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Opinion Hungary’s racist strongman, and the Americans who love him

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday. (Max Brucker/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an autocrat astride a country whose GDP is more meager than that of Kansas and whose population is smaller than Michigan’s, has become a role model for America’s right-wing populists who admire his blueprint for dismantling democracy. Shunned in Western Europe, he naturally goes where he is appreciated — and next week will arrive to what is likely to be an adoring welcome at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, in Dallas, where he will deliver a keynote address.

U.S. conservatives who lionize Mr. Orban appear unfazed by his racist, retrograde rhetoric. After all, it’s part and parcel of his brand as what he calls an “illiberal” democrat, although his adherence to democratic norms is tissue-thin, at best. Now they are shrugging at his latest jeremiad, in which he attacked the United States for its sanctions against Russia, joked about Nazi gas chambers and, borrowing a page from Nazi ideology, warned that Europeans must not “become peoples of mixed race.”

Mr. Orban’s words, in the course of an anti-immigration diatribe, triggered outrage across Europe. One of his longtime confidants, Zsuzsa Hegedus, who is Jewish, resigned, saying the speech would appeal to the “most vile racists.”

And yet, there was little upset among CPAC’s organizers, who treated the uproar over the Hungarian leader’s bigotry as if it were a tiff over regulatory policy. “Let’s listen to the man speak,” Matt Schlapp, CPAC’s chair, told an interviewer. “And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”

In fact, most of the CPAC crowd, whose ranks are heavily populated by former president Donald Trump’s partisans, is unlikely to raise objections. To the contrary, many of Mr. Trump’s adherents, like those of Mr. Orban, are enamored of “great replacement” theorists, who regard immigration, pluralism and diversity as existential threats to Western — and White — civilization and a menace to what they consider the ethnic essence of the United States itself. Tucker Carlson, a Fox News pundit, is among the exponents of that view, and a devotee of Mr. Orban.

More broadly, the Hungarian premier’s stock in trade, and his apparent appeal to many on the American far right, is his deft dismantling of democratic institutions, a crusade he has undertaken in the cause of championing Christian civilization and attacking “woke” culture — which includes LGBTQ communities. He has scrapped the quaint idea that elected officials should represent all their constituents, while locking in a suite of laws, and a new constitution, that marginalize his opponents in what amount to rigged elections. Those maneuvers have left them with little chance to gain traction in campaigns or even be heard in national media outlets effectively controlled by the state.

Mr. Orban’s racism, embodied by his attack on the “mixed-race” menace he sees in Europe, is the antithesis of American values. It should get him disinvited from CPAC. Instead, there is every indication he will arrive in Dallas to cheers.

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