The Right’s Rising Authoritarian Ally

In Dallas, Viktor Orbán endorses “the culture war.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in front of a podium at CPAC
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking at CPAC today. (Brandon Bell / Getty)

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I’m sorry to say it: We really must talk about CPAC.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

Fringe Benefit

Today in Dallas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. You heard that correctly! The leader of an Indiana-sized European country traveled 5,000 miles to speak at an American political gathering best known for its fringe characters and own-the-libs merchandise. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. Strange and bad.

What Orbán said was strange too. He described Republicans and Democrats as at war with each other, and called on the right to take lessons from him. “We must find friends and allies in one another. We must coordinate a movement of our troops because we face the same challenge,” he told the audience. Coming elections in the U.S. and in Europe “will define the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization.”

You might have read about Orbán already in The Atlantic, or maybe you’ve been avoiding stories about him because foreign politics can sometimes be difficult to care about. Or maybe all that autocracy talk just seemed too heavy. But you should know who Orbán is, and you should know why some on the American right admire him. Orbán has become a kind of soft autocrat in Hungary. He’s not known for killing or threatening his political opponents; instead, he simply changes the rules to cement his power.

A few things to know about Orbán’s leadership:

  • He’s parlayed his election victories into constitutional changes that make it harder for his electoral opponents to win. Elections are free, in a sense, but they are not fair, experts say.
  • He’s cracked down on the Hungarian media. Orbán and his allies now own many of the papers in the country, and few independent outlets survive. This means less airtime for his opponents and less criticism of him.
  • He’s a socially conservative Christian nationalist. He’s staunchly anti-immigration, and in a recent speech, he said that he wanted to keep Hungary from becoming a “mixed-race” country.

But back to CPAC. Many American conservatives, particularly those aligned with Donald Trump, admire Orbán for how flippantly he treats his opposition, the media, and other “globalists” and “cosmopolitans.” The Orbán style of politics involves pissing off the right people—elites, liberal city folks—to appeal to his base. (Sound familiar?)

Orbán’s American fans also appreciate his rhetoric about protecting Western civilization, and they see him as a champion for social conservatism. “If Trumpism is a political religion, Budapest is their new Rome,” William Galston, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank the Brookings Institution, told me. “Viktor Orbán really is their beau ideal of a national conservative leader.”

Earlier this year, CPAC leaders actually held a conference in Budapest. Last year, Tucker Carlson hosted his Fox show from there for a week. And today, Orbán gave CPAC’s keynote speech in America. “This war is a culture war,” he said, kicking off the event. “The only thing we Hungarians can do is show you how to fight back by our own rules.” Orbán went on to describe how Hungary prevents migrants from entering illegally, upholds traditional gender norms and heterosexual marriage, and stays true to “Judeo-Christian values.”

America and Hungary are not the same. We have two different systems of government and two different constitutions. (Hungary’s constitution, crucially, is easier to change.) But Orbán’s American fans are attempting to learn from his leadership and implement its lessons here. Experts watching this unfold already see parallels in how Republicans have attempted to replace election officials with party loyalists, submit fake slates of electors, and tweak election rules.

The most dangerous parallel is the polarization in both of our countries, the political scientist Lee Drutman told me.

“The strength of the authoritarianism on the right is fueled and serviced by the sense that the Democrats are not only the opposition party but anti-American, dangerous to this country, radical, extreme,” Drutman said. “When you have a system polarized along these identitarian fights—what does it mean to be a true Hungarian? A true American? Who’s a traitor? Who’s a patriot?—that justifies these kinds of extreme antidemocratic actions in service of victory.”


Today’s News
  1. The Justice Department charged four current and former police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, for their involvement in the fatal raid of Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March 2020.
  2. The Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a national health emergency, a designation that will increase funding and resources for the federal response.
  3. A day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, Chinese missiles struck the seas around the island in an exercise that the Chinese military said would be followed by a larger show of force.


Evening Read
An illustration showing sachets of melting frozen breast milk
(Shawna X)

No, My Breast Milk Is Not a Bomb

By Yun Sun

Had someone asked me when I started my first job what I thought would be the greatest challenge for a female professional, I probably would have popped out some big-concept answer: gender equality, equal pay, or work-life balance. During the 18 years since, I have generally thrived as a scholar in the think-tank world. I’ve had difficult times—raising every penny to support research projects, dealing with a hostile research field in China, breaking an ankle and hopping around Burma on crutches—but nothing seemed out of reach or likely to defeat me.

Or so I thought before I became a breastfeeding mother. I can now say with confidence that traveling internationally with pumped breast milk has been the greatest challenge of my working career.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
Animated gif of a TV with scenes from 'Not Okay' and 'Bodies Bodies Bodies'
(A24; Searchlight Pictures / Hulu; The Atlantic)

Read. Crack open a romance novel. They don’t deserve to be called trash.

Watch. Hulu’s Not Okay, a satire about a Millennial who gets caught in a web of lies online, shrewdly observes how the internet favors emotion over logic.

Play our daily crossword.


I’ve been lying low this week, having finally contracted the dreaded coronavirus. I’d avoided it for so long that I sort of hoped I might be immune! Alas. My case wasn’t a particularly bad one, and I tested negative after just three days, with some residual cold symptoms. For this, I thank three little pills taken twice a day. My doctor persuaded me to take the antiviral Paxlovid, even though my assumption was that young, otherwise healthy people probably shouldn’t. I’m glad he prescribed them. Within a few days, the virus had left my system, hopefully helping me avoid some of the nastier effects of long COVID. Taking it wasn’t exactly a fun experience; they aren’t lying about the metal mouth! (It helped me to suck on lemon-and-ginger hard candy.) And I’ll be keeping an eye out for a rebound infection, which just happened to President Joe Biden. But this week, I’m especially grateful to science!


This article has been updated to clarify that Tucker Carlson hosted his Fox show from Budapest last year.