It’s no secret President Donald Trump is a fan of strongmen.
From his continued flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his “great relationship” with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Trump has shown that he’s more than comfortable working with authoritarian leaders. Monday, he proved that once more, hosting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House.
“Recognizing the longstanding ties between the United States and Hungary, the President and the Prime Minister will discuss ways to deepen cooperation on a range of issues, including trade, energy, and cyber security,” the White House announced last week. “They will also explore opportunities to meet the many national security responsibilities of their two countries and will celebrate Hungary’s 20th anniversary as a NATO member.”
Trump and Orban share a number of striking similarities. Trump’s presidential rhetoric and proposed policies, for instance, closely echo Orban’s populist, nationalist-heavy agenda in Hungary.
Orban, like Trump, frequently demonizes migrants, a practice central to his agenda since he was elected prime minister in 2010. He has repeatedly framed the issue as a life-or-death struggle to preserve Hungarian Christian heritage, spent over $1 billion to build a razor-wire fence on Hungary’s border, and refused point-blank to take in the European Union-mandated refugee quota of 1,294 from other EU member states.
His refusal to abide by EU rules led to Orban’s political party, Fidesz, being suspended by the European People’s Party, which is the largest party in the European Parliament. According to Amnesty International, at the height of the migrant crisis in 2016, asylum seekers trying to enter Hungary were subject to “appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum features.”
Orban’s demonization of migrants is explicitly tied to an overtly nationalist rhetoric which he has championed as a way to further cement his authoritarianism. In February, Orban vowed to defend “Christian” nations against the “virus of terrorism,” which he said was triggered by mass immigration. That same month, he also promised that Hungarian women who had four or more children would be exempt from income tax, an attempt to counter-balance the population against immigrants.
“In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the West is migration,” Orban said. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids … We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children.”
In isolation, his remarks sound eerily similar to the white nationalist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which postulates that Europeans are slowly being “replaced” thanks to their declining birth rates and mass immigration.
As with Trump, migrants fleeing war and famine aren’t the only groups in Orban’s sights. Instead, in a manner similar to far-right populists the world over, he has fashioned Jewish Hungarian liberal philanthropist George Soros into an omnipresent bogeyman who is trying to destroy Hungary by funding mass immigration efforts — echoing a narrative extremely similar to out-and-out white nationalist rhetoric in the United States.
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us,” Orban said last May, explicitly referencing Soros. “Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base … does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”
Orban followed up his remarks by passing a bill in July of that year dubbed the “Stop Soros” law, in defiance of both the EU and human rights groups. The law effectively made it a criminal offense for any individual or organization to provide assistance to migrants.
In December 2018, Orban went a step further, forcing the Central European University out of Hungary because it was partly funded by George Soros.
Trump and other Republicans have co-opted attacks on George Soros, both from Orban and others, for their own political purposes — chiefly to attack migrants. In October 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) tweeted a video suggesting that Soros was funding a migrant caravan making its way through Guatemala. A week later Trump joined the chorus, claiming “a lot of people say” that Soros was funding the caravan.
Orban and Trump bear another similarity: their disdain for the free press. Trump has regularly attacked any media outlet which criticizes him, repeatedly labeling them “enemy of the people” while at the same time counting on reliable cheerleaders at Fox News to support him.
Orban has gone a step further, steadily consolidating the media under the control of a group of pro-Fidesz loyalists. As The New York Times noted in December, there are now 500 pro-government news outlets in Hungary, compared with 31 in 2015. Reporters Without Borders notes that Hungary has dropped 50 places on the Press Freedom Index since 2010, when Orban first came to power.
This combination of similarities has set Orban up well for his meeting with the president Monday. It has also garnered him the support of other far-right U.S. political figures — including Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has regularly fawned over Orban on Twitter, describing one of Orban’s anti-immigrant quotes as “an axiom of history and humanity.” Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has called Orban “heroic” for his anti-EU stances.
Perhaps most disturbing were comments made by David Cornstein, a friend of Trump’s who was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Hungary.
“It’s a question of a personal view, or what the American people, or the president of the United States, think of [Orban’s] illiberal democracy, and what its definition is,” he said, during a recent interview with The Atlantic. “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”