Tag Archives: political correctness

Trump and Orbán on political correctness

Donald Trump’s adoption of the view that “political correctness” is the source of many of the ills of American political life is abundantly documented. For him and for commentators on the right, the term came to mean a tool by which “powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language.” Trump’s attack on PC resonates in American society, as Karen Tumulty and Jenna Johnson pointed out in January in The Washington Post. A year before, in January 2015, according to a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 68 percent of Americans agreed with the proposition that “a big problem this country has is being politically correct.”

Although Trump has never defined what he means by “political correctness,” one can get a fairly good sense of it by recalling some of his most notorious remarks during the long presidential campaign. Take, for instance, the exchange between Trump and Megyn Kelly at the seventh Republican presidential debate. When Kelly  reminded him that he had called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals, Trump’s answer was: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people; I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time for it either.” In this case, Trump seems to assume that political correctness would constrain him from being openly gauche and boorish. At other times, he used political correctness as a sign of political bias or as the opposite of “common sense.”

In Hungary the term doesn’t have as long a history as in the United States, where debates over political correctness were taking place already in the 1980s and 1990s. Viktor Orbán was the one who popularized, and denounced, the concept.

trump-and-orban

A few days ago 444.hu put together a handy list of quotations from Orbán’s speeches over the years, to which I added a few of my own. Perhaps from the contexts in which the expression appears we will have a better understanding of what he himself means by political correctness.

The first references to political correctness can be found in Orbán’s speeches, interviews in 2012 when he announced that “in order to maintain the facade of political correctness we no longer talk about things that are essential to the very core of our civilization.” I assume he is referring here to such foundational beliefs as family values.

A year later he was more explicit. The context was the 2008 world economic crisis, which in his opinion resulted in “the long-term decline of Europe.” But because of political correctness “this question cannot be debated openly.” This is a very unusual definition of political correctness because what Orbán is saying in effect is: “I know that the long-term decline of the West is a fact. Although other people actually agree with me, political correctness prevents them from saying so.”

By 2014 Orbán equated “political correctness” with “the old political world,” which he hoped would soon be over. That old world is “a political system riddled with taboos, which deprives us of the opportunity for innovative and honest talk.” Here he goes so far as to equate political correctness with liberal democracy, which defines Europe and the Atlantic community.

In January 2015, early in the migrant crisis, he blamed “political correctness” for Europe’s inability to defend itself “against the cruel barbarism” coming from the outside. A few months later he freely admitted that he stands on the side of “political incorrectness.” In fact, he said he was speaking in the name of the whole nation. “The Hungarian people by nature are politically incorrect, i.e., they haven’t lost their sanity. They are not interested in bullshit [duma], they are interested in facts. They want results, not theories.” So, here we have an entirely new description of “political correctness.” It simply means the opposite of bullshitting, the opposite of idle chatter about ideologies and theories.

In May 2015, as the migrant crisis grew, “political correctness” became the scapegoat for the European Union’s, in his opinion, mistaken refugee policy. It is political correctness that “tries to convince people that there are no problems here, let’s open the gates wide and invite all who want to come.”

Two months later he accused western politicians of “coyly keeping under wraps police statistics, which prove that where a large number of illegal immigrants live the crime rate has risen dramatically.” In his view, “political correctness transformed the European Union into a kind of royal court where everybody must behave well. … Liberalism today no longer stands for freedom but for political correctness, which is antithetical to freedom.”

For someone who has been such ardent proponent of the fight against political correctness, it is no wonder that Donald Trump’s victory is an affirmation of the soundness of his own views. Originally Orbán’s support of Trump as a candidate rested on Trump’s vicious anti-immigration rhetoric, when within the European Union Orbán was being criticized for the fence he was building. Here is a man who thinks like him, a man of “common sense” who also wants to build a giant wall. He and many other Fidesz politicians, trying to explain away Orbán’s meddling in the presidential race, emphasized repeatedly that it was only Trump’s anti-immigrant policies that appealed to the prime minister. But after November 8 Orbán no longer had to hide his ideological affinity, over and above the migrant issue, with Donald Trump.

In his speech to the Hungarian Diaspora Council, about which I wrote yesterday, Orbán dwelt at length on political correctness, which is supposed to be “a voluntary restriction,” but which he didn’t experience as such. If he dared talk about the nation, he was labeled a nationalist; if he talked about “the dimensions of human existence and creation,” he was branded clerical, feudalistic, a man of the Middle Ages; if he talked about the family, he was typecast as a sexist and a homophobe.” He indicated that with Trump’s triumph “we can hope that we can escape from this spiritual oppression.” He expressed his belief that changes will take place in Europe similar to the transformation of American politics under President-elect Trump. What he has in mind, of course, is the coming ascendancy of parties whose worldviews are similar to his own. They would join him in his crusade against Brussels and would champion the idea of nation states. His opponents dearly hope that he is wrong and that his aspirations will remain unfulfilled.

December 2, 2016

Viktor Orbán: The Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect

In the last few days I have been mulling over a lot of topics that I wanted to make available on Hungarian Spectrum, among them key elements of Viktor Orbán’s speech on the “state of the nation” that I did not cover earlier. Specifically, his opinions on multiculturalism, immigration, and political correctness. A young political commentator, Zoltán Ceglédi of the Republikon Institute, believes that Orbán’s claim that “Hungarian people are politically incorrect by nature” is about the most egregious sentence he has ever uttered. In Ceglédi’s opinion, it is worse than his reference to “illiberal democracy.”

Judging from foreign press coverage, “political incorrectness” didn’t set off the shock waves that “illiberal democracy” did last summer and has ever since. Yes, English-language sites quoted it, but it was only the Associated Press that considered it important enough to include in its coverage of the speech. It was also AP that emphasized Orbán’s denunciation of multiculturalism and immigrants. Thus, Orbán’s words on these subjects reached only those foreign newspapers that subscribe to AP’s news service.

Let me quote the appropriate passage. I’m using the Budapest Beacon‘s translation.

We shouldered unworthy attacks and accusations and abandoned the dogma of political correctness. As I see it, the Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect, or have not yet lost their commonsense. Nobody is interested in talk but rather deeds, results rather than theories, they want work and cheap utility costs (rezsi). They do not swallow the jimson weed that unemployment is a natural part of modern economies. They want to free themselves from the modern age’s servitude of debt created by the foreign exchange loans. They do not want to see masses of people of a different culture in their country who are incapable of adapting, who represent a threat to public order and their jobs and their survival.

“Political correctness” is, according to one definition, “an attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.” Or, “politically correctness is concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” If we can substitute “proper” in this context for “correct,” as I believe we can, then “incorrect”means “improper” or, more loosely, “inappropriate.” Is this what Viktor Orbán had in mind? Indeed, one ought to be careful with words.

Orbán assumes the worst of immigrants. They “will never be willing to accept, they originally came with the intention of destroying, European culture.” In his eyes, Europeans have already lost their “collective European home.” He also added that if the Hungarian government had not acted against the immigrants, Hungary would have been “turned into a refugee camp.”

On the question of “illiberal democracy” he retreated somewhat when he told his audience that liberal principles after 1990 “brought many good things to Hungary for which we ourselves struggled.” But the world has changed and liberalism is no longer relevant. However, he added, “there are things which are worth retaining from a previous period, such as democracy, the one without an adjective.” Actually, I find this off-the-cuff remark about democracy being “worth retaining” a telling clue to Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward democratic values.

I discovered only one internet site that applauded Orbán’s endorsement of political incorrectness and his denunciation of multiculturalism, immigrants, and liberalism. It is a neo-Nazi site called The Daily Stormer, according to which “Orban is by no means a great hero, but by Western political standards, he is definitely a pretty cool guy.” After quoting the appropriate passages from the Associated Press’s summary of the speech, the author adds: “All he is really saying is something incredibly basic, which is: ‘come on, this is stupid.’ The idea that more leaders are not coming out and stating the obvious fact that it makes exactly zero sense to allow unlimited number of entirely useless and dangerous subhumans to invade our countries demonstrated just how deeply sick the West is.” Approval from neo-Nazis! Does Viktor Orbán realize the kinds of circles in which his ideas are being embraced?

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán's attack on immigation, multiculturalism, and liberalism

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán’s attack on immigration, multiculturalism, and liberalism

I don’t know what his audience and his constituency thought of his references to multiculturalism, immigration, liberalism, and political incorrectness, but by now we have a fairly good idea of what Fidesz voters thought of the speech in general. They are deeply disappointed because they were waiting for an announcement of a radical change in political strategy after the serious setback Viktor Orbán and Fidesz suffered in Veszprém. Instead, he simply announced that the Fidesz candidate lost badly. It looks as if he is convinced that the only reason for the debacle was a lack of hard work on the part of the Fidesz team on the spot. They didn’t mobilize Fidesz voters. But a large number of his followers think that the fault lies with Viktor Orbán and his government: its pro-Russian and anti-European Union policies, corruption, lack of communication with the general public, ostentatious behavior of members of the government and the people around Orbán, the growing poverty, ineptitude on every level of government, one could list the problems endlessly. But Orbán said not a word about any of these issues. He is not a man who is quick to face reality after a setback.

Magyar Nemzet, which in the past two weeks has become much more critical of the government, also found the speech wanting. An editorial titled “Reveille” expressed its doubt that Orbán’s “Good morning, Hungary!” will be enough to recapture the trust of his followers. Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist and one of the fiercest defenders of Viktor Orbán, tried to hang on to a single sentence in Orbán’s 45-minute speech: “Probably there is a need for more discussion and consultation.” Yes, said Fricz, this is the essence of the whole speech. And yes, what Hungary needs is people who believe in equality, “who don’t worship even Viktor Orbán, who don’t believe in the superiority of politicians.” Society must talk about what went wrong in “the national, conservative camp.” After three great wins, it is safe “to conduct these natural and necessary debates, to express differences of opinions, and talk straight with one another as befits us.” Unfortunately, Viktor Orbán does everything in his power to steer clear of debate and to tamp down differences of opinion. And he seems positively allergic to straight talk. The national, conservative camp will have to talk among themselves, without their leader.