Douthat Misses the Point on Hungary

Hungary is part of a broader global trend, but the real issue isn't Hungary, it is the Americans who praise Hungary.

“EC13” by Europa Pont is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I almost resisted the temptation, but I was unable to avoid, for some reason, reading Ross Douthat’s column in the NYT entitled: Why Hungary Inspires So Much Fear and Fascination. Mostly I have found myself sucked into thinking about the fascination some Americans have in the Hungarian leader and his ethno-nationalist rhetoric and policies and authoritarian means of achieving those goals. I find it problematic, to say the least, that anyone in American media and politics would find “fascination” in Orban’s Hungary.

I do think that Douthat is trying too hard to create two sides to this story. Here’s his opening paragraph:

For the last few years, Hungary, a country of fewer than 10 million people, has occupied an outsize place in the imagination of American liberals and conservatives. If you think the American right is sliding toward authoritarianism, you cite Viktor Orban’s nationalist government as a dark model for the G.O.P. If you think an intolerant progressivism shadows American life, you invoke Orban as a figure who’s fighting back.

Let me start with an overarching comment: I find the notion that the right’s belief that “intolerant progressivism” is out to get them is well overblown and the notion that the remedy is to extol Orban as a model of “fighting back” is a pernicious position that is leading some on the right in the US to lift up authoritarian, plain and simple. And I think that Douthat’s column utterly misses this point. This is a great example of where “both sides” is not the right frame because one side is behaving far more badly.


Before any more direct discussion of Douthat, let me directly state, as a commenter on contemporary politics here on this site for quite some time, and as a scholar who studies democracy globally, I don’t fear Hungary (and I am not sure many Americans do). I am not sure that it is an object of fascination, for that matter, as much as it is an example of a peculiar case in the EU.

Straight up, and without any reference whatsoever to US domestic politics, Hungary has become a significant case insofar as it is the first EU country to slide back away from democracy and toward authoritarian governance. This is, academically speaking, noteworthy (regardless of normative considerations). Further, it appears to be part of a trend toward increase nationalism globally, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. We are seeing a series of examples of countries being influenced by increased nationalism (often ethno-nationalism), both in democratic and non-democratic settings. Brexit is part of this wave, as is Trumpism. We further see it in political movements in various democratic states, such as in Germany, France, and Poland. We are seeing it in places like Erdogan’s Turkey as well.

This shift was significant enough that I altered the syllabus in my graduate seminar, “Theory and Ideology in International Relations” back in 2017 to add additional readings on nationalism and populism. I added some similar themes to my Comparative Government course at the time. I have not taught in the last couple of years but had I been doing so I would likely have altered my syllabi further.

So, just in terms of the empirical study of politics, changes in Hungary have significance. And, further, from a normative (i.e., values-based) point of view, if one values democratic government as being better than authoritarianism, one would also find its backslide into illiberal democracy, if not straight-up authoritarianism, to be troubling.

The point being, there is a broader context here beyond what Tucker Carlson may be doing or this weekend’s interest in Hungary on Twitter. Indeed, what Hungarians are dealing with and what Hungary’s path more portends for other eastern European states is far more important than what Hungary may or may not mean to American domestic political discourse.

But to directly address Douthat’s paragraph above: this should not be some simplistic bothsiderism issue. Let me be clear: no one in American politics ought to be looking towards an authoritarian regime or ruler as a model.

Period.

End of story.

Full stop.

So, if some on the American left are concerned about some of the American right praising Victor Orban and Fidesz, that should be seen as a problem if one values democracy.

If, however, one values elevating one’s personal preferences about, say, sexual mores, even if it means oppressing those you disagree with, then at least understand what is being embraced.


Douthat’s piece, quite frankly, is a bit of a mess (this seems to be a running critique of mine of his work), and I don’t think it is my job to figure out what he is trying to say save to note that like a lot of pieces on this general topic (i.e., why some on the American right like Orban) it seems to be asserting that since things are too woke around here these days and this leads to worry about cancel culture, then, of course, people are going to look to a foreign strong man for guidance!

Or, something.

A lot of it (like many other pieces on Hungary I have read) seems to assert that since American conservatives fear cancel culture and wokeness in the US, especially over issues of gender and LGBTQ+ rights, then it stands to reason that they like Orban for being more than a bit authoritarian on such topics (he also has asserted a lot of power over universities, so that’s nice, too). Somehow, as often seems to be the case in these narratives, it is really the American left’s fault, because they made people in the US feel uncomfortable.

Or, something.

You can document this fear of sharing strong opinions, especially ones that conflict with progressive orthodoxy, by looking at opinion polls. For example, a 2020 survey conducted by the Cato Institute found that 62 percent of Americans felt uncomfortable sharing their views because of the political climate, and “strong liberals” were the only ideological group where the majority felt free to speak their minds. To the question, “Are you worried about losing your job or missing out on job opportunities if your political opinions became known?” highly educated Americans were the most anxious, with 44 percent of respondents with a postgraduate degree and 60 percent of Republicans with a post-grad degree saying yes.

A lot of that, I expect, is a direct result of highly polarized times. And, yes, there are real examples of real people facing real consequences for things they have said in public. It is also true, I hate to tell him, that not all anxiety about the effects of political utterances are about rightward types fearing the lefties. It can go the other direction.

When Douthat needs an example of leftward-oriented cancel culture, it isn’t exactly a slam-dunk (the links):

you can document this fear by just keeping up with the ever-lengthening list of people who have had careers derailed for offenses against progressive norms.

The first link is to an Axios story that details a conflict at Apple:

Apple has severed ties with recent hire Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook employee and author of the book “Chaos Monkeys,” Axios has learned, following an uproar from employees upset over García Martínez’ past writings demeaning women and others.

[…]

In one passage from “Chaos Monkeys,” García Martínez describes women in the Bay Area as “soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit.”

Gee, I wonder why some of the folks at Apple didn’t want to work with García Martínez? It is such a mystery!

(The second link may, or may not, further Douthat’s point, but it is a long story that requires parsing out a lawsuit and this piece is already longer than intended, so I won’t delve into it).

Regardless, Douthat pretty much refutes his own position with this sentence:

This fear is different from the fear that Frum discerned in Hungary, in the sense that nobody in the United States is afraid of criticizing the government. 

Let’s face facts, even if woke cancel culture is as bad an Douthat (or even people like Rod Dreher) think that it is, fearing cancel culture is a far cry from fearing that the government will come down on your head for what you say.

In short: to justify cleaving to an authoritarian because one feels unable to criticize certain cultural shifts on gender and LBGTQ+ rights without potential social repercussions is quite a reach (and a dangerous one). (Plus, Douthat has a sinecure at the NYT, so hardly has been canceled, and while Dreher may feel he doesn’t have the megaphone he deserves, has he happened to notice that he constantly criticizes part of American politics and culture he doesn’t like, and yet he rocks on?).

Douthat ramps up the concerns the right has about speech by calling it “left-McCarthyism” but then describes it as empty:

If this is left-McCarthyism it lacks a Joe McCarthy: If you pushed your way into the inner sanctum of the Inner Party of progressivism, you would find not a cackling Kamala Harris, but an empty room.

So, let take a breath here.

He is writing a column trying to dismiss leftward fears about rightward interest in Hungarian authoritarianism and in he body of the column he admits that in Hunagry, you have to fear the government and, by the way, if thee is a “left-McCarthyism” it leads to an empty room.

So hey, no worries about admiring a strongman?

He continues:

For anyone on the wrong side of the new rules of thought and speech, though, the absence of a McCarthy figure is cold comfort. Whatever his corruptions, Viktor Orban might lose the next election, if the fractious opposition stays united. But where can you go to vote for a different ruling ideology in the interlocking American establishment, all its schools and professional guilds, its consolidated media and tech powers?

First and foremost, the scale and significance of this “left-McCarthyism” are limited and ill-defined. Again, even the examples he provides are hardly worthy of such a label.

Second, he is showing his ignorance of Hungarian politics and how their electoral system works. The polls he links to shows Orban’s coalition with just under 50% support. He might lose, right? Well, what if I told you that just under 50% support is what he had at the last election and that his coalition won over 2/3rds of the National Assembly with that level of the vote? The electoral system in Hungary is highly disproportional and will help Orban continue to dominate Hungarian politics even though he does not have majority electoral support (my friend, sometimes co-authors, and world-renowned expert on electoral systems was concerned about this reform a decade ago–so, again, concern over Hungary’s trajectory is not a new thing).


This post is already longer than I intended, so let me give Douthat credit for his conclusion, which I would criticize as being still too weak:

this impulse has swiftly led conservatives to tolerate corruption, whether in their long-distance Hungarian romance or their marriage to Donald Trump, suggests a fundamental danger for cultural outsiders. When you have demand for an alternative to an oppressive-seeming ideological establishment but relatively little capacity to build one, the easiest path often leads toward not renaissance but grift.

More on this topic is coming, I suspect.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Democracy, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Of course the Left is not to blame for Orban or for Trump. But let’s not pretend that the Left is not intolerant or doing damage to its own cause, or committing fratricide. There are zero writers sitting down to work in publishing or in Hollywood who are afraid of the Right, we are all afraid of the Left. It’s not conservatives bullying the creative class, it’s the intolerant Left.

    Setting that aside, only an idiot thinks Hungary is a model that relates even remotely to the United States. 10 million population? That’s Los Angeles county, and LA county could buy Hungary four times over and have enough left over to pick up Monaco and Liechtenstein. It’s the same failure to understand scale that leads a mid-sized real estate hustler to think his corrupt family business is a model for a superpower. Hungary is poorer than Greece, FFS, has zero cultural reach and wouldn’t last six weeks in a fight with Romania.

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  2. drj says:

    since things are too woke around here these days and this leads to worry about cancel culture, then, of course, people are going to look to a foreign strong man for guidance!

    Or, something.

    Well, we all just know that America is a center-right nation. So progressive majorities are suspect by definition, if not outright invalid.

    If you think a country is something, regardless of what its population wants, then a strongman who will restore the natural balance of things makes a lot of sense.

    Douthat, on some level, believes this, I am fairly certain.

    More generally, conservatives simply can’t accept the notion that a democratic (small-d) majority has a legitimate right to (re)define the very idea of “America.”

    It’s inconceivable to them and illegitimate by definition.

    They – not others (or worse: the Other) – determine what America is.

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  3. @Michael Reynolds:

    There are zero writers sitting down to work in publishing or in Hollywood who are afraid of the Right, we are all afraid of the Left. It’s not conservatives bullying the creative class, it’s the intolerant Left.

    This strikes me, however, as a different issue than the one I am describing in the post.

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  4. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What Michael said. I’m not afraid of conservatives coming after me for any reason. I’m more worried about progressives. And I say that as someone who is barely, BARELY just on this side of being an outright socialist.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    It goes to the broader question of whether the Woke Left is something people (like Douthat etc…) might be put off by, even threatened by. Damned if I know why some goober in Arkansas is worried, but the creative community is plenty worried and, as @EddieInCA: points out, we’re their allies.

    4
  6. JohnSF says:

    There has been a similar pattern of support for Orban in Britain, largely from the “national conservative” wing of the Brexiteers (as opposed to the “global Britain” liber-Toryians).

    Fidesz is both a valiant resistance to the “liberal hegemony” of Brussels, and at the same time a regrettable example of the rise of the Far Right in Europe, for the avoidance of which Brexit is the sovran’ remedy!
    Havin’ it both ways for the win.

    But if there is any country even more remote from Hungary, in historic influences and political sociology, than the UK, it’s the US.

    The only real reason for Orbanism as a model is pure pique of a persons adhering to a formerly dominant set of beliefs that they are no longer able to spout ill-founded, and sometimes bigoted, nonsense without response.

    My advice: toughen up, snowflakes.
    I’m quite prepared to defend positions I think are reasonable, but are politically out of favour.
    (Anyone for my “Defence of Imperial Rule in North America 101”? Or “Points in Favour of an Established Church”?)

    But I expect to get brickbats, to have defend my arguments etc. And to be prepared to concede when I am in the wrong; or at the very least, to defer to the reasonable majority on points of contention.
    Not to go away weeping and praying for some Viktor the Saviour because my word is not taken as the Writ sanctioned by the Ages.

  7. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “This strikes me, however, as a different issue than the one I am describing in the post.”

    Not only a different issue, but also a steaming crock of horseshit.

    I don’t know what kind of loser “writers” MR has surrounded himself out in LA, but I know and work with literally hundreds of actual writers in publishing and in Hollywood — in TV, in features, in novels and short stories, essays and poetry — and I don’t know a single one who lives in fear of “the left.”

    Maybe that’s still the case in YA books — I know it was bad a few years back and may or may not still be. But aside from that tiny segment of the publishing world, Michael has decided to take his own bizarre fears and attribute them to everyone else.

    The only “writers” I know of who claim to be “afraid of the left” are the losers who write messages at Deadline insisting that their scripts are the best ever written, and the only reason they’re not running Hollywood is because they voted for Trump. I do invite Michael to request a couple of these manuscripts so he can see for himself just how brilliant they are.

    Orban is a scary figure because major “thinkers” in the Republican party see him as something to emulate, and are trying to put his policies in place. Personally I find that a lot more troubling than some Swarthmore students saying mean things on Twitter.

    In this way, MR has decided to write his own Douthat columns for us — sure, the Orban government puts people in prison for criticizing it, but there’s a Bennington sophomore who complained that her cafeteria is doing cultural appropriation by calling a chicken salad sandwich a banh mi, so they’re exactly the same. Only the left is worse.

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  8. JohnSF says:

    OTOH, the “progressive left” can be, if not tyrannical, as tedious as a yapping Jack Russell terrier once they get a idea fixed in their silly heads.
    The next person who mentions “cultural appropriation” in my vicinity better be ready for a sulphurous response.

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  9. Slugger says:

    Half of the Hungarian Nobel laureates were Jews. Not many left. How does being a Rom in Hungary compare to being a Republican on an Ivy League campus?

  10. wr says:

    @Slugger: “How does being a Rom in Hungary compare to being a Republican on an Ivy League campus?”

    Clearly the Republicans have it worse. Because the Romany were only worked to death in concentration camps, where the Republican face… sarcasm.

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  11. JohnSF says:

    Apologies to Professor Taylor: this is off your main topic of the sources of the American response to Orban, and back to my hobbyhorse of the local poliics of Orbanism.
    Sorry!
    @Michael Reynolds:
    If Orban ever loses the EU subsidy teat he’s toast; and he knows it.
    I suspect that absent the escape valve of free movement, Orban would be facing a lot more pushback.
    As it is, a lot of Hungarians who dislike the regime, or the lack of opportunities due to Fidesz theft, simply move to Vienna, or Berlin, or Paris, or….

    Orban has to carefully calibrate the balance of keeping up his base revved up, while not going so far as to lose the Poles, or make Warsaw fear that annoyance with Fidesz might rebound on their interests.
    Similarly in the European Parliament and the EU “right ecosphere”.
    Orban needs plaudits for his trollery, and cover for his corruption and undermining of civil institutions, to maintain political cover.
    But cannot afford to push a confrontation with the mainstream parties/states to conclusions.

    His great good fortune is that the EU is bound by its very nature, to leave the internal political and constitutional arrangements of member states alone, so long as they meet a very broad basic definition of “democratic control”.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    I have been so happy for the last few years that I’m retired. When I was still working in SW Ohio I had to be careful of anything I said that might touch on politics around most of my coworkers, who were Tea Party and at least one Oath Keeper. I comment under a pseudonym because when I started it could have cost my job to be identified with what I say here. I am so glad I haven’t had to deal with that through COVID and the Big Steal. I’d have had blood running down my chin from biting my lip. Righties like Douthat and Dreher aren’t the only people looking over shoulders.

    IIRC Douthat actually mentioned in that column that more liberals lose jobs in academia than conservatives. He casually wrote it off to there being more liberals in academia. I suspect it has more to do with conservative donors.

    I mentioned in a comment a few days ago that “a republic, not a democracy” is a stupid thing to say, but that doesn’t prevent it from being the ideology of a lot of people. Even Mr. Moderate himself /s, Mitt Romney, got caught talking about 47% takers. For Dreher democracy has produced the worst form of oppression possible, people don’t behave and speak the way Dreher thinks they should. But if we were more authoritarian then the biggest asshole in the country would rise to the top and he would surely {a miracle occurs here} make people agree with Dreher.

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  13. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “I comment under a pseudonym”

    Wait — gVOR08 isn’t your real name?

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  14. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    They should admit they mean something like:

    Look, Jefferson meant “rich, straight, white men” when he wrote “all mean are created equal,” because in his time that’s the only thing it could possibly mean. everyone else is out of luck. Stop thinking it applies to you.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’d like to describe the California employment law that has a very significant bearing on the situation with Antonio Garcia Martinez and Apple Corp.

    In California, if a class of employees (classically women, but really anybody) finds the workplace to be a “hostile environment”, then if management does not take action to correct this, they are liable for damages. Not just corporate liability, but personally liable. As in, your really nice house in Los Altos gets taken by the courts.

    This makes the firing of someone like Martinez and James Damore before him an open-and-shut case. Did remarks like the quoted ones make the workplace a “hostile environment”? Of course they did. Done and done.

    I think what’s noteworthy here is that most states do not have this sort of law, and people are quite accustomed to their workplace being a hostile environment, where they have to absorb abuse, often from management. And let me be clear that I don’t support that, regardless of what someone’s politics are. That could well mean that some topics are simply off limits at work – so be it.

    Anyway, it’s dumb to think of this as “woke”, or recent. This has been in place in CA for a long, long time. How is this simply not good management practice – make your employees happy by not having a hostile environment.

    Now, single women here in Silicon Valley have a huge advantage over the single men, because they are the really, really rare commodity. And they often take advantage of that situation. If he doesn’t like that, he can always move to Salt Lake City, where the gender ratio swings the other way.

    But if you want to express yourself in slurs and insults, you shouldn’t be surprised that the people you are slurring and insulting don’t want to collaborate with you.

    6
  16. Scott F. says:

    Douhat says:

    But where can you go to vote for a different ruling ideology in the interlocking American establishment, all its schools and professional guilds, its consolidated media and tech powers?

    That’s the tell, right there, that shows that Douhat does not have a winning hand. He’s using “ruling ideology” to describe the culture writ large and since he (and those of his ilk) didn’t vote for the culture, democracy can’t work. Summon the strong man!!

    I think this is a natural progression for our anti-majoritarian electoral system in a polarized culture. When the minority can hold power for so long, even when their ideas, principles, and policies are broadly unpopular, a sense of entitlement sets in. Then, when even the electoral advantages aren’t enough to secure power in spite the hollowness of the message and paucity of ideas, then it must be the democracy that is not working, because the unpopular positions can’t be the problem due to… something.

    7
  17. EddieInCA says:

    @wr:

    I’m going to pushback just a bit. MR can defend himself. But our writer’s rooms (on both my shows) often censor themselves due to some of the more extreme elements of the left. I’ve seen them dial things back due to a fear of social media backlash. Not all publicity is good publicity.

    I’ve been in the room for those discussions. I’ve seen it in the revisions from the writer’s draft to the production draft. They’re not afraid of Fox News. They’re afraid of Twitter, Instagram, and Tik-Tok. That’s just a reality. Quite a few TV writers are self-censoring to avoid any possibility of being taken out context and made into a meme or viral video.

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  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    @gVOR08: What you’re saying ties into my comment about “hostile workplaces”. This would not fly in CA. Some feel that intimidating the opposition into silence is part of the plan, and are furious when they aren’t allowed to do it.

    2
  19. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    What about moderately well-off, slightly twisted, white men?
    Enquiring minds…

  20. JohnSF says:

    @wr:
    Always assumed he was good ol’ gVOR07’s younger brother.
    🙂

  21. Jay L Gischer says:

    Again I want to note that the driver to all this is the notion that they might have to be nice to gay people, and not trash talk them at work. Or just not be able to trash talk women and expect them to want (or be forced!) to work with you anyway. Or something.

    Here’s the thing. I came up in a church that held dancing and consumption of alcohol to be sinful. They inhabited a culture that did lots of both of those, even among some groups that were highly religious. They didn’t expect the culture at large to adopt their values. It was just something they did themselves. So that’s a possible thing, and what demonstrates the current of authoritarianism in play here.

    I daresay those who think totalitarianism is worth it are highly likely to find themselves at some point on the wrong end of that totalitarianism.

    2
  22. Gavin says:

    The notion that “lefties” are “coming for you” is 100% pure projection. Each and every person who spouts that nonsense heartily wants to do exactly that to their enemies… real and imagined. That’s what they’d do if they were in power… and so because they can’t imagine anyone actually having a different view of power than them, they assert this nonsense with zero proof.

    News flash: Nobody cares about you. Not here, not there, not in a hat, not with a cat.

    This fascination with Hungary goes right along with the fascination with cancel culture.. which, is of course more prevalent among the right than “the left.” Uppity folk who were hung/lynched were cancelled. Assassinated/bombed activists were also cancelled.

    Note, of course, that everyone who speaks out against the Current Order of Things has always been a target for cancellation.. from the right. The only reason it’s now called something different is because.. Shocker of shockers, The Right is not the only ones doing the cancelling, and that’s why they’ve become emotional about it.

    Bringing us back to Hungary. The reason Douthat and the Right continues to be fascinated with Hungary is.. Orban cancelled the left entirely.

    5
  23. Jay L Gischer says:

    @wr: I dunno. I’ve seen critiques of major work – films mostly – that were so dumb it boggled my mind. And they were left-oriented. It’s just that they didn’t seem to know how fiction worked – that the point of view expressed by a character is not the same as the point of view of the writer.

    I mean one such beat was meant to illustrate just how much of a thundering dumbass the character was, but was met with “How DARE the writer write that!”

    1
  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer: It’s not intimidation per se. But with even guarded remarks, I could see some people getting a little more distant. As to fearing my job might be threatened, management would never have said it had anything to do with politics, the ostensible reason would be something else. And it was an at-will state, so they wouldn’t have to say anything.

  25. Teve says:

    @Scott F.:

    Douhat says:

    But where can you go to vote for a different ruling ideology in the interlocking American establishment, all its schools and professional guilds, its consolidated media and tech powers?

    So the problem is, we can’t get away from Harvard NYC media elite types…

    ….like Douthat.

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  26. Teve says:

    Grrr

    2
  27. Matthew Bernius says:

    @wr:

    Maybe that’s still the case in YA books — I know it was bad a few years back and may or may not still be.

    While MR can defend himself, I can definitely say that its still a known problem in the YA community — especially as provocateurs have learned to weaponize it. This panel of authors thoughtfully discusses it at the very end of the segment (at just after the :26 minute mark).

    https://www.npr.org/2021/06/09/1004826113/the-writers-room-young-adult-fiction-and-social-media

    I think partially it’s gotten worse because, like comics, it’s an area where (1) there’s a high expectation of access to creators and (2) it’s currently a hot item in terms of hoping for cross-media hits (giving the audience an outsized voice).

    2
  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: It’s possible, also, that he really only meant rich, white, straight English and French speaking men.

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  29. Modulo Myself says:

    They’re not afraid of Fox News. They’re afraid of Twitter, Instagram, and Tik-Tok.

    Right, because social media punches at its weight and it’s filled with younger people who they might not understand. These people know about writers rooms and show runners. The actor who played at Major Burns on MASH used to get hate mail on a weekly basis. Nobody wrote to the show runner. They didn’t even know that person existed. Now people take the behind-the-scenes production very very seriously, because they feel they are part of something larger with culture.

    1
  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott F.: These days, I’ve started thinking of it as preferring despotic rule (maybe despot light, I wouldn’t argue) to relative liberty but minority status. That’s pretty in keeping with what I’ve seen to be human nature over the years. We all will lean toward “our kind” in charge–with all of the cautions about omelets and eggs being a given.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I grew up among similar people with the difference that we’d have been okay with having the power to decide for society. Then again, if I recall correctly, Seattle still had a Women’s Christian Temperance Union office and candidates that ran on the Temperance Party ticket when I was young. Additionally, we still had blue laws in Seattle until 1966 (one Wikipedia source says they were repealed statewide in 1919, but History Link notes that Initiative 229 was passed in 1966 and represents the final repeal of blue law). [https://www.historylink.org/File/9057]

    1
  32. Gustopher says:

    Won’t anyone think of poor Vladimir Putin? He was the darling on the right for the past few years, and now he is being forgotten for some Hungarian upstart.

    Just shows how fickle the folks on the right are these days.

    Russ Douthat should write an article about that. The meanies on the left have cancelled Putin, and now all Republicans can do now is pledge fealty to the lowly authoritarian ruler of a third rate country in central Europe.

    3
  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I’ve been told by people that I was terminated from one school at which I taught because of my political positions (I still suspect that it was more because I can be a complete a$$#o/e at times). The secret to my courage in saying what I wanted to say was in not having jobs where I cared about being terminated (such as the one described here). It’s no mystery that I left for Korea for the 125% increase in pay (which came a lot closer to 3 or 400% when you add benefits and GINI differential).

    1
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: I’ll still give you a thumbs up and two 😀 😀 s.

    2
  35. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    Hey now! Won’t someone spare a thought for poor old Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus?
    What’s a central European autocratic shitbag gotta do for a Fox News feature these day?
    Murder someone?

    2
  36. mattbernius says:

    In regards to the article, Steven, so much agreement. I want to call out two things — one from the beginning and one from the end — that is a deep problem with Douthat and other “thoughtful” conservatives (at least the ones who reject the “anti-Trump” label).

    And I think that Douthat’s column utterly misses this point. This is a great example of where “both sides” is not the right frame because one side is behaving far more badly.

    Douthat, I think, is smart enough to realize that. The problem is, to acknowledge this would undercut his moral position. And more importantly, making that acknowledgement leads to a necessity to actually act against that excess.

    Basically, it’s a slightly more “polite” version of the anti-anti-Trump folks (who always end up normalizing/defending Trump).

    That get’s me to that final quote:

    When you have demand for an alternative to an oppressive-seeming ideological establishment but relatively little capacity to build one, the easiest path often leads toward not renaissance but grift.

    This is essentially the Matt Bors “You made me become a Nazi” cartoon come to life. It’s reinforcing the victim narrative that has come to define the social conservative movement for the last 30 years (which, again is deeply ironic considering the continued amount of structural political power they have).

    But again, ultimately that’s what this is really about. It’s a view of power (cultural or political) as a zero-sum game where any concession is a permanent loss of control. And ultimately Douthat is deeply attached to maintaining that power and therefore has to gaslight us into representing his side as the one that is forced to take these actions in order to prevent their extinction.

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  37. mattbernius says:

    Also, on the subject of Hungry being freer than America, it’s worth noting that the government still attempted to censor Carlson when he happened to stray from full agreement with Orban (on the topic of China)

    https://www.businessinsider.com/viktor-orban-censored-question-tucker-carlson-asked-about-xi-jinping-2021-8

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  38. Thoman Sigwell says:

    It would be concerning if a American President went and sat down at a baseball game with a evil dictator and tyrant, smiled with him, took photos together, and stood by at the tyrant talked down the nation in front of the world…Oh wait we did that have – it was Barack Obama with Raul Castro.

    There is also Comrade Bernie Sanders, another elected official, who praised Fidel Castro only a year ago and in his past, chose the Soviet Union for his honeymoon!

    There is a lot of hypocritical projection coming from the Democrats and their propaganda media.

    Tucker Carlson is just a media personality and not the leader of a nation. What he did is what he did as a citizen of the country and not as a representative of the country.

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  39. wr says:

    @Jay L Gischer: ” I’ve seen critiques of major work – films mostly – that were so dumb it boggled my mind.”

    Well, yeah. But we’re not talking about people making stupid critiques. We’re talking about writers being afraid to write something because of the terrible threat of the Twitter left out there.

    You create something, you put it out in the world, people are going to say dumb things about it. You don’t want to be criticized, don’t publish.

    But Michael was comparing lefty criticism to the state-sponsored censorship of Hungary, and saying that this was worse.

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  40. DrDaveT says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I’ve seen them dial things back due to a fear of social media backlash. Not all publicity is good publicity.

    I’m sure this is true, but I’m also sure that there is a difference between fear of bad publicity and fear of, say, blacklisting or imprisonment. “Fear that I will not sell as many units in the future” is called marketing, not censorship.

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  41. Mimai says:

    Several years ago, the economist Arnold Kling coined the notion of FOOL: Fear of Others’ Liberty. The desire for government-imposed “illiberal social control” derives from a fear of what others will do with their liberty. One is willing to see liberty curtailed across the board as long as it’s other people’s liberty that is curtailed more than one’s own.

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  42. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: “Quite a few TV writers are self-censoring to avoid any possibility of being taken out context and made into a meme or viral video.”

    Is this so terrible? TV, even in its present, atomized state, is a mass medium. A writers room should stop to ask “are we going to far? are we going to piss off our core audience? and is there a good reason for it, or are we just being cool-kidz?”

    And “taken out of context”? Absolutely they should be asking that question. Because presumably there’s a point they want to make and a story they want to tell — and if they’re doing it in such a way that all anyone is going to say is “Hey, they said fart,” then maybe there’s a better way to do it.

    I worked in network TV for 30 years, and there was always an entire department devoted to saying “Hey, you can’t say that, you’ll piss (X) off.” Now those departments are gone, there’s no one left to police the room, and it’s up to the writers to ask if it’s the right thing to do.

    Sometimes pissing off your audience is a good thing. Sometimes it’s destructive. Don’t you think it’s worth a conversation? You can’t spend the whole day deciding where you’re going to get lunch from…

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  43. JohnSF says:

    @mattbernius:
    And there it is: Orban lives for a bit of side-dollar from someone.
    Go against the EU re. Russia, get paid by Putin; sidle up to Beijing, get a buck; play footsie with Riyadh, make a forint.
    He’d wear fishnets on the street corner in Tehran if there were a euro in it.

    Thing is, he seldom stops to think what the retribution could be if he goes too far.
    Oh, he’s careful politically; but if I were him, I’d be a lot more careful personally.

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    These days, I’ve started thinking of it as preferring despotic rule (maybe despot light, I wouldn’t argue) to relative liberty but minority status.

    There is an intense and bittersweet irony to the fact that the defenders of liberal democracy are now the Left, and are thereby entitled to tell conservatives “America: love it or leave it.”

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  45. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: “They’re afraid of Twitter, Instagram, and Tik-Tok. That’s just a reality. ”

    By the way, the reason they’re afraid is, most likely, because this is their audience.

    Pretty sure the writers on NCIS aren’t sitting around worrying about what someone wokey is going to say on Twitter, because that’s not who’s watching their show.

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  46. @Thoman Sigwell:

    It would be concerning if a American President went and sat down at a baseball game with a evil dictator and tyrant, smiled with him, took photos together, and stood by at the tyrant talked down the nation in front of the world…Oh wait we did that have – it was Barack Obama with Raul Castro.

    And this so very much misses the point. Trying to improve relations with Cuba is
    not the same thing, in the least, as suggesting that Cuba and Castro are good models for American politics.

    There is also Comrade Bernie Sanders, another elected official, who praised Fidel Castro only a year ago and in his past, chose the Soviet Union for his honeymoon!

    Bernie’s trip to the USSR in the waning days of Soviet rule was about a sister-city arrangement being explored between Burlington, Vermont and Yaroslavl–calling it a “Honeymoon” is just a talking point.

    The question is not have presidents ever tried to make nice with unpleasant rulers for specific reasons or if some politician ever visited the USSR.

    The question is: should we adopt authoritarian political practices in the United States?

    And I promise you if Bernie goes to Cuba and says that they are freer there than in the US, I will certainly call him out for the asininity of such a statement (the way Tucker did about Hungary and the US).

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  47. @EddieInCA:

    But our writer’s rooms (on both my shows) often censor themselves due to some of the more extreme elements of the left. I’ve seen them dial things back due to a fear of social media backlash. Not all publicity is good publicity.

    In all honesty is it not the case that anyone who writes, speaks, or performs in public have to consider how their words are going to be taken in by their audiences (or by some casual reader?).

    Do you not think there are views or topics that I might have decided to avoid because who needs the hassle of people misunderstanding me? (And I mean not some deep, dark secret but topics that are inherently controversial or that simply could leave room for misinterpretation). It comes with the territory, does it not?

    Is it truly terrible that some comedians are shying away from jokes that could be construed as misogynistic or racist? Is it really a problem that certain words are no longer used?

    I agree that some people radically overreact and that there are cases of people being unfairly pilloried by the Twitter/social media mob. But, on balance, I am not seeing a grand tyranny.

    What am I missing?

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  48. Matt Bernius says:

    @Thoman Sigwell:
    Local man doesn’t address the topic about empty whataboutism with, *checks notes*… whataboutism.

    Well done sir.

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  49. @Matt Bernius: Indeed.

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  50. Teve says:

    BRB going to stare into the distance and try to imagine the on-air cerebral infarctions right wingers woulda had if Obama said he and Kim Jong Un “fell in love”.

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