“We must state that we do not want to be diverse. We do not want our own color, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others,” said Hungarian Prime Minister and far-right immigration hardliner Viktor Orbán in a speech last year, according to CNN. That is but one small insight into the problematic nature of Orbán, who has presided over what many see as the severe erosion of democracy in Hungary, but whom President Trump not only hosted at the White House today, but lavished with praise, including saying that Orbán is “doing the right thing”, according to The Hill, on immigration.
House Democrats had urged Trump not to host Orbán at all. Bipartisan members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advised Trump to push Orbán on Hungary’s erosion of democratic institutions and concerns about Orbán’s increasingly close relationship with Russia and Putin, but so far Trump has veered far afield of that, at least in public, by praising Orbán as something of a kindred spirit policy-wise. According to The Hill:
President Trump on Monday offered praise for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, welcoming him to the White House despite concerns from lawmakers in both major parties about the erosion of democratic institutions in Hungary. …”Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that’s OK,” Trump said of Orbán. “You’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe.” Asked if he was concerned about “democratic backsliding” in Hungary, Trump responded that he has “a lot of respect” for the prime minister. “I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man,” Trump said, adding that Orbán is doing “the right thing” with his hard-line immigration policy. …Orbán served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, then won the job back in 2010. He secured a third term last year, winning reelection after portraying immigrants and Muslims as a threat to Hungary’s way of life.
Orbán may just be the latest authoritarian leader that Trump seems to prefer over more democratic leaders that are traditionally the closest allies of the United States. Some of those more traditional allies, such as the E.U., may also be upset over the warm welcome Orbán has received from Trump, since Hungary is a member of the E.U., but under Orbán is rejecting E.U. immigration guidelines, including by building a razor-wire fence to keep immigrants out. According to CNN:
He’s rolled back democratic checks on his power, mused about creating a European ethnostate and erected a razor-wire fence to keep migrants out, angering the rest of the European Union. …Orbán was largely iced out during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both concerned about the steps he took to consolidate power and block independent media. Since then, he’s adopted a more stridently nationalist tone – including calls to create in Hungary a homogenous society that blocks asylum seekers or other refugees. …The migration issue, along with Orbán’s moves to consolidate control of the country’s judiciary and threaten the independence of the media, has caused deep rifts with the European Union. Orbán’s party was suspended in March from the EU’s largest political coalition. …A bipartisan group of senators wrote Trump on Friday to “express concern about Hungary’s downward democratic trajectory and the implications for US interests in Central Europe,” imploring him to raise the issues during his meeting. Yet when they sit for talks in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon, officials said the President was expected to focus on arms sales and energy independence – and not the concerning practices that have earned Orbán his strongman reputation.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Trump would not only host, but praise Orbán, given Trump’s own nationalist, far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, as well as Trump’s attempts to undercut key aspects of our democracy, including freedom of the press and the oversight authority of Congress. Still it is brazen, it is divisive, it could further distance the U.S. from key allies like the E.U., and, no matter how often he does it, it still is alarming that a U.S. president would show such a clear preference for authoritarian leaders over democratic ones.