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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.
Nobody should still pretend to be shocked that the Conservative Political Action Conference, an entity no longer "conservative" in any meaningful sense, would feature an appearance by an authoritarian leader like Viktor Orban. The Hungarian autocrat is the idol of the international far Right. He has repeatedly enjoyed the bootlicking attentions of Tucker Carlson on Fox News and indeed, CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp led his gang to celebrate Orban in Budapest earlier this year.
What makes Orban so alluring to the American far rightists is his example as an illiberal politician who, unlike their idol former President Donald Trump, has managed to corrupt Hungarian democracy so thoroughly as to guarantee his own continuing rule.
Trump attempted to steal the 2020 election by an assortment of tactics that included mob violence but failed (although he and his followers are poised to try again). Trump complains about the news media, while Orban seized control of media outlets in Hungary and ruthlessly suppressed his critics. Trump blurts out racist and anti-Semitic allusions, but Orban openly encourages bigotry against Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians along with state action against the vulnerable targets of his Christian nationalist dogma — which echoes the fascist ideology that once ruled his homeland. Both of these pseudo-populists decry "globalism," whatever that means (and what it means can change instantly according to political convenience).
In short, the Orban regime is just what Republicans like Schlapp and Carlson envision for America's future, with or without Trump himself.
Behind the aggressive rhetoric of the Budapest boss, however, lies a less imposing reality. In Dallas, Orban exhorted the boisterous CPAC crowd to join his angry movement against "the globalists." That conspiratorial rubric includes the European Union, of course, despite the inconvenient fact that Hungary is an EU member state. "We must take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels," he thundered.
To the cowboy fascists, Orban must sound like one tough hombre — except that he is currently on his knees before the European authorities, ten-gallon hat in hand, as he pleads for their financial assistance. Years of his incompetent rule have inflicted fiscal and monetary disaster on Hungary, and he is begging the "globalists" to bail him out. But his admirers in the West are much too polite (and dishonest) to mention these embarrassing realities.
Consider inflation, the rallying issue that Republicans hope will create a "red wave" in midterm elections. Nearly every day, outfits like CPAC issue broadsides against President Joe Biden that blame and Democrats for rising prices. They won't acknowledge real inflationary pressures caused by pandemic disruptions and the Russian assault on Ukraine.
And what CPAC won't ever mention is that inflation in many other nations is higher than here — including Hungary, where year-on-year prices have spiked by almost 12 percent so far and are expected to keep going up. Orban recently made matters worse for the average Hungarian family by ending a price cap on household utilities, but his mismanagement left no other choice. The same inexorable forces led him to raise taxes on small business, which will be passed on to consumers.
The Hungarian currency is plunging to new lows, along with its stock market, while the country's deep budget deficit has yet to reach bottom. Naturally, the middle-class and working-class voters who voted to back Orban are infuriated by his failures - and thousands of them have taken to the streets in protest. They didn't mention that in Dallas either.
In Brussels, meanwhile, the European Union leaders have given Hungary's finance ministry a long list of demands that Orban must meet before any bailout funds will be released. The conditions include restoring the rule of law, curbing the government's dictatorial tendencies and dealing more transparently with Hungary's rampant corruption. Rather than defying the EU as he suggested in Dallas, Orban meekly stopped baiting Brussels over LGBTQ issues — and has instead proclaimed his eagerness to make a deal.
Yes, like most bullies, he retreats when anyone his own size hits back.
Americans should beware the populist temptation offered by thuggish politicians of Orban's stripe. They promise to lift up the "forgotten man," whom they invariably betray in favor of plutocratic cronies and corrupt plunderers. And they consistently seek to shift public anger toward minorities, immigrants, feminists, gays, transsexuals, public school teachers and any other scapegoats perceived as too weak to resist.
Not long before his CPAC appearance, Orban spoke on immigration in Romania, declaring that Europeans "do not want to become peoples of mixed race." So horrified was one of his closest advisers that she resigned publicly, denouncing the speech as "a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels."
That sickening incident didn't disturb Orban's CPAC fans at all, of course. Everyone knows that's what they like about him.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
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