Political opportunism in this relationship between Hungarians and American Conservatives goes both ways. Dreher and Carlson also used Orbán, or a certain image of him, to talk about the United States. Dreher said to me: “Viktor Orbán is neither Francisco Franco nor the euro-positive Hungarian left like the Spanish communists. But the dynamics are pretty similar. And it’s true in America too. We all seem to be heading for a future that is not liberal and democratic, but will be either left or right illiberalism. If that’s true, then I know which side I’m on: the side that will not persecute me and my people. I recently met a Syrian Catholic in Rome who was fleeing to Europe to avoid persecution at home. ‘Do you think we love Assad?’ he said and spoke of Christians like him. ‘No. We support him because he is the only thing that stands between us and the radical Muslims who want to kill us. “”
Dreher is a very secular religious retreatist – his round, bearded face and vertical head of hair are set off by thick round glasses that make him look a bit like an impresario. I met him in Baton Rouge this August (when the intensive care units in Louisiana were overflowing with COVID cases and just before Hurricane Ida hit), and in the first few minutes of our conversation he brought up a 1950s New Yorker story by Truman Capote, the sixth part of Milan Kundera’s “The unbearable lightness of being” and the novels by Stefan Zweig, to which he was made aware by Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel”. Dreher is fundamentally disjunct in his person. He reads everything, keeps in touch and loves intellectuals from all over the world. Dreher also tweeted that he loved a particular large ice cream machine and that he purchased it. Dreher repeatedly emphasized that liberal academic, corporate, and journalistic institutions are so intolerant they wouldn’t employ him. It has a unique effect on liberal intellectuals. They are both enchanted and scared by it.
Since Dreher’s return from Hungary, he told me, he had been thinking about Orbán in relation to Huey P. Long, the famous Depression-era governor of Louisiana who denounced oil companies, fired hundreds of bureaucrats and replaced them with patronage posts. Another corrupt populist. After meeting in downtown Baton Rouge, we had a short chat and gazed out at the Mississippi bare. Finally, we drove a few more minutes to Long’s massive tombstone, located on the grounds the Louisiana Statehouse. Long built it. The Statehouse is the tallest building in Baton Rouge, surrounded by twenty-seven acres of manicured, but mostly empty, gardens; it is probably still the most interesting building in the city. While we contemplated the future, we looked at a monument of pre-liberal politics.
Dreher recalled the memories of his father, who was a poor man in Louisiana during the Depression. “He said, ‘When I was a kid, it was just because of Huey Long that we had school books, new school books. And what if Long skims a lot from the top? I didn’t care because Long was someone who tamed the oil companies and broke the oligarchy power over Louisiana’s politics. ‘ Dreher acknowledged that Long’s governance was a “downside” The institutional corruption that he left the state. “But you can’t understand why Huey Long came to power until you understand why people voted for him. The same goes for Orbán. “
It was ninety-five degrees outside, the weather soaked, and we weren’t near Long’s tombstone. We soon sat at an outdoor table in a sports bar called The Chimes near the LSU campus. Dreher’s son Matt, who was about to start his junior year, wrote us that he saw us cross the street into the Chimes and would soon be joining us. The Little League World Series was on TV, but the conversation turned to Dreher’s latest book, Live Not by Lies. In general, Dreher’s subjects shared his view that any institutional power of the conservatives was helpless against the gentle totalitarianism of the progressive media. “Look, in my hometown of St. Francisville, a friend is sending me pictures of same-sex couples going to middle school dances,” he said. “A Westerner who teaches at a Polish high school told me that there is no institution in this country – not the state, not the church, not the family – that has more influence on children than social media. Willy-nilly.”
American Conservatives, Dreher continued, were only just beginning to realize how deep this gentle totalitarianism ran. “You may not be that political, you might not even be that religious, but you know that in order to gain access to elite circles in business or elsewhere, your children must disavow the things you have taught them.” he said. “There you see the parallel to what the Romanians think – that your way of life, your traditions, your religion is all unworthy.” Dreher said he was impressed, “how much clearer European Christians are about what lies ahead. than the American Christians. American Christians are so lost in past glory and the notion that we are only one choice away from winning America back to Christ, but they are simply unaware of how superficial and fragile the faith is here. Over there they went through generations of de-Christianization. ”It was a long discussion. “America is approximately ten years away” from where they currently are, I believe.
The longer we talked about Hungary, the more Dreher returned to the analogy with America, as if by describing Orbán’s struggle in terms of the culture war he could encourage American conservatives to see themselves as existentially more threatened. Dreher stated, “I don’t believe anyone will come to kill us religious and social conservatives.” “But, I don’t realise now that the awakened right, which controls all of the major institutions in American life, will use their power to marginalize people such as me and brag about their righteousness. When I asked why he contacted Carlson, he said, “I’ll tell you exactly what it was. I wanted to move the Overton window. ”Dreher said he didn’t think orbanism couldn’t work in the United States – we were just too multicultural a society to rally around explicit cultural nationalism – but he thought there were elements American Conservatives should learn from. This was the same point Carlson made on his broadcast. Dreher said that Trump fights like a drunk who falls off a stool. “Orbán is fighting as people say, Trump is fighting.”
At that moment, we were sitting less than three hours from the Texas border, whose legislature had just effectively banned abortion, a measure that would soon be upheld by the United States Supreme Court – it certainly didn’t seem so socially conservative to me Agony was or that he needed an Orbán to defend him. There were many competent lawyers. Dreher felt that the most important issue was gay and transgender identities, not abortion, which his side won. Dreher stated that he doesn’t know of any conservative who would push gays into public. However, he believed that there has never been an honest conversation about incompatibility of gay rights and religious freedom for traditional believers of all religions. Dreher answered my question by saying that my trans-rights were a hot topic for social conservatives. His response was in part to say that my little girl might one day lose her athletic scholarship because she is a trans-Woman who has won high school sporting competitions. I replied, “I mean so what?” Dreher looked confused if he understood me correctly. “What do ya mean, so what?” He repeated it. “It’s unfair.”
It is unfair. His father had lovingly introduced him as “a Bernie brother”; Matt turned out to be a pro-urbanist liberal considering a career in museums. After we had a conversation about Hungary I asked Matt whether he’d ever been to LSU, which is rife with lively discussion. “No,” said Matt slowly. “And that’s exactly why I believe it’s really helpful to live your life offline – in the real world.” Listening carefully, Dreher objected: The LSU, a state school deep in the south, is not the worst; Imagine the situation at Brown University, he said. Matt and he were both very interested in each others’ observations. I was wondering if Dreher had invited his son, who he said would provide me with a prelapsarian response to current political discourses. Dreher believed that Americans have stopped treating one another as family. Matt Dreher claimed that Tucker Carlson was Tucker Carlson when he saw his special. for Carlson to bring up Orbán’s vaccine pass policy, which is strict and may have challenged the anti-Vax-Fox News party line, but the host never did. His father, also a proponent of vaccines, laughed. Matt Dreher later explained to me that his and his father’s policies were separated by a question of orientation. They both believed that Christianity was rapidly disappearing as a core element of Western culture. The difference was that while the father considered these changes to be terrifying, the son saw some potential in them.
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