Why the Far-Right Has Heart Eyes for Hungary's Viktor Orbán 😍
And why that's so dangerous for democracy
White Christian nationalism is greatest threat to democracy and the witness of the church in the United States today.
I define white Christian Nationalism as an ethnocultural ideology that uses Christian symbolism to create a permission structure for the acquisition of political power and social control.
White Christian nationalism has surged in the past several years, especially during the Trump presidency. It has taken the reins of power with the ascension of people like Mike Johnson to Speaker of the House.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of democracy and the peaceful transition of power are at stake in the 2024 presidential election.
But all is not lost yet.
We still have the opportunity to use the levers of democracy to shut out white Christian nationalists and their attempts to enforce a far-right, autocratic government on the United States.
The battle will be hard.
One of the many reasons the advocates of democracy face such difficult odds is because the far-right have others who give them a blueprint for fascism.
One of those people influencing far-right tactics in the United States is Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary.
Orbán started off as a liberal. Over time he shifted his beliefs to become a far-right nationalist.
He has been a longtime politician but became prime minister in 2010, and has systematically transformed Hungary’s government into a tool of illiberalism.
“Viktor Orbán and the Illiberal Turn Beyond Hungary”
I got to participate on a panel called “Viktor Orbán and the Illiberal Turn Beyond Hungary.” It was hosted by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University.
The far-right in the U.S. is looking to Orbán’s regime for a roadmap of how to implement their illiberal policies here.
They view him as the quintessential strongman who brought his country back from the power of the "Leftists” and made their country great again.
Orbán has a particular appeal to white Christian nationalists for the way he uses religion to justify his authoritarianism.
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He presided, for instance, over a rewrite of the Hungarian constitution in 2011 that included phrases like:
“We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country.” And “We promise to preserve the intellectual and spiritual unity of our nation torn apart in the storms of the last century.”
Orbán proudly declares that his country is an “illiberal Christian democracy.”
People on the far-right in the United States look on Orbán and what he’s done in Hungary with heart eyes. They would love to make statements in the U.S. like the ones he makes about Hungary.
Authoritarianism is on the rise in countries around the world. People on the far-right in the United States are learning from and celebrating autocratic rulers who also use religion as cover for their power grabs.
But people who are pro-democracy can observe and learn as well. The more we know their playbook, the better we can counter their offensive. Nothing less than the ability of “we the people” to choose our leaders is on the ballot.
Some highlights and takeaways from the conversation:
“[Authoritarian] Leaders tend to come to power through elections, they often campaign as populists…but what really makes them dangerous is that when they get into power they basically destroy all the checks on their own power and they disable the elections that could replace them…Every step in many of these regimes that these autocrats take is legal.” ~ Kim Lane Scheppele
“When autocrats come to power it is not usually because they have overwhelming popular support in the public. It is very often because the elections in which they come to power, what I call the ‘pivotal elections’, are ones in which they are running against essentially weak opposition.” ~ Kim Lane Scheppele
“[Orbán] portrays himself as the defender of Christian Europe…[But] one of the first laws he passed was a law that cut the number of official religions from 350 down to 32…More than 300 registered churches were suddenly out in the cold…most of these churches folded and left the country.” ~ Kim Lane Scheppele
“Orbán knows that universities have always been sites of resistance to authoritarianism and autocratic regimes. It’s not just changing the content of what can be studied …[e.g. banning Gender Studies]…You’re also trying to remake the purpose of education and make educational institutions into places that reward intolerance, conformism and other behavior that authoritarians want.” ~ Ruth Ben-Ghiat
“One of the lessons is that if you have a far right autocrat, and you’re trying to push back against him, you want to have a true progressive alternative. You don’t want to move so far to the center or include elements that it seems like you’re mimicking [what you oppose].” ~ Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Watch the discussion here…
Phew! Heavy stuff! Keep reading for some of what I found interesting or funny around the internet, including an HBO documentary I’m in and a Saturday Night Live sketch that I watched half a dozen times in a row. #Tisbits