Hello from Hungary!

I'm here with my family for another few weeks before heading back for the start of the fall semester. Today's post hits harder than others (and many of these letters hit plenty hard).

My wife and her family are Hungarian. She and I lived here from 2004-2010. She earned her master's at Central European University, the institution Orban later forced out of Hungary by passing a law that targeted the University because its founder is George Soros - a powerful critic of Orban. So now, if my wife wants to visit her alma mater, a school that was founded in the city of her birth, she has to cross the border to Vienna where the school relocated.

Shortly after my wife graduated from CEU, I got a job at the school as a lecturer. I was teaching composition and professional communication to a multinational group of students. It was a wonderful part of my early career as an academic. I too was sorry to see the school leave Budapest, but we understood. Shortly after having our first child in 2010, our family decided to leave Hungary. The far-right was holding regular marches. Antisemitic and anti-Roma rhetoric was becoming commonplace. Members of Parliament displayed "Greater Hungary" stickers on their cars - stickers that reject the borders created by the Treaty of Trianon. Those stickers were particularly hard to stomach for those of my in-laws who are Jewish; the rejection of the present-day borders was a major motivation for Hungary's alliance with Nazi Germany.

And that's an important part of how Orban came to power. He courted the hard-right. They formed a political alliance that put him in the PM's seat. He has since put some distance between those radicals and his own party, but he couldn't have won those early elections without their help. He's cleaned up that part of his image a bit since, but our friends and family all remember how low he sank to rise this high.

We visit those friends and family every year. The country is still beautiful. Budapest is looking a bit rough around the edges this year, but people here say that's mostly because the city elected a mayor from an opposition party in 2019. People tell me the flow of funding for city projects has slowed since then. I can't confirm that, but it is certainly the belief on the street. The most commonly heard refrain is that if you want to succeed in Hungary, you need to be seen as Orban's political ally. Budapest's mayor is clearly not one.

There is some optimistic reporting about that mayor and the chance of a diverse coalition of opposition parties presenting a real challenge to Orban in 2022 (a right-left coalition similar to the one that defeated Benjamin Netanyahu this year). But the people I speak to are less optimistic than the reporting. Orban's control of the media is the first thing people bring up. He has provided a tremendous megaphone to rhetorically savvy pundits. Every day there's everything from foul-mouthed blowhards to professionally pressed-and-dressed analysts on the TV and radio, all of them presenting a one-sided view.

So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised to learn that Tucker Carlson was invited to speak and the Hungarian equivalent of CPAC. If there is one thing the Hungarians learned from the US, it is how to present a counter-narrative that is loose with facts but polished enough to look like news.

If I could offer one hopeful shred of an idea for the US, it would be this: Hungary doesn't have much experience when it comes to preventing power from pooling into the hands of the few. There simply was no democratic bureaucracy in place in 1989 when the Soviet-back government left power. And Orban was there in '89 to learn and understand the workings of Hungary's fledgling democracy. He didn't just know about the levers of power, he put many of them in place. That's not the case for the US. We have the means to stop this slide we are on, but we have to protect them.

Thank you for helping me understand that, Prof. Richardson.





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Another apropos piece, Heather.

I know Orban well, since he's been in power, on (mostly) and off since the days Hungary was first admitted to NATO (literally, their THIRD day in NATO, when Orban infamously denied use of Hungary's airfields for NATO operations in Kosovo due to "special considerations" for ethnic Hungarians--nationalism first, since Day One). I was a young Captain in the Army then; I'm a five-years retired Lieutenant Colonel now--tells you how long this guy's been around. He's joined the Putin-Mubarak-Mugabe-Erdoğan Club, absolutely.

Orban has ALWAYS been looked at--State, DoD and the FP establishment--as pro-authoritarian and a threat to democratic growth in Eastern Europe. His bona fides in that regard are indisputable. For FC (Tucker Carlson. Think about it) to cozy up to this guy is unabashedly, exactly what you you're outlining--a man whose ideology and self-importance are bent on destroying our constitution and our country (all while telling himself he's saving it, of course).

Our biggest enemy in the next 2-4 years, is our own 5-minute attention span--made harder if we don't artificially stoke the fire (let's try not to). It's a grind, not a flash fire. We cannot flag in our vigilance and daily determination to oppose and turn back these efforts, bit-by-bit. Understanding these sorts of sideshows (I know FP ain't our thing in 'Merica) and that they really mean is important.

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Another jaw dropping letter. We have openly fascists TV personalities feeding lies to the devout. We should be worried. A way to stealing minds is thru their savior.

From Heather: “Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture, stop the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture, and reject “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.””

Mass psychosis?

FromWaPo#1:”The church is called Mercy Culture, and it is part of a growing Christian movement that is nondenominational, openly political and has become an engine of former president Donald Trump’s Republican Party. It includes some of the largest congregations in the nation, housed in the husks of old Baptist churches, former big-box stores and sprawling multimillion-dollar buildings with private security to direct traffic on Sundays. Its most successful leaders are considered apostles and prophets, including some with followings in the hundreds of thousands, publishing empires, TV shows, vast prayer networks, podcasts, spiritual academies, and branding in the form of T-shirts, bumper stickers and even flags. It is a world in which demons are real, miracles are real, and the ultimate mission is not just transforming individual lives but also turning civilization itself into their version of God’s Kingdom: one with two genders, no abortion, a free-market economy, Bible-based education, church-based social programs and laws such as the ones curtailing LGBTQ rights now moving through statehouses around the country.”…”a church that had grown so large since its founding in 2019 that there were now three services every Sunday totaling some 4,500 people, a growing Saturday service in Spanish and plans for expansion to other parts of the country”

From WaPo #2: “A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry — a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “’God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented Sunday (Aug. 19) at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.”

From Ruth Ben-Ghiat: “The optics-obsessed Donald Trump knew how to cultivate good crowds and demonize dissenters. That helped him to remain popular despite election interference investigations, impeachment, and more. The need for a continuous stream of adoring crowd images is one reason Trump invested so heavily in rallies. He held more than 150 of them during his presidency, over 40 of which took place during the pandemic. "They say no human being could do that," Trump said of the number of rallies he held soon after his own bout with coronavirus. With evidence of his negligent handling of the pandemic accumulating, he had plenty of motivation.  

Trump devoted equal effort to spreading fear about the presence of bad crowds in America, with right-wing propagandists like Tucker Carlson of Fox News acting as his allies.”

Who needs Trump when they have mega churches?

When will we listen to experts on the mind????

Minds are being stolen. What is the tipping point for authoritarianism? It feels as if the Pied Piper is real.

Wa Po #1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/11/mercy-culture-church/

WaPo #2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/does-megachurch-high-explain-their-success/2012/08/20/97dc8ef4-eb07-11e1-866f-60a00f604425_story.html

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Sorry to be off-subject. To date four members of the Capitol Police who were defending our Capitol on January 6th have committed suicide. Last week, my intent was to send the department a thank-you note for their service; to my shame I have not done that as yet. Please thank these guys: 119 D St NE, Washington, DC 20510. The card I bought last week finally goes in the mail today.

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Hungary has no "democratic tradition," so the current situation is unsurprising. The country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire till 1918, then the subject of a monarchist-communist civil war till 1922, when Admiral Horthy took over as Regent and set up a nice little fascist state modeled on Mussolini. They were quick to ally with Hitler in 1937, which allowed them to get back some of "traditional Hungary" from Czechoslovakia when the Germans finally swallowed the whole country in March 1939. They were allied with the Nazis throughout the Second World War, then the Red Army came in in the fall of 1944 and established all the exiled Stalinists Horthy had chased out as the new government, which with the exception of 3 weeks in October 1956 had a nice little Stalinist dictatorship till the fall of the USSR. The "democracy" they had for 10 years was mostly a play against the old Stalinists masquerading as "democrats" - Orban came along and just re-established what everyone had known of government for all their lives.

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Usually I avoid referring to the former occupant of the White House, but with the report that DT pressured Jerome Rosen “just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me” I now understand what DT meant when said "I alone can fix it." It was the Election he was fixing.

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Whenever I hear someone identify their nation as "Christian" among their political ideologies, I know that they have no intentions of being Christian.

Matthew 22:22: Christ said "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's"

Anyone who uses religion to enforce their politics is rendering unto Caesar what is God's.

I have been reading several books on the Jim Crow period of American history, recently finishing "The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Prior to that, I read several books on American Indians defending their land and treaties during US expansion westward. Americans involved in the most horrible atrocities throughout American history used the Bible and claimed Christian values as they slaughtered anyone and everyone that they identified as those others not Christian according to their politics.

Unless our churches and society identify the evil behavior of using Christian material for political purposes as evil, we will have crosses burning in the hearts and minds of Americans looking to turn our nation, using any means possible, away from God and democracy, away from the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, toward violent repressive one party authoritarian rule.

Throughout our nation are unmarked graves, nameless and missing Americans, that represent America's continuing unspoken holocaust. We are not a Christian or any other religious nation as long as this continues.

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An interstate conspiracy to perpetuate fraud and assume and maintain power through control of elections ought to place these folks squarely in the the sights of the RICO act.

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Tucker Carlson is not in favor of "Christian Family Values" or "Christian Democracy" any more than Orban is, which is none at all.

Carlson is, however, in favor of all the money he gets from his wealthy, "conservative" right wing, donors who know that if they can take over the government, then, they can use the United States Fed to print money for themselves.

One thing that is clear to the Right Wing of this country. The Federal Reserve can generate great wealth (for them). That has been clear since Ronald Reagan generated $2 Trillion in debt while vocally claiming he would "cut spending". Welfare for rich people was Ronald Reagan's greatest gift to America while he simultaneously impugned welfare for poor people.

That $2 Trillion went almost exclusively to Military Contractors and private Hedge Funds and the stockholders of both.

Since that example showed the way, "Conservative", right wing groups have realized that all they must do is take over the government and permanent wealth, unimaginable before Reagan, is at their feet.

Those groups of right wing folks use the words "Christian", because, the Christian groups in this country, having been taught to "believe" in that for which there is no evidence from birth, have the right skill set to believe right wing lies. Christian groups are experts at believing that which they are told on Sunday morning. They are not experts in Critical Thought, experimental data, or any aspect of thinking that might give them pause when listening to Tucker Carlson.

However, forty years after Reagan showed the way, the right has yet to actually take over the government apparatus, although, they came close under Trump and "W" Bush.

Unfortunately, the wealthy HAVE managed to grab the majority of the money this country has printed since Reagan showed the way. Under Bush, those who bought Haliburton stock before the announcement of "no bid" contracts in Iraq?

Those wealthy investors in Haliburton, tipped off early, were made fantastically wealthy.

Orban is just where the USA right wing has been trying to move for forty years.

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The greatest enemy to democracy in America is not Tя☭mp and conservatives. The greatestenemy is apathy. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It is clear that when turnout in American elections is typically between 60% and 65%, the largest political party is non-voters. Apathy, distraction, and yes also voter suppression, these are the enemies destroying our democracy. It is essential we fight these and unite in speaking to those not engaged in the political process. It is far easier to turn a non-voter into a voter than trying to turn a conservative into progressive.

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Dear HCR -- I love your columns and often "heart" them, but for today's post, I wish that there were some option that indicated agreement but anger at the same time... (even Facebook doesn't have this sophisticated an emoticon)

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Oh my, Dr. R! How brazen is Tucker Carlson’s behavior! If you pay any attention at all to international news you know that Orbàn is against democracy and for his version only of Hungary. Consorting with dictators is what the former President did. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. We are still in danger.

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I cannot pretend any knowledge of Hungary's political landscape, other than what I retain of what I just read here. I find this as chilling as any of the LFAA I have read so far.

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If enough of US remain too busy to get involved in the politics of our society, then we shall indeed get the government we deserve.

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It occurs to me that the greatest danger to our democracy may be our own conviction that it actually is a real democracy. When I say "democracy" I define it as having universal adult citizen suffrage with each person's vote having the same weight as each other person's vote, regularly scheduled elections (or other mechanisms guaranteeing frequent consultation of the electorate) and non-partisan drawing of electoral districts, all sitting on a firm foundation of explicitly described rights and responsibilities.

Others may choose to define democracy differently, and there have certainly been many instances of undemocratic "democratic" republics, but what we all learned in school about the meaning of "democracy" and generally practice on a much smaller scale in our daily lives is not what is in our revered Constitution. The US Senate and the Electoral College are both undemocratic institutions designed to prevent the people -- us -- from having the final word, favoring instead propertied white men over their fellow citizens.

The relative ease with which the likes of Donald Trump and the current GOP have brought us to where we are is the proof that we are not a real democracy.

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Good morning, everyone! I truly fear for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Once this form of control is asserted, it is very hard to remove it. And it has nothing to do with "the good of the people" or even Christianity (often used as a bludgeon in these circumstances)..it has to do with power...absolute controlling power. People, we all need to keep our eyes open and do whatever we can to keep these power mongers out of government at any level. We are facing this in the next gubernatorial election in VA...Youngkin is a huge Trump supporter and believes Trump's rhetoric. Fight every fire you can. Spread the word however you can. I'm afraid this fight will continue for a long time.

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