that liberal democracy will not survive the next generations coming to power. The First Amendment means what our judges say it means. Back in 2014, the pseudonymous Ivy League law professor "Kingsfield" told me that in his professional milieu, not only does he never meet religiously observant people, but the people he lives and works with don't even know religiously observant people. Religion is simply not a factor in their class and society. But these people are training the future federal judges of America. Prof. Kingsfield told me that people who don't have a sense of why religious liberty is important are unlikely to vote to uphold religious liberty. You can already see that in the way leading Democrats frame "religious liberty" as freedom to worship, but only that (like the Communists of old, in fact). Look:

In a speech not long before she launched her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton made a stunning declaration of war on religious Americans. Speaking to the 2015 Women in the World Summit, Clinton declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

Religious beliefs have to be changed? This is perhaps the most radical statement against religious liberty ever uttered by someone seeking the presidency. 

Postliberal people, wherever they fall on the spectrum, understand that the liberal order is teetering, and that the kind of people who consider everyone to the right of David Frum a "deplorable," are in control of the system, and are using it to screw the rest of us. Calling us "fascists," "unpatriotic conservatives," and what have you, doesn't change this.

Note well that these are the very same people who got us into the disastrous long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who never admitted wrongdoing, even error in judgment. In fact, David French, who served in that war, was as recently as 2019 defending the attack on Iraq. Today these people within the Regime are leading us to World War III with Russia. Here is Gen. Petraeus, an unofficial spokesman for the bipartisan pro-war party in Washington, floating a trial balloon of a NATO invasion of Ukraine to fight Russian troops head on:

The US Army brought in a CBS News reporter to witness the 101st Airborne engaged in military exercises on the Romania-Ukraine border. From that report:

The "Screaming Eagles" commanders told CBS News repeatedly that they are always "ready to fight tonight," and while they're there to defend NATO territory, if the fighting escalates or there's any attack on NATO, they're fully prepared to cross the border into Ukraine.

If the fighting escalates. Are you prepared for the United States to go to war with nuclear-armed Russia, for the sake of Ukraine? Do you trust the same national security establishment that blundered us into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to make it work out this time -- when we would be up against an enemy who has nuclear weapons, and the capacity to carry out massive sabotage of the infrastructure we need to run our economy? Do you see where these people are leading our country? We can't even have a debate about it! In Slovakia this past weekend, I talked to conservatives who said that in their NATO country, anybody who questions the wisdom of current NATO strategy, or who asks out loud if Washington has some responsibility related to the Russian invasion (which everybody deplores!), is shouted down by the media as a Putin stooge. I'm telling you, people in Europe are facing a devastating winter ahead. Speaking about it over the weekend, I heard a prediction from a Swiss banker who works in the energy field, saying he anticipates rioting in the streets by the end of winter, when masses of people cannot afford to pay their heating bills. This is not a joke over here. People here are about to pay a price far, far greater than any American will pay this winter. Nobody supports Russia's invasion, but the war is a much more complicated thing than what happens on the front lines. Continuing this war is going to impoverish and destabilize Europeans. This is a reality. One gets the feeling that the neocon types in Washington and elsewhere throughout the US establishment don't give a damn, so wedded are they to their theories about how the world ought to work.

Prime Minister Orban has been calling for some time for a ceasefire and peace negotiations. He sees this war as a disaster for all sides, and is behaving like a statesman, not an ideologue. Of course he's nothing but a fascist, according to the warmonger know-it-all conservatives of Washington, so what does he know...?

These warmongers are going to end up allowing the Left to destroy whatever remains of traditional culture in America. Meanwhile, here's a transcript of a recent AEI podcast in which we Hungary enthusiasts are denounced as traitors. Excerpts:

Marc Thiessen:   What the hell is going on is there is a strain of conservatism that has embraced the politics of Viktor Orban, who is the prime minister of Hungary. And Matt Continetti had a great column in the Wall Street Journal about how the American Right is starting to speak with a Hungarian accent. Viktor Orban is a conservative nationalist leader of Hungary. He was recently invited to speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. And not only that, CPAC actually went and had a CPAC Budapest where they sort of embraced Orbanism in its entirety.

And this is a strain on the Right that is sort of perplexing to me, concerning to me, because I think there's parts of it that are more concerning than others. But particularly what's concerning is that Viktor Orban, who many on the Right are embracing, is possibly in Western Europe, the number one ally of Vladimir Putin, who he's been a longtime ally of Putin, he's pushing for a stop to the aid to Ukraine. And he's a fellow traveler with this KGB agent who's running Russia and turning it into a fascist new Soviet Union. And I just find it perplexing that American conservatives would embrace someone who embraces Putin in this way.

Danielle Pletka:  I think for a lot of us, for a lot of us who are conservative and for whom American conservatism really... Freedom, democracy, using our God-given rights and privileges to stand up for the God-given rights and privileges of others. Those are the kinds of things that I love.

Got it? If you are in any way a critic of US policy towards Ukraine, then you are a Putin lapdog. Don't you see what they're doing? It's Unpatriotic Conservatives 2022! And the idea that American conservatism requires us to become imperialists for "democracy" worldwide -- good Lord, have these people learned nothing from the idiotic wars of this century?!

More:

Marc Thiessen:   I am neutral on some of what Orbán stands for because it's a different situation and a different continent with different political pressures, but the Putinism is the thing that I don't understand. What I don't understand anybody on the right in America embracing in any way because what we're doing in Ukraine is fundamentally Reaganesque. It's the Reagan doctrine. It's almost the same exact timing.

After the Vietnam War, nobody wanted to go and fight wars in other countries to defend our interests. We decided to find freedom fighters around the world who were willing to fight themselves. We gave them weapons and training and intelligence and they went and fought our enemies for us. This was the great innovation of Ronald Reagan that won the Cold War. Here we have a KGB agent, Dick Chaney said, "Well, I look into Putin's soul and I see three letters, KGB."

Danielle Pletka:   Versus a child of Holocaust survivors, exactly. It couldn't be more clear.

Marc Thiessen:  We're doing exactly what Ronald Reagan did, which is arm the good guys to fight the KGB agent. How could anybody on the right not be in favor of that?

Because the real world is not a cartoon planet, that's why! Russia is led by a nasty dictator, but Russia also has a legitimate national security interest in Ukraine's alignment with the West. And because Russia has nuclear weapons, and a formidable economic weapon -- energy -- that it's using to immensely powerful effect against European countries right now. And these two neocons are sitting in their comfortable sinecures at AEI, a Washington think tank, spinning out 1980s fantasies of how the world works. Meanwhile, Viktor Orban and all the other European leaders are faced with the collapse of their economies, the immiseration of their people in cold and hunger, and maybe even the collapse of their governmental systems. You think Dany Pletka and Marc Thiessen give a rat's ass about these people? No -- they're just abstractions worthy of denunciation as blood-and-soil fascists because they dissent from the American line on Ukraine.

Y'all, we have been here before. We were here in 2002. How did it work out for us, listening to these people, and letting them demonize their opponents? Think! The conservative project as defined by these institutional elites has failed overall -- but they can't admit it. They just want us to keep doing the same thing, and hoping that it will work out this time. They are going to end up driving us all deeper into the ground, then bouncing the rubble.

UPDATE: Yup:

And as long as the Establishment Right can gets its wars and its tax cuts, it's fine with it. In fact, AEI embraced the trans revolution when uber-hawk Tom Donnelly, one of the intellectual architects of the Iraq War, came out as "Giselle".

I just had lunch with a Hungarian conservative friend today. He told me that his family is leaving their house for a small apartment to spend the winter. They are among the better off, financially, of Hungarians, but even they are terrified of energy bills this winter. We were talking about how little Americans seem to understand about the extreme hardships this war is putting on ordinary Europeans. I mentioned to him this post, which I published just before joining him for lunch. He said, angrily, "Viktor Orban knows that his first responsibility is to his people, not to Washington. He is looking out for us this winter. I am scared for what's coming, but I know that we have the best captain of this ship right now."

I have heard at least two people, since I came back, tell me that they did not vote for Orban in the spring, but they are glad he is in power now, facing this crisis, because they believe he will put the interests of the Hungarian people first. Can Americans say that about our government leaders? And not just Joe Biden and the Democrats, either. I have very little confidence that the conservative establishment will do what's best for Americans, as opposed to their ideological fantasies.

Comments

Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now
JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
No, French is closer to right: the immediate danger is the Trumpists. The woke are a leak in the roof, causing long term and expensive damage (and in the really long term untnded that will bring the whole thing down in ruin) but you can live with for the time being-- put a bucket under it, mop up the water, use a fungicide to kill the mold. But the Trumpists are a sparking circuit that might set the house on fire any minute and people may well die.
schedule 3 months ago
    John Phillips
    John Phillips
    The trump boogiemen don't go around killing people, letting murderers go free, or professing that children should be sex objects. That's reserved for the left boogiemen.
    schedule 3 months ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      I am speaking about the future and the possibility of civil violence in the US if Trump partisans refuse to accept electoral results a la Jan 6-- but on a larger and more violent scale.

      And exactly what leftists are going around doing the things you say? Send the strawman back to Oz-- Dorothy need her scarecrow. And just say No to the Qanon cult.
      schedule 3 months ago
        Peter Pratt
        Peter Pratt
        Stop being a zombie spouting off garbage you heard elsewhere and start opening your eyes.
        As Rod has laid out repeatedly, the Democrats with the corporations and the Deep State have declared war on everyone else. They have the judges, the prosecutors, the media, the military, Wall Street, the schools, the mobs (real ones that burn cities, kill people, and pay no price), the spies, and everything but Main Street and the people.
        The biggest threat to the country right now is the horrible Biden economic policy that is bankrupting millions. The next biggest threat are the neocons and their love of war while sitting safe at home without consequences. They are destroying a world that took generations to create and are intentionally creating conflict, for profit.
        schedule 3 months ago
          JON FRAZIER
          JON FRAZIER
          I no more believe in the"Deep State" than I believe in the tooth fairy-- unless it's just a cute term for bureaucratic CYA and inertia.
          "Bankrupting millions"? Stats please! From what I can find out there bankruptcies of all types are sharply down: https://www.uscourts.gov/news/2022/08/01/bankruptcy-filings-take-sharp-drop
          schedule 3 months ago
    Bogdán Emil
    Bogdán Emil
    If you want to have an argument, reply to the original post, otherwise we get the narrow column situation.
    schedule 3 months ago
    Peter Kurilecz
    Peter Kurilecz
    "the immediate danger is the Trumpists"
    please remember to take your TDS meds, then stay away from the computer
    schedule 3 months ago
Jonesy
Jonesy
Great column but unfortunately I think the roller coaster can’t be stopped. The midterms may slow it down but only if it’s a bonafide route. If we get more Romney and less Vance we will be doomed.
schedule 3 months ago
Daniel Baker
Daniel Baker
Douthat is spot on, as usual.

Re French's and Rod's dispute with each other, I think Rod is partly right, but his viewpoint is skewed by his sources. I've read Live Not By Lies, and it is clearly mostly inspired by the survivors of communist totalitarianism he talked to, and who say that the modern USA feels like their countries did right before the communist takeover. Live Not By Lies very much shows Rod as a journalist, a guy who does good interviews, more than it shows him as an original thinker, and almost everybody he talks to in the book is someone who survived the Soviets or their satellite states. But the majority of the book is him trying to explain why these similar beginnings are expected to lead to two very different results: the "soft totalitarianism" that Rod sees beginning in America, as opposed to the very "hard totalitarianism" that happened in his interlocutors' countries.

What Rod misses is that we had the very kind of "soft totalitarianism" he fears once before, during the McCarthy era: a totalitarianism enforced almost entirely by fear of ostracism, public exosure, and loss of your job, rather than secret police knocking on your door at midnight. And I wish Rod and French both had talked to some of the survivors of that era. Of course, it's not Rod's fault that it was Russians, Poles, and Czechs that were filling up his inbox with cries of alarm, and not former witnesses before HUAC, most of whom seem perfectly happy to see the other side's ox gored. But if he had talked with some of them, they would have mentioned that they resisted not with the underground prayer meetings that Rod's friends talked about, but with the Committee for the First Amendment -- the very First Amendment that French now so stridently insists is under no threat, but which the Red Scare victims very much knew was in peril.
schedule 3 months ago
    Peter Pratt
    Peter Pratt
    This will be far worse than McCarthyism, which was based on truth about Soviet spies and American fellow travelers. FDR's administration was full of Soviet agents making major policy decisions to benefit the Soviet Union and to hurt America. This is a globalist faction in power of the country and hostile to the citizens of the country.
    schedule 3 months ago
      Daniel Baker
      Daniel Baker
      Yes, McCarthyism was based on the truth that there were real Soviet agents in America like Hiss and Fuchs. And modern soft totalitarianism is based on the truth that there are real violent racists and anti-Semites in America, like Roof and Fields. And both exploit that truth to smear political opponents and silence dissent, like McCarthy accusing George C. Marshall of being a traitor, or Rosanna Arquette accusing Republican Justices of belonging to the Klan.
      schedule 3 months ago
JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
Meanwhile in the real world where Putinesque scare tactics do not obtain, natural gas futures in Europe are plumetting in price, indicating that supplies are more bountiful than these blog post fears would suggest. If there were a threat of major shortages the financial sharks would be in a feeding frenzy in that market.
schedule 3 months ago
Bogdán Emil
Bogdán Emil
This post really is a masterstroke. You see, one way to emulate Orbán is to relentlessly inhabit reality.

In America, we have a saying: "politics ain't beanbag." No, it ain't. Still, it's a lot more comfortable than Hungarian politics, even German politics, not to mention Russian or Iraqi or Afghan politics.

That's one thing Americans can't really teach the rest of the world: how to conduct their politics in a more civil manner, how to be more relaxed, less prone to violence or violent political ideologies. But I think it's a fact that our relatively civil discourse and easy posture toward one another is one of the major keys to America's success. Politeness and civility in an environment of maximized freedoms is conducive to business, but also to the flourishing of culture. I think the foreigners still see this in us as attractive, for we may have peaked, sure, and we may be heading downward, but the peak we climbed has been substantial, and there's still a long way to go before America hits bottom.

America is so massive and multifaceted (and still strong, like Gondor, although past its prime) that it's hard to believe a tiny country and culture like Hungary could possibly turn it "fascist."

First of all, to do that, Hungary would also need to be fascist, or heading toward fascism. It most certainly isn't. But even if it was, it would also have to be twenty times its size in order to credibly "influence" the United States.

Anyway, the whole thing is so stupid that it's perfectly legitimate for an angry liberal to stick a thumb in the eyes of The System of Lies by voting for Trump, who is not a fascist, he's a just a complicated weirdo, a patriotic yet opportunistic libertine and circus-ringleader populist who's basically transparent, harmless, self-defeating at worst, and American as apple pie.

If the Justice System can't even put him in prison, then he's probably not that guilty, just like Hillary Clinton was probably not that guilty. Personally, I could care less, put him away if you can, if you actually have something. But if you don't, please shut up about the fascism already. Trump is a legit figure.

So is Orbán, and much more so than Trump. Orbán is probably the one person in that country who can govern Hungary effectively, who best understands the Hungarian "national soul." As a liberal it pains me to say it, because the Prime Minister doesn't debate his opponents during elections anymore, and that's a bad habit. It's inexplicable to me, since he would clearly wipe the floor with anyone who has stood against him thus far. The fact that he doesn't even bother to debate is not defensible, but it doesn't make him a fascist, nor anything like it.

I am not concerned that the lack of desire for debate by the Hungarian Right will negatively influence the American Right. Hungary is at far greater risk of being influenced by the global giant, both positively and negatively. And currently, the American Right is actually more conducive to debate and to defending the basic tenets of classical liberalism than the American Left, which is growing intolerant and fearful and ideological.

After all, just take a look at who is poo-pooing debates or even outright avoiding them around here: majorly important Democrats. Hillary Clinton considered it. Nancy Pelosi suggested it. I didn't think it was funny at all. Katie Hobbs is refusing to debate Kari Lake, and thinks she's being a liberal. No, sorry, in that case, I would rather vote for the person who is willing to stand up and speak. I heard Lake, and she is coherent enough. She can certainly be debated.

One of my strongest criticisms of Orbán is that he refuses to debate, making himself look bad and neglecting the opportunity to strengthen democratic habits, slowly inculcating them into a traditionalist culture built more on authority and received wisdom, and less on debating stuff endlessly. I get it, the Magyar Prime Minister doesn't want to waste his time when the outcome is obvious, plus, the opponent might call him out on some uncomfortable truths, which is annoying.

After all, the Hungarian opposition is similarly intelligent, they just don't represent broadly "Hungarian values," so they can't hope for a majority until Fidesz shoots itself in the foot and is undone by some major crisis. Their realistic chances are utterly minimal, but not even debating them is elevating the opposition's stature, not Orbán's. I say this with all due respect.

In the long run, no matter how culturally conservative it may be, Hungarian democracy will have to return to regular debates during national elections. In America, meanwhile, Democrats are the ones trying to deconstruct our democracy by refusing debate. We have been mightily debating each other here on these shores for centuries. It won't be the Hungarians who bring about our demise.

No, if anything, Rod Dreher is probably right again, and the Hungarians might even end up helping us somehow, against all odds, while America helps them out as well. As a Hungarian-American, I couldn't ask for anything more ideal. But I repeat: Hungary is much more vulnerable and at risk in this relationship than America.

Finally, all this excitement and ferment and possibility is happening on the countercultural Right. The Left is both moribund and unmoored. Congratulations to all you reform conservatives, but how sad for me that the Left has become the Edifice, the Machine, the ancien régime.
schedule 3 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    The difference between Trump and Orban is simply this: Orban has shown himself highly capable of governing, while Trump is anything but.
    schedule 3 months ago
    Bogdán Emil
    Bogdán Emil
    Jon Frazier:

    If not for Jan 6th, Trump would go down as a totally average president who actually defied expectations and for the most part acted reasonably. His biggest accomplishment was _slightly_ re-orienting the GOP, while his biggest failure was hypocritically appointing neocons left and right.

    Orbán might be right about the war in Russia: had Trump remained in office, the war probably wouldn't have been set off by Putin.

    As president, Trump yelled at Germany for being dangerously dependent on Russia, and financing Putin. Trump aspired to be a cold-eyed realist internationally, so people calling him a Putin stooge are being boring. He was for America first. And then for the West, too. He liked prestige, that's for sure.

    Trump failed in many ways, but at least he continued arming and training Ukraine, and he also saw the danger of provoking Russia carelessly. Somehow he struck the careful balance, weighing bad options against worse ones, like statesmen tend to do. Bottom line: the war probably wouldn't have broken out under Trump.

    That means he had capabilities, and pretty substantial ones. Normally, just getting to the White House itself should be enough to speak of some meaningful ability and skill. But Trump did more than just get there.
    schedule 3 months ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      It's not just Jan 6. Trump utterly and badly mishandled the pandemic-- beginning with the politics of it. If he had had any basic political acumen he could have hit that pitch out of the park and been reelected handily. He did a poor job with the riots as well that summer. He was fortunate in his first three years that not much of note happened to challenge him . Even so the 2018 midterms were not kind to his party.
      schedule 3 months ago