When Tucker Carlson embarked on a weeklong publicity tour of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Fox News personality Glenn Greenwald cast the decision as the kind of intrepid reporting we should all admire. “Is it now considered immoral or something for journalists to visit other countries to report on what they see and hear there?” he asked. No doubt Carlson’s trip to Budapest would allow him to work his sources, hold the powerful accountable, and uncover corruption.
Instead, to the surprise of nobody except perhaps Greenwald, Carlson’s visit took on an altogether more comfortable cast. Off-camera, Carlson has been clinking glasses with Orbán’s cronies and praising his regime:
On-camera, he gave an interview so fawning it could hardly have gone any differently had Orbán written the questions himself. Carlson asserted that Orbán’s state is friendlier to dissent than the United States is. “Opposition figures don’t worry in Hungary,” he said. “In what country are you more likely to lose your job for criticizing the ruling class’s orthodoxy?”
Of course, Carlson himself has a job in the United States criticizing what he describes as “the ruling class’s orthodoxy.” The notion that a left-wing equivalent of Fox News could exist in Hungary is a sad joke after Orbán consolidated control of the media, handing ownership over most of the largest newspapers and television channels to a board filled with his allies.
“Let’s say you lived in a big American city, and you decided to loudly and publicly attack Joe Biden’s policies on immigration or COVID or transgender athletes,” asserted Carlson. “If you kept talking like that, you would likely be silenced by Biden’s allies in Silicon Valley.”
The leading political content on Facebook comes from the likes of Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino, who have very loudly denounced Joe Biden’s policies on immigration and everything else.
Carlson dismissed the conclusion by Freedom House that Orbán’s Hungary no longer qualifies as a democracy, on the grounds that the organization receives U.S. government funding. If he wanted more evidence, he could listen to the European Parliament, which declared Orbán’s regime a “systemic threat to the rule of law.”
Of course, Carlson probably distrusts that source, too. The European Parliament, like the United States, is tainted by its affiliation with democratic governments. If Carlson wishes to rely on the authority of the authoritarians themselves — untainted by any association with democratic governments — he could listen to Orbán’s infamous declaration that “the era of liberal democracy is over.” Sadly, he did not find room to mention this comment.
Instead, he used his interview to go further in defending Orbán’s regime than Orbán himself. Carlson repeatedly accused the Biden administration of undermining Hungary’s elections. “Are you worried that there will be international interference in your election?” he asked at one point. “When the president of the United States describes you as a totalitarian thug, which is a very serious thing to say about somebody — I would not — that suggests that why wouldn’t the Biden State Department work to prevent you from being reelected,” he said at another. At yet another point, he teased, “Man, are the efforts to unseat him intense and stealthy.”
This closely tracks Orbán’s own theme that nefarious international forces are conspiring against his government. This demand has justified his campaign to seize control of civil society, hassling members of the opposition, closing down a university, and draping the country with anti-Semitic posters depicting George Soros as the cosmopolitan puppet master behind all dissent. (Orbán: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward, but crafty; not honest, but base; not national, but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”)
Carlson is not a moron. He isn’t blind to Orbán’s repressive methods. He favors them. When he holds up Orbán as a model for the future of the American right, he is pointing toward a future in which the Republican Party can successfully carry out the subversion of democracy Donald Trump merely attempted.