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Pity, O God, the Republican

What America can learn from Hungary’s “Viktator”

A balmy evening in Budapest, a Saturday in June 2008. My husband and I have just finished dinner at a sleek Euro bistro (with the faux-Magyar name of Menza) and are heading along Andrássy Avenue, the city’s Champs-Élysées. The sounds of a summer night in a Central European capital surround us—laughter from sidewalk cafes, the murmur of that melodic language with its harmonizing vowels that I love but (despite my Hungarian origins) never learned, the rattletrap clanking of the canary-yellow trams. And then, a martial thumping. We duck into the doorway of a Hugo Boss boutique to avoid being mowed down by a high-stepping color guard, followed by a block-long line of young men (and a few women). They tromp by in stern formation, uniformed in black boots, black trousers, and black vests adorned with four red-on-white stripes: the Magyar Gárda—or Hungarian Guard—the newly established extremist paramilitary force devoted to “the protection of traditions and culture.”

Traditions and culture: these can be fanciful concepts in Hungary, which has strived for centuries to concoct a usable past, both political and “folk” cultural, to buttress its long-beleaguered identity. (The Magyars who rode into the Carpathian Basin in the late ninth century and installed the “Árpád Dynasty” enjoyed an abbreviated reign—followed by centuries of invasion, defeat, and domination. Hungary achieved its most exalted cultural moment as junior partner in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) But however confectionary the genesis story of the “thousand-year” Magyar Kingdom, the traditions and culture of Hungary’s last century are ones you might think the nation would rather not reprise. In the late spring and early summer of 1944, Hungary’s Axis government deported nearly half a million of its Jewish citizens to Nazi extermination camps. One of every three people murdered in Auschwitz was a Magyar Jew. Hungary’s largest cemetery, the saying goes, is a field of grass in Poland. In Budapest, the homegrown fascist Arrow Cross Party would continue the slaughter through that fall and winter, shooting thousands of Jews into the Danube and sending tens of thousands more on death marches. By the war’s end, two-thirds of the nation’s Jewish population was dead.

The Arrow Cross banner had four red-on-white stripes.

I’m in the nation’s capital to visit my father, the only member of the 1945 class from Budapest’s Zsidó Gimnázium, the Jewish High School, to return to live in Hungary. “How could anyone go back there?” my father’s expatriated classmates exclaimed. “If there was an earthquake and all of Budapest collapsed into rubble, I wouldn’t shed one tear,” said one of them, who had long since shucked his Hungarian name and become an Israeli citizen. I share their mystification. A good number of my family members were among the death toll of 1944. On my paternal grandfather’s side alone, fifty-six relatives were murdered in or on the way to the camps.

For collaborating in what Churchill would call “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world,” Hungary has faced certain repercussions—among them, forty years of subjugation as a Soviet satellite. Surely, the disgraced nation knows better than to flirt again with fascism. But now here comes the Magyar Gárda, marching down Andrássy Avenue.

And the Gárda would be the least of it, as soon became evident. The rightist Fidesz Party swept into power in the Hungarian national elections of 2010, displacing the long-ruling Socialists and landing commanding victories in virtually every district, even in historically left-leaning Budapest. The far-right Jobbik Party, whose members have openly and unapologetically displayed their hatred of Jews and Roma, won nearly a fifth of the electorate and a quarter of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, making it the nation’s third-largest party.

The new Fidesz-led government pushed through a battery of laws undermining the independence of the courts, the central bank, the national elections commission, the media, and a host of government oversight bodies, and retooled the electoral laws to help itself to a supermajority. Then it rewrote the constitution, expanding the powers of the state, curtailing civil liberties, defining life as beginning at conception, forbidding same-sex marriage, and declaring Hungary a “Christian” nation. Four years later, Fidesz was reelected—and the reactionary Jobbik has continued to gain support, becoming the most popular far-right party in the European Union.

Back on Andrássy Avenue, as the last of the striped and booted marchers pass us and their militaristic chants are displaced by the conviviality of a summer night in the city, I contemplate the specter I’ve just witnessed—and am thankful for an exit. Hungary might be hastening to a new abyss, but I can always, as my father could not in 1944, get on a plane and go home. In June 2008, no matter how lunatic the fringe of the American right, it is still fringe—after all, a progressive administration is about to be elected. The United States, whatever its demons, is not yet Hungary.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

—Donald Trump, Dec. 7, 2015


As Donald Trump rose and rose in the polls in the primary season of early 2016, the occasional press commentator would give a passing nod to his kinship with such European reactionary leaders as National Front’s Marine Le Pen in France, the Dutch Party for Freedom’s Geert Wilders, and Fidesz’s leader, the twice-elected Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. Ethnocentric jingoism is general all over Europe. The Donald and Viktor, in particular, enjoy a certain kissing-cousin resemblance. One wants to build “a beautiful wall” on the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants. The other famously erected a thirteen-foot-high razor-wire fence running 110 miles across the Serbian border to keep out Syrian refugees (and soon after, a second fence along the Croatian border). One began as a Democrat who lavished his wealth on party stalwarts from Harry Reid to Nancy Pelosi to Hillary Clinton. The other began as a moderate whose studies were funded by the liberal Soros Foundation and whose then-youthful party (Fidesz is short for the Alliance of Young Democrats) originally supported a democratic agenda. One has built his personality cult on class resentment, racial animus, and a swaggering authoritarianism that promises to rescue his benighted supporters from humiliation and failure. Ditto for the other, who is known to his fans as “The Savior of Hungary.” His opponents call him “The Viktator.”

But the parallel that most strikes me (and strikes fear in me) isn’t the kinship of two despotically inclined politicians. It is the kinship of national mindsets. Yes, Trump, like Orbán, is a bully. And yes, they both make hay of bigotry. More essentially, though, they both have a combustible social mixture to make hay with. The base ingredients of this mixture have more to do with grievance and a sense of violation than with the hatred and xenophobia the American press likes to harp on. I’d observe them in their elemental form in Budapest.

“We don’t win anything. I mean, if you’re going to fight, you win and you get back to rebuilding the country. We don’t win. It’s really a terrible thing. I mean, our country used to win all the time. We don’t win at all anymore.”

—Donald Trump, Feb. 9, 2016


A sultry late afternoon in July 2008 on the Pest side of the Danube, and I’m sitting at an outdoor cafe across from the Budapest Operetta Theater. My companion sets down her espresso cup and breaks into song.

Pity, O God, the Hungarian
Who is tossed by waves of danger
Extend over him your guarding arm
On his misery’s seas.
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon him a joyous year
This people has suffered for
Past and future.

The song is “Himnusz,” the Hungarian national anthem. The singer is Katalin Lévai, who, several years earlier, was the nation’s first equal-opportunities minister. “When I’ve gone to football matches in Europe,” Lévai tells me, “I’m always struck by the difference. Other countries have anthems that express the determination of their people, the power of their people—they’re optimistic and proud. And ours is quite the contrary. It’s very sad and defensive. Self-pitying.” She recommends I study it. “If you understand the Hungarian anthem, you understand the Hungarian soul.”

I’m acquainted with Hungarian-style self-pity; it’s on display in an image that is ubiquitous here. I walk down the corridors of a municipal building and see the image plastered on the wall. A car passes, and it’s emblazoned on the bumper. I’m riding the tram, and the man next to me has it appliqued on his backpack. There it is again on cocktail napkins, truck flaps, ashtrays, salt-and-pepper shakers, tattooed biceps. The image is a map, a diagram of aggrievement, delineating the “amputation” of Greater Hungary.

After World War I, the 1920 Treaty of Trianon granted the country its long-sought independence while simultaneously stripping it of two-thirds of its landmass and three-fifths of its population. The map presents the country as a butchered torso, surrounded by its four severed appendages, which were redistributed to adjacent postwar states. The treaty was nearly a century ago, but Trianon’s “mutilation” is the subject of endless and lugubrious lamentation in contemporary Hungary, invoked compulsively, ritualistically, in political oratory, newspaper editorials, TV talk shows, and sporting events. At some point in every nationalist rally and demonstration, the favorite cry against Trianon will go up: “Nem, nem, soha!” (“No, no, never!”), the Magyar equivalent of “The South Will Rise Again.” Hungary’s modern troubles—a reeling economy, a faltering currency, a relatively bleak future compared with its formerly Communist neighbors—have revived this ancient sense of having always been done wrong.

The United States has never been sliced and diced like Greater Hungary. Nonetheless, after a half century of misbegotten wars in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, economic downturns and deindustrialization, and blue-collar and middle-class decline, the virus of self-pity is running in the country’s veins. It infects the Trump rallies whose crowds bemoan a nation no longer “great,” the Tea Party assemblies where family members of “the fallen” from our most recent failed conflicts are paraded for applause, and all those municipal flagpoles from which POW/MIA banners have been flying since Vietnam. Feeling sorry for ourselves has become a chronic condition, proudly showcased. Our national mope-fest might seem like the end result of a new civic humility. Instead, it is the means to an end—an end that is decidedly unhumble. Victimhood becomes the enabler of brutality.

One day at my father’s house in the Buda Hills, we are making chicken paprikas and talking about the political scene. My father relates a ride home on the bus, some months earlier: The bus stops in the fabled Castle District, home to Hungary’s cultural jewels (the Hungarian National Gallery, the Hungarian National Library) and, long ago, home to royalty. A throng of skinheads gets on. They are coming from a demonstration on Castle Hill, a protest against Hungary’s “dismemberment.” They start singing an anti-Semitic ditty. It is a familiar one. My father heard it as a teenager: “If the head rabbi gets exterminated . . .” The reaction from the Magyar bus riders is also familiar: not a word of objection.

As I make my perambulations of Budapest, I wonder how “Pity, O God, the Hungarian” could lead so seamlessly to “If the head rabbi gets exterminated”—how self-pity goes postal. A few weeks after my meeting with Lévai, the former equal-opportunities minister is slated to give the Budapest Gay Pride Festival’s keynote speech. When news gets out, she is deluged with ugly emails, threats, and epithets. For supporting gay rights, she tells me, “they are calling me a ‘dirty Jew.’” In early July of that year, Budapest’s gay pride parade is greeted with violent demonstrations. Paramilitary groups claiming “to defend the Hungarian capital”—like the Hungarian Self-Defense Movement (known by its Magyar acronym, MÖM)—attack the marchers, lobbing smoke bombs, acid-filled eggs, rotting food, cobblestones, firecrackers, and feces. They beat up a liberal radio reporter and the parade concert’s Roma performer. They spit at and slap a Socialist politician who is on record supporting the march and smash the windows of the car carrying Lévai and Gábor Szetey, the former Socialist human resources secretary and first openly gay government official. A chant is heard all along the route: “Buzikat a Dunába, zsidókat meg utána” (“Faggots into the Danube, followed by the Jews”).

“We’re at war. No one wants to admit it, but humanity is under attack. One very specific man might be all that stands between humanity and the greatest threat of our brief existence.”

—“The Trump Effect” video, April 2016


“I’m very worried about what is happening in this country,” Lévai says to me that day at the cafe. “The nation is being divided into two kinds of people, the ‘good Hungarians’ and the ‘bad Hungarians.’ And the bad Hungarians are all those who are not crying over Trianon every day, or who are Jewish or Roma or feminist.” The “good Hungarians” have redefined themselves as the injured minority who deserve “special care,” the true victims of discrimination and oppression. To contradict this new dogma is to risk recasting yourself among the “bad.”

Self-pity appoints its favorite foes. In Hungary, the aggrieved right’s ascendancy has been accompanied by an escalation of rage and bloodlust against designated “foreign” enemies of the state. In the first decade and a half of the new millennium, as I travel back and forth to Budapest, the news is increasingly full of such eruptions: Jewish worshippers beaten, rabbis accosted, synagogues vandalized, cemeteries desecrated, Holocaust monuments disfigured. A founding member of the ruling Fidesz Party declares the Roma—Hungary’s largest ethnic minority at 8 to 10 percent of the population—“animals” who “are unfit for co-existence.” The vice-chair of the Jobbik Party calls for Roma families to be forced out of their homes and “sealed off” in “public order protection camps.” A Jobbik parliamentary minister demands that the government draw up a registry of Jews who might “pose a national security risk.” Another Jobbik MP spits on the memorial by the Danube dedicated to the thousands of Jews shot into the river by the Arrow Cross. Still another tells the media he is proud to be a “Nazi, a fascist, an anti-Semite, if that is what is necessary to represent the true Hungarian interests and the sanctity of the thousand-year-old Hungarian state.”

In the countryside, vigilante “patrols” of black-booted thugs beset Roma villages, armed with whips, axes, and dogs. They harangue residents and hurl slurs and threats like this one, caught on a cellphone video: “Dirty Gypsies! We should exterminate all the Roma and their children.” After the patrols besiege the streets of a town north of Budapest for two months (while the police do little), the Red Cross finally evacuates six busloads of traumatized Roma women and children. Between 2008 and 2012, human-rights workers record more than sixty hate crimes against Roma citizens: beatings, shootings, arson, murders. Seven adults and two children in Roma villages are killed.

Soon after the national elections bring the rightists into power, pollsters report that the proportion of Hungarians who feel extreme antipathy for Jews has doubled in less than a decade. The country now ranks as one of the most anti-Semitic nations in the European Union. Rising along with that bigotry is a craving for a strongman: in one national survey, three-quarters of the respondents agree, “We need a resolute leader who rules this country with an iron fist.” Hungarian sociologist Pál Tamás, who compiled the survey results, observes that such views are now so widespread that “in some sense, we can hardly call these extreme anymore.”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen, because they used to treat [the protesters] very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

—Donald Trump, March 9, 2016, at the Fayetteville, NC, rally where more than a dozen protesters were forcibly ejected. As one African American demonstrator was removed, a Trump supporter hit him in the face.


Another late summer day, and the end of another visit. I have an hour or so to kill before I catch a cab to Ferihegy airport, and I leave my bags with the concierge and take a walk through the inner city’s Lipótváros District to Szabadság tér, or Freedom Square. On the southern end of the square, past the statues of Ronald Reagan and Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian Regent whose government presided over the deportations of half a million Jews, I find what I’m looking for: a newly erected monument to Hungary’s past. It is a memorial, as the original description put it, to “all the victims of the 19 March 1944 German invasion of Hungary.”

Strangely, the mission statement leaves out the monument’s original intent: to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Hungarian Shoah. In an attempt to dissipate international criticism of the country’s anti-Semitic drift, the Fidesz government declared 2014 “Holocaust Remembrance Year,” the year that Hungary would finally make “apologizing” for the Holocaust a part of its “national identity.” A number of commemorative projects were launched, including a museum dedicated to “the child victims” of the Holocaust, titled the House of Fates. Immediately, things went awry. Directorship of the House of Fates was given to a right-wing historian who had already reduced the Holocaust to a footnote at the other museum she directs, the House of Terror, which is largely devoted to Hungary’s victimization by the Soviets. Then the government handed over the new Veritas Research Institute—designed to promote a history of twentieth-century Hungary that will “strengthen national identity”—to another right-wing historian, who soon after his appointment declared that Hungary’s 1941 deportation of 18,000 Jews to Ukraine (where they were massacred) was just a “police action against aliens.”

The monument in Freedom Square to “all the victims” of 1944 proved to be one more shrine to embattled Magyarism. A giant imperial eagle with armor-plate feathers and cartoon talons swoops down on its victim, a weak and helpless Hungary in the form of the archangel Gabriel. The seraph holds up his arms, crucifix style, his frail and bare-breasted frame a study in vulnerability and innocence. So much for the Jews. But on the grass nearby, a homemade counter-memorial assembled by Holocaust survivors and the families of victims protests this assertion of martyred virtue with a display of cracked eyeglasses, empty suitcases, and photographs of murdered relatives.

I would also be in Budapest when the paramilitary Magyar Gárda inducted six hundred more recruits in the city’s Heroes’ Square. The militiamen were sworn in beside the plaza’s sacrosanct statuary of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars on horseback and another archangel Gabriel (this one atop a 118-foot “Millennium Column,” clutching an apostolic double cross and the Holy Crown). The volunteers pledged to “defend a physically, spiritually, and intellectually defenseless Hungary.” Toward the end of the ceremony, Gábor Vona, the former history teacher who founded both the paramilitary Magyar Gárda and the Jobbik Party, rose to remind his troops of their solemn duty: to “rescue” the “true Hungarians” from “shame” and humiliations that date to the end of World War I. “Trianon dismembered the body, the Communists beheaded the nation,” Vona told them. “Step by step, we have to rebuild our identity as a nation.”

Except the identity they wish to build relies on the nation being in rubble. Around that rubble, an alternate universe can be constructed wherein every event reinforces victimhood, reminding its believers of the wounds inflicted by oppressors. When the World Jewish Congress chose Budapest as the site for its annual meeting, the irredentist rightists turned out in force to protest the convention as an act of humiliating invasion. Hungary has “become subjugated to Zionism,” Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary leader declared at a large rally in downtown Pest on the eve of the meeting, “while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras.”

“She got schlonged!”

—Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, about Hillary Clinton’s loss to Obama in 2008


“How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?”

—Donald Trump, March 29, 2016, after his campaign manager manhandled
a female news reporter trying to ask questions at a Florida rally


So often in contemporary politics, “identity” serves as a veil. Like all veils, this one is flimsy, in danger at any moment of being pulled aside, which means its significance must be asserted aggressively, repeatedly, protected with the most pounding bombast from an iota of doubt or criticism. The urge to cultivate power out of being trammeled can be as insistent an impulse on the “trigger alert” campus left as it is in the lebensraum chat rooms of the neo-Nazi Stormfront. According to the rules of self-pity, having your emotional truth confronted with reasoned objection only confirms your sense of persecution, which in turn reinforces your identity. To comply with calls for decorum, dignified discourse, or civility would be to capitulate to your persecutors. If critics assault your identity with demands for politesse and reason, then the riposte to their quibbling intellectuality must be thrillingly crude—the more offensively boorish, the better, as was evident on the GOP debate stage.

During a right-wing music festival on the outskirts of Budapest, two young reporters from a progressive weekly newspaper were ordered to a tent, where they found Jobbik MP György Gyula Zagyva reclining on a couch, cracking a horse whip. When the journalists reached for their recording devices, as they later reported, they were accused of “Jewish disrespect” and threatened with sexual degradation. “We could pull your pants off and fuck you, no one would believe you if you ever got out of here,” the reporters recalled Zagyva saying. The MP later denied the words, though he admitted to brandishing the horse whip. “Why not?” he said; horsemanship is the mark of a true Hungarian.

Krisztina Morvai is Jobbik’s declared future nominee for president and one of its best-known figures (though she says she’s independent of the party). She is also a reliable fount of invective. As an elected representative to the European Parliament, Morvai once wrote an open letter to the Israeli ambassador to Hungary in which she “rejoiced” over Israeli deaths in the country’s war in Gaza: “I wish all of you lice-infested, dirty murderers will receive Hamas’ ‘kisses.’” After a conservative Jewish expatriate expressed dismay over Morvai’s remarks, he received the following response: “Your kind expect that if you fart our kind stands at attention and caters to all your wishes. It’s time to learn: we no longer oblige! We hold our heads high and no longer tolerate the terror your kind imposes on us.” In conclusion, Morvai advised “the so-called proud Hungarian Jews” to “go back to playing with their tiny little circumcised tails rather than vilifying me.”

Fidesz leaders prefer to present themselves as belonging to a more enlightened branch, above the potty-mouthed excrescences of the further-right Jobbik. The party will “make Hungary great in the next four years,” as Prime Minister Orbán put it recently, by installing a true Hungarian identity as the national elixir, the panacea to every ill. That identity, though, is erected on the same reactionary tent poles of aggrievement and authoritarianism. One of the first acts of the Orbán administration was to declare June 4 the Day of National Cohesion, a state holiday to showcase Magyar folk dances, handicrafts, and cuisine as a way to “strengthen national identity.” June 4: the day that the Treaty of Trianon was signed. The Fidesz government hastened to grant citizenship to “ethnic Hungarians” outside the nation’s borders (that is, Hungarians cut off from the motherland by Trianon) and to champion initiatives on “what it means to be Hungarian” and who, by implication, is not. The party’s officialdom renames streets and erects monuments to rehabilitate a litany of “Hungarian patriots,” more than a few with fascist pasts, a Potemkin scrim of strongmen defending the martyred Hungary. Reviving a national selfhood has become inseparable from reviving the authoritarian state.

Meanwhile, that same national selfhood has suffered by every practical measure. Under Fidesz, a third of the population is living at or below subsistence level, child poverty is growing faster than in any other country in the European Union, and more than a fourth of Hungarians are “seriously deprived,” unable to pay for such basics as rent, home heat, or groceries. The hospital system is on the brink of bankruptcy, health care workers are demonstrating (over pitiful wages that are one-tenth of their European counterparts), teachers are on strike, the country’s infrastructure is collapsing, and a half million professional and educated citizens have left the country since 2010, a sixfold increase in emigration since Fidesz assumed power.

Some weeks before last summer’s deluge of stranded refugees in Budapest made the city’s Keleti railway terminal Exhibit A of Hungarian animus toward immigrants, I show up at that station to catch a train into the countryside. I am on my way to visit the northeastern town from which so many of my relatives either fled as refugees during World War II or, along with the rest of their Jewish brethren, were deported. Keleti is a snarl of malfunctioning bureaucracy and broken-down services. Despite the 102-degree heat, the train I ride that day has no air conditioning—also no water, clogged toilets, and garbage skittering down the aisles. (At least the train is moving; on my way back, one of the chronic transit breakdowns requires passengers to be shunted through a patchwork bucket brigade of requisitioned buses.) From the bus windows, I can read the new Fidesz-sponsored highway billboards, instructing migrants not to “take away” Hungarian jobs. Competing signs erected by a spoof resistance party, the Two-Tailed Dog, respond: “Feel free to come to Hungary, we already work in England!”

In the spring of 2014, I pay a visit to the hospital near my father’s house, where that same national brain drain and crumbling infrastructure are on painful display. There is no doctor present on the internal medicine ward—it will be four hours before the lone physician on call arrives. As I wait, I watch the patients wander the halls carrying their own rolls of toilet paper. The hospital dispenses none. Nor does it provide soap or eating utensils. There is, again, no air conditioning, and no elevator. Hygiene is spotty. Orderlies carry pills, bed to bed, in cupped and ungloved hands.

“He’s not. He’s not! . . . It’s not going to happen. For Donald Trump to win, everything we know about politics has to be wrong.”

—Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s former top adviser, September 15, 2015


“I think we’ll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn’t . . . I think you’d have riots. . . . I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before. . . . I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”

—Donald Trump, March 16, 2016


Along with self-pity, victim-mongering, and a myth of historic loss that feeds identity, another feature seems to be an essential part of the fascist mix: a confidence among the established leaders that they can inflame the mob without ultimately becoming its victims too.

Fidesz rose to power in large measure by stoking the hateful passions that created its extremist little brother, Jobbik. In the early years, the devil’s bargain didn’t seem so devilish, even to one repatriated Hungarian Jew: “Fidesz will keep Jobbik in line,” my father says to me shortly after the 2010 elections, a view widely shared by Hungarian voters at the time.

“Have you read about the latest municipal elections?” a friend of mine, a literature professor and novelist, asks me five years later. We are sitting in her apartment a few blocks from the Danube. I have just arrived from the United States. “Fidesz is losing votes.” That’s encouraging news, I say. She shakes her head: “The voters are leaving Fidesz for Jobbik.

Fidesz would soon lose its parliamentary supermajority, and Jobbik would rack up several victories at the polls. In the next six months, Fidesz’s popularity would plummet ten percentage points. Only Jobbik benefitted from the loss. By the summer of 2015, Jobbik was enjoying robust support across the country and in every electoral segment, even in some unlikely quarters. That June, Kristóf Szombati, cofounder of the Hungarian Green Party, observed, “There is a good chance that Jobbik will manage to attract a sizable number of voters who previously supported the left.” If that were to happen, he noted, Hungarian politics will have reverted to the same situation “that first emerged at the end of 1930s, when the Social Democratic Party lost its rural voters to the Arrow Cross Party.”

I recall an afternoon half a dozen years earlier, when the right-wing ascendancy in Hungary is starting to make headlines worldwide. I check into the Radisson Blu Hotel in Budapest’s city center and take the short elevator ride to an upper floor. (By law, no building in Budapest can be higher than 96 meters—in tribute to 896, the theoretical year of the Magyar Conquest.) The bellhop who joins me with his luggage cart knows all too well how his country’s politics must look to a visiting American. His defense is a sly one. “So,” he says to me, “how do you like your Tea Party?”