When Fox News host Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 9/27/21) interviewed Polish President Andrzej Duda, Carlson began by lamenting of the United States, “Has a better country ever been led by worse people?” That’s why, he explained, he tries to interview “leaders on this show from other countries who actually care about their people.”
Duda, through a translator, illustrated this by declaring his opposition to
the so-called quota system of which was proposed by some of the EU member states, which means that every single country would have to accept a given number of migrants.
He also pledged his support for the Polish constitutional declaration that “marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” since “families have to be supported as strong as they can, because family is the foundation of every nation. Everything is based on family.”
The policy prescriptions to support families Duda promoted on the show could have come from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. The government was offering welfare payments to families with children, Duda boasted to Carlson.
But Duda’s record is much uglier than was reflected in the interview. The Polish president, as Carlson noted, was suggested as a guest by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whom Carlson also recently visited and interviewed (8/5/21), heralding his notorious campaign for “illiberal democracy” as a model for the modern US right (FAIR.org, 8/3/21). Carlson has also engaged socially with far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (Daily Beast, 3/13/20), who has championed anti-environmentalism and anti-gay extremism (NPR, 1/1/19; Washington Post, 2/18/19).
In search of enemies
Poland this year introduced a “near-total ban on abortion,” resulting in “huge protests,” because a “majority of Poles oppose” such strict measures (BBC, 1/28/21). Duda ran on an anti-gay platform, and as a result of his victory, “dozens of Polish municipalities have enacted ‘LGBT ideology free zones,’” forcing “members of the gay community in this European Union member state [to] fear for their safety” (PBS, 8/29/21).
European Union opposition has blunted the homophobic campaign: Reuters (9/27/21) reported that “three Polish regional councils voted…to repeal motions declaring their provinces ‘LGBT-free zones’” after the EU threatened to withhold funds. But Duda signed a so-called “Family Charter” that “opposes same-sex marriage and adoption rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education in schools” (Human Rights Watch, 2/24/21).
The country’s harsh anti-migration stance has likewise raised concerns within the United Nations and the European Union, especially after “three migrants died on the Polish side of the border” with Belarus (UN News, 9/21/21; Reuters, 9/24/21).
Poland also drew scorn when it approved a “law that will make it harder for Jewish people to recover property lost during and after World War II,” claiming that the government has faced a “period of legal chaos” (BBC, 8/16/21). The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (8/15/21) explained that, in actuality, the law “is a clear continuation of the country’s right-wing government’s longstanding crusade to separate itself from the effects of Nazi war crimes,” as the regime made it “illegal to blame Poland for any Holocaust atrocities, despite the fact that many Poles collaborated with the Nazis.”
Attacks on democracy
The Polish government has attacked press freedom, as the nation “slipped from 18th place in a World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders…to 64th, its lowest-ever ranking” (Economist, 8/14/21). Using the excuse of trying to deter Chinese and Russian interference in Polish media, lawmakers introduced a controversial bill that would prevent “non-European shareholders from owning a majority stake in Polish media companies” (HRW, 8/12/21).
Most recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists (10/6/21) blasted the Polish government for seizing laptops, phones and other equipment from journalist Piotr Bakselerowicz of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s second-biggest daily. CPJ said the Gazeta‘s “journalists have faced smear campaigns by pro-government media outlets, as well as defamation and privacy lawsuits by politicians and state-linked companies.”
And what has happened to Poland’s independent court system? The EU has fined the country over “new laws that were deemed to undermine judicial independence” (AP, 9/7/21), while Amnesty International (1/9/20) called the court restructuring “the end of the separation of powers in Poland.” A Council of Europe anti-corruption taskforce (9/27/21) noted that Poland’s “developments regarding disciplinary proceedings against judges…have left judges increasingly vulnerable to political control.”
Birds of a feather
In many ways, Duda’s Poland resembles the Hungary that Carlson is so enthusiastic about, as Orban’s cultural extremism mirrors Poland’s renegade traditionalism. According to the European Federation of Journalists (12/3/19), Hungary has “dismantled media independence, freedom and pluralism, distorted the media market and divided the journalistic community in the country,” thus creating government “media control unprecedented in an EU member state.”
The Brookings Institution (7/24/19) noted that Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party’s “campaign against immigration exploits Hungarian society’s objection to ‘others,’” and Reuters (7/7/21) reported that Hungary “rejected a demand from the European Commission and many EU lawmakers to repeal new legislation banning schools from using materials deemed to promote homosexuality.” Organized labor’s hatred of the Fidesz regime makes the Hungarian leader a perfect poster boy for the American right: Thousands of workers protested “new law that allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours of overtime per year. Employers can delay these overtime payments for up to three years,” which protesters called a “slave law” (NPR, 12/16/18).
Promoting the revolting
Carlson’s embrace of politicians with these kinds of records is no accident. The Brookings Institution (6/24/21) also criticized then-President Donald Trump—to whom Carlson has remained fiercely loyal—for hosting Duda at the White House, as the group claimed Duda’s “tenure as president has been characterized by democratic backsliding and the shrinking of civic space for the exercise of fundamental rights,” and the New Yorker (7/7/17) reported that Trump gave Duda “a political boost” with his visit to Poland in 2017.
Interviewing a political leader isn’t necessarily an endorsement. Yet Carlson, who is still the top-rated US cable news host (Deadline, 8/31/21), has gone out of his way to overtly support European leaders who have horrified the human rights community: When he described his interview with Duda as part of an effort to spotlight international leaders “who actually care about their people,” he noted “that’s why we went to Hungary this summer to talk to Viktor Orbán.” These aren’t disinterested Q&As. These are public relations events to promote governments Carlson thinks are good.
These two European leaders have prompted revulsion not just because their platforms are politically extreme, but because they stand against the very ideals—multiculturalism, transnationalism, gay rights and openness in media and academia—that were meant to prevent the kind of nationalistic and authoritarian fervor that resulted in World War II.
Carlson (Daily Beast, 9/23/21) has also repeatedly advocated the “great replacement theory,” most recently citing it by name in regard to the ongoing violence against Haitian immigrants by US border enforcement agents. Biden, Carlson (9/22/21) charged, is trying
to change the racial mix of the country…to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly-arrived from the Third World….
In political terms, this policy is called “the great replacement,” the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries. They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it’s happening they will scream at you with maximum hysteria.
This theory is the cockamamie idea, first espoused in France but later exported elsewhere, that liberal Western governments promote immigration as a kind of quiet genocide, as new, often non-white immigrants “replace” what Carlson called, in this country’s case, “legacy Americans.”
What’s interesting about the “replacement theory” is that Duda, in his interview with Carlson, taunted Poland’s political opposition by noting that his party received the most votes, so therefore the government wasn’t dissuaded by criticism of its actions: The arguments the “opposition are saying about the current Polish government” are “totally untrue,” he declared, “and the best proof of that is the fact that the incumbent government has won the election.”
Tyranny of the right majority
The assertion that any policies are OK as long as a majority votes for them is what US conservatives like to call the “tyranny of the majority,” which is why they defend anti-democratic institutions like the Senate and the Electoral College. But the message Duda and Carlson share is this: If more immigrants come, it will be harder for us to rule them.
Add that to the long list compiled by journalists and civil rights organizations that show Carlson has promoted white supremacist ideas on his show before: His show has been accused of airing nods to white nationalist slogans like the “14 words” (Independent, 7/9/20), and has the support of white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa (Forward, 3/14/19).
Lump that with what Carlson (9/28/21) said just a day after his Duda interview: “What’s dying is the faith that created Western civilization—Christianity,” which has been replaced by “the cult of coronavirus.” As bizarre as that might sound, the eeriness is clear: America’s Christian fabric is being undone by secular reason, so the secular reason must be stomped out not just by religious sentimentalism, but one very specific religion over all others.
Features of fascism
Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, told FAIR in a phone interview that Hungary and Poland have many of the same characteristics of Nazi rule before World War II. “We’re not looking at the imperialism that’s characteristic of fascism,” he said, noting that neither country has increased its military might to threaten its neighbors. “But we’re looking at states that are ultra-nationalist, targeting the rule of law, eliminating democratic institutions and targeting the press.”
It’s alarming that Carlson and Fox are making this so central to their message, he said, because it fits neatly with the Republican campaigns of voter suppression, stacking the courts and discrediting a free press. “You could take over the courts and transform the country into a one-party state with harsh gerrymandering,” Stanley said.
There’s a banal angle here, too, because under all the rhetoric from these regimes is just self-interested corruption: Reuters (3/15/18), for example, exposed how the Hungarian regime lets the prime minister’s friends and family pillage its treasury. The ultimate goal for Carlson, Stanley said, is to emulate how these countries have united voters against minorities and democratic institutions, while economic elites tied to the regime use the country as their own personal piggy bank. “It’s quite clear that’s what the Republican Party wants, to unite the billionaires and the religious right,” Stanley said.
Inching toward authoritarianism
And yet the cataloging of Carlson’s record, and the mounting evidence of his fascist tendencies, appear to lift his status, not just at Fox but in the right-wing generally. After the Anti-Defamation League attacked Carlson for his most recent invocation of the “great replacement theory,” Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (USA Today, 9/28/21) fired back in defense of Carlson, charging, “The ADL is a racist organization.” The message is clear: a Jewish civil rights organization is clearly a racial enemy if it criticizes Fox’s nativist message, according to this bombastic but influential conservative lawmaker.
At the least, Carlson accepts the notion that the conservative movement is inching in an authoritarian direction, as he agreed that the perceived depravity of the current administration will make it likely that the right will “pick a fascist” to be its leader (Daily Beast, 3/25/21). He is not simply aligning with the country’s conservative movement, which would be par for the course at Fox. He is telling his many viewers that the United States should mimic countries that pine for a world that led us to two world wars, where the press is reined in by strong leaders and where sexual minorities are deemed a deviant threat to the national fabric.
Americans might take comfort in the fact that the United States is too pluralistic, and its constitution too strong, for its political class to sink into the narrowness of Poland or Hungary’s medieval provincialism. But from the recent violence against Haitian immigrants to the near-ban on abortions in Texas taking effect, one can clearly see the emergence of little Polands and Hungaries all over the country. And that very much indicates that Carlson, given his influence as one of the country’s top media personalities, is steering the right into a loose global confederation of illiberal political movements.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Ari Paul.