Say what you want about Donald Trump, but the guy is a showman. I mean, he’s a real slick customer. Trump’s yarn-spinning makes Rumpelstiltskin look like an amateur; nobody’s better at distorting facts into partisan clickbait.
But even genius needs company, and that's why America's commander-in-chief has spent the last two years courting his Hungarian counterpart. This week, his efforts paid off. Fellow populist strongman Viktor Orban was granted a lavish audience in the Oval Office on Monday, frowning his way through an excruciating press conference in which Trump bent over backwards to convince Americans that Orban “highly respected” all over Europe for the “tremendous job” he's done in office.
As an American who’s been living in Europe for a long time now, let me shed on those comments.
First, Orban is not respected in Europe. Quite the opposite: the Germans are done with him, he’s alienated the French and British politicians are sick of him. His own political mentor hates him, and his party has been kicked out of the EU. Even George W Bush refused to sit in the same room with Viktor Orban while he was in the White House.
So why does nobody in Europe seem to like Hungary’s prime minister? For all the reasons Trump is cosying up to him. In Hungary, Orban has executed Trump’s unfulfilled campaign promises with a frightening, textbook precision.
After the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris, he wasted no time demonising Islam and hijacking the tragedy as a reason to build ridiculous 13-foot wall along Hungary’s Serbian border to keep out Syrian refuge children. Two years after finishing his wall, Orban had the gumption to send his construction bill to Brussels and tell them they had to pay for it. Sounding like anybody else we know?
Orban has also proved that, even in the modern world, it’s possible for a political leader keep the free press from writing critical things about them. Last year, Orban decided the best way to silence the media was to just to take it away He created a new law placing over 400 privately-owned news outlets under the control of his nationalist buddies. Hell, thanks to Orban, Hungary’s biggest billionaire media mogul is now some random pipefitter from his hometown.
Believe it or not, Orban’s so clever he even figured out how to keep federal judges from ruining his good time. In 2018, he fired through a new law enabling him to bypass Hungary’s judiciary by setting up a new court system run exclusively by his government. Can you imagine how quickly Trump would have sorted out his so-called "Muslim ban" if he’d possessed this sort of power?
Viktor Orban is a far-right demagogue who scoffs at the media and any balance of powers. His anti-democratic policies have set Hungary back decades. Trump is right that he is controversial, but Europeans do not respect him. Instead, they treat him as the pariah he is.
The fact that Donald Trump is willing to lie to the American people and make the Hungarian premier out to be some kind of populist hero should worry them, too. If my fellow Americans end end up re-electing Donald Trump next year, this backwards Hungarian autocracy could prove to be his blueprint for making America great again.