Why the Right Wants an Authoritarian Big Daddy

Although I can’t find exactly when he said it, I clearly remember George W. Bush chirping that no free people ever chose to live under a dictatorship. And, of course, that was a stupid thing to say. History shows us lots of people living in a reasonably functional democracy who gave it up  — or took no steps to save it — in favor of an authoritative dictator. The rise of Hitler is the classic example, but not the only one.

With that in mind, do read The Fascist-Curious Right by Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark. Here’s just a bit.

Ideas that would have been unthinkable just moments ago are now being normalized and, if anything, the drift toward authoritarianism seems to be accelerating. This includes the explicit embrace of the idea of an American dictator — an American Caesar. Literally and seriously. (This is not a parody.) …

… But now its fetish for coups has morphed into a yearning for even more robust measures. “To survive today’s leftist threat,” argues author Christopher Roach, “we need to be committed to acquiring and using power in the service of a counterrevolution.”

This new “Great America” agenda means that we should be more like Portugal.

Here Sykes describes an article at the right-wing webzine American Greatness that celebrated Portugal’s “fascist-adjacent dictator” António de Oliveira Salazar, who was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968. His government is most commonly described as “corporatist authoritarian.” “Soft fascism” might work also. He stayed in power by use of censorship and secret police. There certainly have been much worse dictators than Salazar, but he was still a dictator.

Yet, there’s more. Tucker Carlson recently has been promoting Hungary’s Viktor Orban as the kind of guy we need now. Jonathan Chait:

He is laying down a marker in the highest profile way he can that Orban’s iron fist is the future the Republican Party should want. The splashy imprimatur of a Fox News prime-time personality, who is probably the right’s most influential media figure, is an important milestone in the Republican Party’s long evolution into authoritarianism.

Do read It Happened There: How Democracy Died in Hungary by Zack Beauchamp at Vox, from 2018. A bit:

One of the most disconcerting parts of observing Hungarian soft fascism up close is that it’s easy to imagine the model being exported. While the Orbán regime grew out of Hungary’s unique history and political culture, its playbook for subtle repression could in theory be run in any democratic country whose leaders have had enough of the political opposition.

It’s not for nothing that Steve Bannon, who has called Orbán “the most significant guy on the scene right now,” is currently in Europe building an organization — called “the Movement” — aimed at spreading Orbán’s populist politics across the continent. …

…Hungary is a warning of what could happen when a ruthless, anti-minority populist backed by a major political party is allowed to govern unchecked. Americans need to pay attention.

See also U.S. conservatives yearn for Orban’s Hungary by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

So, yeah, the American Right is authoritarian and not democratic. What else is new? But why?

The Right claims to be all about freedom. I’ve been writing for a while (example) that they’ve fetishized the word freedom so much that it’s stripped of all meaning. Now it’s just a tribal symbol that has nothing to do with, you know, freedom. To a rightie, the word means something closer to privilege, or maybe license. Or power.

Ultimately, this is all very childish. The Right in many democratic countries around the world are engaged in some kind of massive temper tantrum. They don’t want to share their countries with nonwhite people, for example. They don’t want to be inconvenienced by things like covid or global climate change, and they want those problems to just go away. Maybe if we pretend they don’t exist, they will.

Edward Luce writes at the Financial Times that Covid has shown up western democracy’s childish tendencies that I recommend. The childishness is not limited to the Right. However, IMO this rush to authoritarianism is the Right’s longing for a daddy figure to take care of them. That’s Trump’s basic appeal; they see him as the tough guy who will beat up the father of that other kid they don’t like.  Seriously, look at the fan art. “The common thread here is that Trump is depicted as physically ripped, athletic and heroic – not unlike totalitarian posters of fascist regimes past.” Il Duce had better artists, though.

A supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump holds an anti-vaccine sign while protesting at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, urged residents not to engage with any protesters “seeking confrontation” and requested National Guard help in anticipation of potential violence in tied to protests as Congress meets to certify Joe Biden as the next U.S. president. Photographer: Erin Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

11 thoughts on “Why the Right Wants an Authoritarian Big Daddy

  1. Charlie Sykes is a funny one to lecture anyone about Authoritarianism and/or Fascism potentially being on the horizon.

    After he decided to stop being a Reich-Wing tool on radio, he saw what tRUMP had over people not at all different from himself, and he bolted for "greener" (read as lucrative) pastures with the hated libs on MSNBC.

    And we Democrats are the kind of saps who love a good conversion story, and welcome the converted to our bosoms.

    And so, Sykes became a prominent Anti-tRUMPer, helped form the Bulwark and the Lincoln project, and got welcomed warmly by MSNBC libtards!

    But Charlie was also one of the collective Dr. Frankenstein's who molded the frame, and provided parts for their Monster!

    He just didn't stick around for the cool part:  When the electricity hit the Tesla Coils, and the lighting bolts raised The Creature*.

    Still, I value his insight. 

    He was smart enough "to git while the gitten was good!"

    Much smarter than the suckers in the   MAGAt KKKlown Death Cult!!!

    *H/t:  maha, for calling tRUMP "The Creature."

  2. I am certainly no expert on Hungary (though I did have a Hungarian landlord who had a revisionist take on WWII, in which he was a participant). But I think it is important to be careful with analogizing events and trends in Eastern Europe with political developments in the U.S.

    For some reason, during the many years I lived in Chicago, I got to know a lot of old Eastern Europeans and a lot of young ones. And I had a number of long, though guarded, political conversations with many of them. And the xenophobia and hatreds common to the area make Trump look like a piker. Up until WWII, a lot of these societies were barely past the "living in caves" stage. Killing "others" was not frowned on; it was a civic duty. I think it's next to impossible for Americans to understand this.

    Another thing I found is that members of these societies lie all the time. (When the truth is the most valuable thing you have, why would you give it away?) Suspicion and venality are hallmarks of these groups. Their hatreds predate our nation  by centuries, to the point that they have no idea why they hate certain people, and don't care about the reasons. It is enough that they know who to hate.

    Nothing about Orban or the current direction of Hungary has surprised me in the least. Nothing about any Eastern European regression surprises me. And it is not America. Strongmen are nothing new there.

    • Read the Zack Beauchamp article linked in the post. Also note that this problem isn’t a problem with the U.S. per se but the American Right, which is getting more and more fascist.

      • Decent article.

        The primary difference between the U.S. and Hungary is that Hungarians are used to this. Most Eastern European populaces are. There is no longstanding democratic tradition because democracy has never existed there. 

        If the EU had any balls they'd chuck them out. If the EU had any balls they'd exact a cost.

        The EU doesn't have any balls.

    • "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."—President-elect George W. Bush, CNN.com, December 18, 2000.
    • "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."—President George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001.
    • "Paradoxically, preserving liberty may require the rule of a single leader—a dictator—willing to use those dreaded 'extraordinary measures,' which few know how, or are willing, to employ."—Michael Ledeen, White House advisor and fellow of the American Enterprise InstituteMachiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today As Five Centuries Ago[1]
    • Fascinating quotes. We've been talking about right-wing authoritarianism in the U.S. on this blog since I started writing it in 2002 (sorry the current archive only goes to 2005 or so). In the years since they've gotten more extreme. They fetishize "freedom" and yearn for dictatorship. The founders deliberately gave us a weak chief executive to prevent despotism. Dubya clearly chaffed under his constitutional limitations, but at least he recognized he had constitutional limitations even as he drew outside the lines sometimes. Trump just plain refused to recognize the limitations and wanted to be a dictator, and he threw temper tantrums at anyone who tried to school him that there were things a president is not allowed to do. In a post today, Greg Sargent writes that what the Right really wants is "Ethno-nationalism secured via autocracy." Pretty much. 

  3. In 2021, Tucker Carlson's dad was reported to be a director of Policy Impact, a lobbying firm. The firm has lobbied the United States on behalf of the Viktor Orban regime in Hungary.  I have little faith that reason will prevail.  But it may all be moot point as the planet continues to heat up.

  4. Republicans and their ilk have always been boot lickers. I had always heard this, but hadn't really believed it. Then I read Sleeping With Soldiers back in 1984. In it, the author goes in search of a macho man. What does she find? Boot lickers. Never underestimate a certain type's taste for shoe leather.


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