Chicago (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – Following in Victor Orbán’s neo-fascist goose-steps, Trump, DeSantis, and the GOP are imposing his Hungarian brand of Christian nationalism on America. In power since 2010, Orbán — now a fabulously wealthy kleptocrat — turned Hungary from a functioning democracy into a corrupt, single-party, authoritarian oligarchy and provided a beacon for the MAGA Republican sedition caucus.
Fashioning himself as a champion of “illiberal democracy” and a defender of Christendom against Muslims, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby,” Orbán hosted the Republican Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest this May. The two-day CPAC fascist-fest, the second in Hungary in as many years, featured segments titled “Make Kids Not War” and “No Country for Woke Men.” A sign over the venue entrance read “No Woke Zone,” assuring Republicans they would be in a safe space.
CPAC chairman ( who has been accused but not convicted of sexual harassment) Matt Schlapp echoed Orbán’s view that Western media is all-leftist and unsuccessfully tried to keep “liberal” journalists out of the conference. As reported by the Associated Press, Schlapp said that CPAC had decided to “go Hungarian” in their approach to the media, deciding for themselves “who is a journalist and who is not a journalist” when determining which outlets to allow into their events.
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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – MARCH 02: Chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Matt Schlapp speaks during the annual conference at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on March 2, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland. The annual conservative conference kicks off today with former President Donald Trump addressing the event on Saturday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Orbán re-shaped the Hungarian political system not through a Soviet-style police state — though he has been accused of using Israel’s Pegasus spyware to tap the phones of opposing journalists, lawyers, and businessman — but rather through quasi-constitutional changes. He and his Fidesz Party seized control of the judiciary, turned elections into a sham, passed racist immigration laws, crushed dissent, and demolished independent media outlets. He has further enforced his power over cultural, educational, and religious institutions to promote his Christian nationalist vision and reject “gender insanity,” “multiculturalism,” and “hegemonic liberalism.”
The GOP in most red states already bears striking similarities to Orbán’s Fidesz party: from targeting migrants to whipping up nativist conspiracies, from packing the courts with right-wing extremists to rigging elections through purging voters and gerrymanders, from outlawing most abortions to discriminating against LBGTQ people, and from stoking white religious grievance to supporting Christian supremacy.
In a recent survey, more than half of Republicans support Christian Nationalism. Pushing the faulty notion that conflates American and Christian identity, the ongoing “Reawaken America” Tour is a fanatically pro-Christian circus of MAGA lunatics like Mike Flynn, Eric Trump, Roger Stone, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell alongside various conservative Christian pastors and Trump acolytes. They are promulgating Qanon conspiracies, anti-vaxx misinformation, and anti-Semitism along with an anti-democratic Christian Nationalist ideology that discriminates, excludes and persecutes non-Christians, immigrants or individuals who don’t align with their dogmatic, bigoted understanding of religious identity.
Reaching beyond the MAGA fringe and the red states, Orbán and the GOP have their sights set on converting the federal government. Various contemptible Republican politicians have expressed support for Christian Nationalism, including Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Mike Pompeo, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Just as Republicans aspire to federalize an abortion ban, Trump, DeSantis, and the GOP want to inflict Orbánism on all of America.
The Hungarian “soft fascism” strongman told the CPAC audience, to a standing ovation: “Hungary is actually an incubator where experiments are done on the future of conservative policies. Hungary is the place where we didn’t just talk about defeating the progressives and liberals and causing a conservative Christian political turn, but we actually did it.” Orbán dispenses that dictatorial dopamine hit that Republicans so desperately crave, but without Putin’s poisoned corpses and war crimes.
At CPAC, Orbán bragged that conservatives have “occupied big European sanctuaries,” which he listed as Budapest, Warsaw, Rome and Jerusalem. He complained that Washington and Brussels were still in the grip of liberalism, which he described as a “virus that will atomize and disintegrate our nations — migration, gender, and woke: these are all just variants – variants of the same virus.”
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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a keynote speech during an extraordinary session of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Balna cultural centre of Budapest, Hungary on May 19, 2022. – The two-day CPAC meeting is being held in Europe for the first time. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP) (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images)
Orbán wants to exterminate what he calls “that virus” in Europe and has dedicated himself to showing Republicans how to do the same here. An early Trump-influencer, Orbán was the first European leader to endorse the sex abuser for president and was celebrated by Steve Bannon as “Trump before Trump.” During the refugee crisis of 2015, Orbán built a huge, militarized, barbed-wire fence along Hungary’s southern border.
In 2021, Tucker Carlson — still hosting his white-power-hour on Fox — became Orbán’s premier American fluffer. He hosted a week of shows from Hungary that broadcast Orbán’s “fascist light” poison directly into American homes, depicting Hungary as a conservative paradise with strong pro-family, Christian policies that had conquered the migrant “onslaught” with a border wall.
Orbán expelled almost all asylum seekers from the country in defiance of both European Union law and the Geneva Conventions. He even locked up refugee children in cages with the enthusiastic support of Hungarian white supremacists. The Helsinki Human Rights Committee condemned this as ”cruel and inhuman.” In true fascist style, Orbán declared, “Immigration brings increased crime, endangers the continent’s Christian culture and identity, and lets in the virus of terrorism.”
Apishly following his vile example, Trump and his advisor Steven Miller devised American jail camps for migrant families. Citing their similarities, Trump lavishly praised Orbán in a 2019 oval office meeting.
Exploiting images of Syrian refugees fleeing Russian violence, Orbán’s state-controlled media amplified or fabricated migrant criminality for shameless fearmongering just as Republicans and their MAGA propaganda outlets regularly ramp up the “horror of a migrant invasion.” Inflicting a Hungarian hell of persecution, racism and xenophobia upon racial, ethnic, and religious minorities: Orbán refused to denounce the founder of the Fidesz Party when he branded the Roma, the largest minority group in Hungary, as “animals, unfit to live among people.”
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BICSKE, HUNGARY – SEPTEMBER 04: Migrants protest outside a train that they are refusing to leave for fear of being taken to a refugee camp from the train that has been held at Bicske station since yesterday on September 4, 2015 in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary. According to the Hungarian authorities a record number of migrants from many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia are crossing the border from Serbia. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The massive increase, said to be the largest migration of people since World War II, led Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to order Hungary’s army to build a steel and barbed wire security barrier along its entire border with Serbia, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers from a variety of countries and war zones entered the country so far this year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
In what may be his most influential demagogic fabrication, Orbán provided Trump, DeSantis and Republicans with an all-purpose, scapegoat — an omnipotent demonic figure to be blamed for Hungary’s and, in fact, all the world’s evils: George Soros. The Holocaust survivor is the Hungarian billionaire whose Soros Foundation financed Orbán’s own Oxford education as it did for many others. Soros also funded health, human rights, and pro-democracy projects.
”Orbán devised a conspiracy theory, painting George Soros — who was born in Hungary but hasn’t lived there in decades — as the global orchestrator of the refugee crisis, a nefarious international puppet master,” writes Hungarian author and politician Zsuzsanna Szelényi, in her 2022 book, Tainted Democracy: Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary. As part of his 2010 election campaign, “Orbán’s concocted ‘Soros plan’ served as a faithful reprise of every single trope of anti-Semitic hatred, which casts powerful Jewish actors as the embodiment of all social and political ‘diseases’ while creating an illusionary basis for the Hungarian war against migration.”
Orbán named his draconian anti-immigration bill the “Stop Soros” law. Among other things, it outlawed helping immigrants claim asylum and apply for residence in Hungary. The Fidesz media machine trumpeted Orbán’s conspiracy theory and magnified it a thousand times. Ads and billboards screamed “Soros wants to influence the whole world!” and “Soros may have killed his mother!” Orbán’s political enemies became “Soros hirelings,” says Szelényi. “Nobody could escape hearing Soros’ name every day.”
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DAVOS, Switzerland: George Soros, Chairman of Soros Fund management speaks during the “Riding the Next Democratic Wave” conference, 23 January 2004 at the Congress Center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. In a speech prepared for the WEF, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced Today he was convening a new business summit in June In New York, to help refocus attention on development issues that have been overshadowed by the Iraq war and the US-led drive against terrorism.AFP PHOTO Philippe DESMAZES (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP via Getty Images)
American vilification of Soros exploded after the Nazi brutality in Charlottesville. U.S. right-wingers claimed the violence was orchestrated and financed by Soros to tarnish the reputation of Trump, as if his despicable reputation could be tarnished any further. Before Tucker Carlson’s unceremonious dumping from Fox, he made a “documentary” called “Hungary vs. Soros: Fight for Civilization.” Carlson’s film accuses Soros of trying to undermine Hungary’s migration success story by funding pro-refugee propaganda, opposing the border fence, and lobbying governments to open their borders.
For years now, Republicans have demonized George Soros for anything they perceive as malevolent, ”woke,” or corrosive to their cherished “values.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the NY District Attorney who indicted Trump, “Soros-backed.” Just last week, the malicious conspiracy-monger, Twitter owner Elon Musk — a Trump fanboy who presided over the globally humiliating, technically disastrous DeSantis presidential launch crash — asserted that “Soros wants to erode the very fabric of civilization. Soros hates humanity.”
Bringing the slanderous Soros fiction to lizard-eating-its-own-tail absurdity, MAGA darling Kari Lake — still denying she lost the Arizona governor’s race and auditioning to be Trump’s VP sycophant — trashed Ron DeSantis by tweeting “The Kiss of Death — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed by George Soros.” Trump mocked the DeSantis’ presidential launch debacle by posting a monumentally stupid, fan-made video insinuating that DeSantis garnered support from Soros, Hitler, and Satan. Though it again exposed the unserious meaninglessness of the Soros accusations, the propaganda remains irresponsible and dangerous: Soros has endured countless death threats, including from Qanon crazies who have urged his execution.
While continuing to flog Soros, Orbán in 2022 went beyond his dictator-curious approach and openly embraced ethno-nationalistic racism. In an inflammatory speech in Romania, he denounced immigration from outside the existing boundaries of Europe, saying it was an effort to impose a “mixed-race” society on Hungary. One of his own close advisers Zsuzsa Hegedus resigned in protest, calling the speech “worthy of Goebbels” and “pure Nazi.”
Though Orbán’s hatred of migrants — as well as academics, “globalists,” and the Roma — is the central Orbán message, he and the Fidesz party, as part of their heterosexual pro-family Christian agenda, initiated attacks on “gender ideology” as early as 2010. The Orbán government prohibited gay marriage via constitutional amendment and banned transgender people from receiving legal recognition.
In public campaigns, Orbán conflated homosexuality with pedophilia while his government defunded gender-studies programs at universities. In 2020 the Orbán government criminalized any positive portrayal of LGBTQ people on TV and passed a law banning sex education involving LGBTQ topics in elementary schools.
Nine months later, DeSantis — as Florida governor — slavishly signed a similar law, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. DeSantis’ press secretary, talking about the inspiration for the law admitted, “We were watching the Hungarians.”
Convinced that teachers are brainwashing kids to be left-wingers, Orbán wields state power to suppress academic freedom and dictate forbidden education topics from grade school to college. Orbán’s party railed against teaching multiracialism and racial tolerance, instead rewriting elementary school textbooks to proclaim that refugees entering the country are a threat because “it can be problematic for different cultures to coexist.”
Education policy is the latest of Orbán’s obsessions passed along to Trump, DeSantis, and Republicans. Parroting Orbán, Trump mendaciously denounced “pink-haired communists teaching our kids” and “Marxist maniacs” running our universities; Florida senator Marco Rubio called schools “a cesspool of Marxist indoctrination;” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicted that “teachers’ unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids” will “take this Republic down.”
Beyond the disingenuous words, Republicans are acting on these rhetorical fantasies. Over the past three years, legislators in 28 states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. A wave of library purges, subject-matter restrictions, and potential legal threats against educators has followed. Emulating Orbán, Republicans are seizing control of the American classroom, seeing it as the ultimate battleground upon which this country’s future will be determined.
Early in his career, Orbán identified the universities as the primary institutional source of opposition. Extending his political rule, Orbán placed most state universities under the control of close allies as part of his lamentably successful campaign to dismantle Hungary’s liberal democracy and advance nativist ideology.
DeSantis’ education advisor and anti-“woke” chatbot Christopher Rufo recently spent a month in Budapest as a fellow at the pro-Orbán Danube Institute where he reportedly met with Orbán’s government. After returning from Hungary, he excoriated American schools as “hunting grounds” for pedophile teachers and suggested that “parents have good reason” to worry about “gender, grooming and trans ideology in schools.” Last September, Balázs Orbán (no relation), the political director for the Hungarian prime minister, visited Florida where he praised DeSantis and likened his governing style to that of his own boss.
DeSantis is imitating Orbán’s ideas to turn Florida into a MAGA utopia. The similarities between the two politicians have been embraced by the Hungarian media with headlines such as: “Following Orbán, the Republican governor of Florida.”
Replicating Orbán, DeSantis’ House Bill 999 does more than repress academic freedom, it obliterates academic freedom. Admiring the legislation, The American Conservative called it “Florida’s ‘Orbán’ Renewal Project.” Free expression and education advocate at PEN America Jeremy Young described it as “almost an apocalyptic bill for higher education,” one that is “orders of magnitude worse than anything we’ve seen, either in the recent or the distant past.”
An abhorrent synthesis and expansion of previous unconstitutional Stop-“Woke” laws, House Bill 999 forbids Florida’s public colleges and universities from offering majors or minors in CRT (critical race theory), “intersectionality,” or gender studies as well as any subject that “engenders beliefs” in those ideas. The bill also bans campus activities that “espouse diversity, equity and inclusion or critical race theory rhetoric.” Even the teaching of subjects like slavery and Native American genocide is restricted.
The Republican campaign to dominate the ideology of schools will not remain confined to state law or the public sphere. Mainlining Orbán, hard-right Representative Dan Bishop — a member of the GOP insurrection caucus — and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton — who urged Trump to use military force against the George Floyd protests — have put forth a bill that would deny federal funding to public and private universities that promote CRT concepts.
A vision of the Republican future, Victor Orbán is Trump or DeSantis with 13 years in command. As authoritarian Orbán clones, Trump, DeSantis and GOP politicians goose-step in unison with his policies in a 21st century crusade to make America Hungary — a Christian nationalist autocracy steeped in racism, xenophobia, and the corruption of democracy.