the strange fascination of the American right with European dictators – L’Express

the strange fascination of the American right with European dictators

At the beginning of February, six weeks before the Russian presidential election, journalist Tucker Carlson interviews Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Cordial, even obliging, the interview is punctuated by smiles and knowing laughter. Not a question about human rights, freedom of expression or the health of Alexeï Navalny, who died ten days later. Faced with a sly Putin, here is the Kremlin’s new “little telegraph operator” in his works. The former star journalist from Fox News (who now has his own channel followed by millions of Americans) also took advantage of his visit to the capital to film himself in a well-stocked supermarket and show his millions of followers how sweet life is on the banks of the Moskva River… “Moscow is much nicer than any city in my country”, sayshe marvels. In Congress, Republican elected officials have, moreover, become Putin’s objective allies by obstructing for three months the “package” of 60 billion aid to Ukraine from President Volodymyr Zelensky – whom Tucker Carlson describes as a “real dictator who persecutes Christians.

The “useful idiots” of the right have supplanted those of the left

For his part, Viktor Orban – another hero of “Tucker” – is also in favor among American conservatives. Recently, we could see him at Donald Trump’s house in Florida. On March 8, the Hungarian congratulated the former American president on his overwhelming victory in the Super Tuesday primaries three days earlier. “There is no better leader than Orban,” Trump compliments him in return. The Prime Minister’s entourage and members of his party, Fidesz, are also regular hosts of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the great annual conference of the American right of which Marion Maréchal-Le Pen was the guest. in 2018 and where we criticize the “woke danger”, abortion, immigration, the “deep state” or even the “mainstream” media (general public).

Russian President Vladimir Putin (d) during an interview with American journalist Tucker Carlson, February 6, 2024 at the Kremlin, Moscow


The romance between the American right and European autocrats has been evident since in 2015, Donald Trump declared his infatuation with Vladimir Putin. “I will get along perfectly with this brilliant and talented person,” he promises while campaigning against Hillary Clinton. A year earlier, just after the annexation of Crimea, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, also praised Putin to better underline the contrast with the hated President Obama: “This is what “We’re calling a leader!”, he says. His statement then echoed a resounding editorial from agitator Pat Buchanan. In 2013, this former adviser to Ronald Reagan, a slayer of homosexual marriage, asked in the conservative press: “Is Putin one of us?” His answer is yes, obviously.

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Already in 1916, Kaiser Wilhelm II preferred Woodrow Wilson…

But where does this immoderate love for despots come from? “Far from being new, this phenomenon, which far precedes the Trump era, dates back more than a century,” says Jacob Heilbrunn, author of America Last (America Last, untranslated), a work on the attraction of the American “Right Wing” for the dictators of the Old Continent (1). “It started with Kaiser Wilhelm II, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco; it continues with Putin and Orban,” explains Heilbrunn. “A part of the right considers that democracy is fundamentally weak and corrupt, therefore inferior to authoritarianism.”

Useful clarification: the author ofAmerica Last is nothing like a leftist activist imbued with any wokism. On the contrary, Heilbrunn directs the geopolitics journal The National Interest launched in 1985 by Irving Kristol, considered the founder of American neoconservatism. The originality of his book lies in this: if the useful idiots of the left and their fascination with Stalin, Mao, Castro or Chavez are well identified, the same cannot be said for the right. Note, too, that their approaches are opposite: the first want to make a clean sweep of the past, the second would like to return to it. And there is another difference: today, the unconditional supporters of Castro and Chavez are quite widely discredited while the more and more numerous supporters of Orban are winning the cultural battle.


Undated portrait of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

© / AFP

So, let’s visit this past where the Right Wing would like to return! At the beginning of the 20th century, the Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon of the time were Henry L. Mencken and Georg Sylvester Viereck, two men of letters – poets and writers, and polemicists. Of German origin (like 1 in 5 Americans at the time), their idol was William II – author, incidentally, of the first genocide of the century, against the Hereros in the German colony of Namibia. According to Mencken and Viereck, the Prussian emperor is right to victimize himself: for them, the Kaiser finds himself in a defensive position due to French and English threats which force him to arm himself… In another inversion of reality, they describe the German dictator as a pacifist and the Democratic president Woodrow Wilson as a warmonger. Between the two wars, William II and his three sons applauded the rise of Nazism. As for Viereck, who became a Nazi agent under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was arrested and tried during the Second World War.

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In the meantime, after the armistice of 1918, the Germanophilia of the duo of writers did not weaken. On the contrary, it spread to the newspapers of the magnate William Randolph Hearst (who would inspire the character of Citizen Kane, played on screen by Orson Welles). In 1919, well before Trump took up the formula for his own, the San Francisco Examiner already wrote “America First” on the front page, thus opposing the United States’ membership in the League of Nations. The reason ? Participating in multilateral forums would weaken American sovereignty – the same argument has been used repeatedly by Donald Trump.

Another billionaire fan of fake news joins the movement: it’s Henry Ford. Automobile king publishes anti-Semitic pamphlet The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his weekly newspaper DearbornIndependent. In the 1920s also appeared The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, a racist work by Lothrop Stoddard which “alerts” against “the rising tide of color” which threatens “the supremacy of the white world”. The “great replacement” thesis is underway. In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act which stopped Asian immigration and established quotas for migrants from central and southern Europe: it was a question of preserving borders and race.

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“If this country ever needed a Mussolini, it’s now!” Republican Senator David A. Reed told Congress in 1932, during the Great Depression. “For him, as for the Trumpists today, only a strong and determined man can solve the problems of the moment: the rhetoric is the same,” notes Heilbrunn. In 1940, the America First Movement was created, which opposed America’s entry into the war. With 800,000 members, its spokesperson is a certain Charles Lindbergh, an openly pro-Nazi airplane pilot and world celebrity. For its part, the pacifist Mother’s Movement attracts 5 to 6 million American mothers. Today’s speaker is Elizabeth Dilling. Nicknamed “the female Führer”, she electrified the crowds by imitating Eleanor Roosevelt and adopting a Yiddish accent. With less anti-Semitism, Trump plays on the same trick when he caricatures Biden as an old man…

As today, the radical right is convinced that the Roosevelt administration is at the hands of a “deep state” which is conspiring against America. She also renamed the “New Deal” as the “Jew Deal”. “Today, ‘wokism’, the danger of which is exaggerated to the extreme, has replaced the Jews: the bottle has changed, but the drink remains the same,” insists Heilbrunn. In Ohio, Charles Walgreens, the pharmacy magnate – the Walgreens brand still exists today – proposed, still in the 1940s, to purge the university of its teachers whom he considered “radical” . Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the idea was taken even further: activists created the website Professor Watchlist where students are invited to denounce university professors who seem too “woke” or “radical”.

Pinochet and Franco, two “defenders of Christianity”

After World War II, isolationism was largely discredited by the victory of the Allied democracies in Europe and the Pacific. But the fascination with Right Wing dictators remains. The Spaniard Franco – as well as, later, General Pinochet in Chile – is considered an envoy of God who descended to Earth to defend the Christian West against atheistic communism. “This is also how Putin and Orban are seen by some evangelicals and Catholics who, in short, view them as the successors of Franco,” notes historian Yves-Marie Péréon, author of Return power; American presidents after the White House (Tallandier).

Under Ronald Reagan (1981-1988), the ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick in turn embarked on crazy contradictions, recounts Jacob Heilbrunn in America Last. An uncompromising anti-communist close to the Argentine dictatorship, she supported the Latino generals when, in 1982, they decided to invade the British archipelago of the Falklands, although it was a possession of the main ally of the United States! His positions caused a stir even within the White House. When she died in December 2006, the same week as her Chilean friend Augusto Pinochet, the Financial Times notice that there is “a certain logic” there…

Today, no propagandist – not even former Trump adviser Steve Bannon – is more effective than Tucker Carlson, who traveled to Hungary twice, in August 2021 and January 2022, to present special broadcasts. The promotion of the “Hungarian model” is bearing fruit. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis was largely inspired by Viktor Orban for his “anti-woke” fight. Tucker Carlson describes Hungary as a “bastion of freedom”, contrasting with the “soft totalitarianism of the left which perverts the United States”. That the Hungarian Prime Minister weakened the Hungarian justice system, the media and the democratic system does not disturb agitator Tucker Carlson, Governor DeSantis or Ohio Senator JD Vance, 39 years old. Barely elected a few months earlier, this Trumpist lawyer declared in 2022: “One piece of advice I would give to Trump if he is elected in 2024 is to fire all the bureaucrats and civil servants and replace them with people at us. It’s time to do what Viktor Orban did in Hungary.” Really ?

(1) America Last, The Right’s Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictatorsby Jacob Heilbrunn, 2024, Norton & co.