Opinion: The European country suffering from ‘Tucker Carlson Syndrome’

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest, Hungary, on Thursday.
(Attila Kisbenedek / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 21, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but this needs to be said right now: The Republican Party took yet another giant leap toward fully unmasking its anti-democratic character after Jan. 6, 2021. And sadly, we’re at the point where this feels normal.

In Pennsylvania, the GOP primary race for the U.S. Senate has drawn all the attention — because a certain TV doctor endorsed by former President Trump is running — but my eyes were drawn to the results of the Republican gubernatorial contest, won by the Trump-backed insurrectionist candidate Doug Mastriano, a retired Army colonel who was pictured outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Insurrectionist enablers already serve in government, but this is different — nominating one to lead a state so critical in the electoral college puts them perilously close to controlling our election.

It is with this in mind that I read three L.A. Times op-ed articles this week that all relate in some way to the state of democracy in America. The first was by James Q. Whitman, a Yale law professor who urges those of us deeply concerned by American conservatives’ flirtation with the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, to calm down. Now, I get that Orban’s projection of himself as a Putinesque man of action is risible, and I wish I could put him into historical context for the purpose of laughing him and his admirers off. But I cannot set Orban aside — and you certainly should not — as some grifting clown, if only because he’s actually had great success rigging Hungarian elections in his favor and marginalizing dissent. His power in Hungary has been so thoroughly consolidated in such a short period of time that he recently fought off a poison-pill alliance between liberals and conservatives formed solely to topple his government. In the grand historical tradition of fascist strongmen, Orban may be a relatively minor figure, but he has powerful followers in places like the United States.


One of those followers is Tucker Carlson, this country’s most-watched cable news personality. Last year, Carlson briefly took up residence in Hungary and spotlighted Orban’s “illiberal democracy” as an example of what conservatives in the U.S. could achieve. He’s there again this week (virtually, not in person), a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest, as his propagation of the so-called replacement theory (a racist conspiracy theory across the world that, in the U.S., takes the form of fearmongering over immigrants from developing nations in Latin America and elsewhere “replacing” white Americans) has come under intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. Op-ed columnist Jean Guerrero, who has written many pieces and a book on the white supremacism underpinning today’s American right, calls the racist paranoia that allegedly drove a gunman to kill 10 people at a grocery store that serves primarily Black shoppers “Tucker Carlson Syndrome.” It has been Carlson, Guerrero notes, “who has done more than anyone to mainstream replacement theory.”

So what does this have to do with Pennsylvania Republicans nominating an insurrectionist for governor? It shows the extent to which the ideas that Democrats wish were “fringe” conspiracy theories — the lies about white replacement and a stolen 2020 election — have embedded themselves in the GOP. And as Guerrero has shown, this isn’t just about authoritarianism, which would be bad enough; this is a package deal wrapped up with racism, anti-LGBTQ hate (in his victory speech, Mastriano gratuitously mocked a transgender Biden administration official) and other noxious ideologies. In fact, Hungary is an example of what happens when replacement theory takes hold in a population and government — just this week, Orban lamented the “recurring waves of suicidal policy in the Western world,” a disturbing echo of Carlson’s flamboyantly racist “civilizational suicide” rhetoric.

We’re not past the point of no return, as in Hungary. In America, the Democrats still hold onto power in Washington, even if only nominally. Problem is, they don’t act like it, and former GOP operative and Opinion contributor Kurt Bardella tells them to “stop behaving as if there’s a prize for showing restraint.” His advice for Democrats seems on point for this moment: “They should do what the Republicans would do given a chance: Refuse to compromise and go on the attack. This difference, of course, is that the Democrats are going after the insurrectionist machine and defending democracy while the GOP is tearing it down.”

Speaking of elections, The Times Editorial Board this week posted arguably its most relied-upon recommendations, those for Los Angeles County Superior Court. Other notable endorsements for the June 7 primary include Karen Bass for L.A. mayor, Kenneth Mejia for L.A. city controller, Robert Luna for L.A. County sheriff, Gavin Newsom for governor, Lanhee Chen (a Republican!) for state controller and Marc Levine for state insurance commissioner. Find all endorsements at

I grew up in a home now worth $1.4 million. My immigrant great-grandparents bought it for $8,500 in 1954, and if that unimpressive Glendale bungalow hadn’t been available for that price when they arrived in this country with their children and some grandchildren, generations of my family would have endured a much different reality. (Some back story that isn’t in the piece: When I found the deed to the house in the basement of the L.A. County clerk’s office in Norwalk, I saw that my great-grandfather’s proudly Norwegian first name had been anglicized into something else, a common indignity for immigrants to the U.S. of that era.) L.A. Times

Heat waves are killing Californians in their homes. Cooling standards could save lives. Ever find it odd that landlords in California typically must provide heating but not cooling for their tenants? The editorial board says that needs to change: “That is no longer acceptable in a world where rising temperatures from climate change are fueling more frequent and severe heat waves. And it’s one of many examples of how California is failing to protect people from the deadliest impact of climate change.” L.A. Times

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Virulent white supremacy has become normalized. And we let it happen. The editorial board minces no words about the racist ideology that motivated the alleged Buffalo, N.Y., mass killer, or the political party enabling it: “Although only a few politicians openly support this garbage, the Republican Party has done almost nothing to reject, denounce or investigate radicalized white supremacists, perhaps more afraid of alienating nativist constituents than they are of allowing certain groups — especially Black Americans — to be victimized repeatedly to the point where they have to fear ordinary activities. And that is just one aspect of how racism, especially racism against Black people, becomes part of the system.” L.A. Times

Leave abortion law to the states? Just look at the Fugitive Slave Act to see how that will go. U.S. Army War college historian Ronald J. Granieri points out the glaring flaw of surrendering a fundamental right to the whims of federalism: “Issues of individual rights bearing such heavy moral weight cannot be contained within state boundaries. ‘Let’s leave it up to the states’ will quickly become ‘we expect other states to comply with our laws and will demand federal action to guarantee it’ — and one only needs to look at the Fugitive Slave Act to highlight the very real constitutional challenge before us.” L.A. Times

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