WASHINGTON, May 13, 2019 — President Trump on Monday announced he would soon meet with two autocrats while offering praise for a third strongman who has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms in his own country.
“[Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban has done a tremendous job in so many different ways,” Trump said during an Oval Office photo opportunity with the proponent of so-called “illiberal democracy.”
He later added that he plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit, which will take place in Japan this July.
Since assuming office, Trump has repeatedly clashed with many of the democratically-elected leaders of major American allies, while bragging of his strong relationships with budding autocrats like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Orban, whose Fidesz party was recently suspended from its place in the EU Parliament’s European People’s Party over Hungary’s rollbacks of press and academic freedom, as well as other human rights matters.
Still, Trump claimed that the Hungarian ethno-nationalist leader is “respected all over Europe.”
When given a chance to address the assembled reporters, Orban said that Hungary is “proud to stand with the United States against illegal migration…and to protect and help Christian communities all over the world.”
Trump responded with more praise, telling Orban that he has been “great you have been great with respect to Christian communities.”
“You have really put a block up [against Muslim refugees] and we appreciate that very much,” he added.
Orban, who previously served as Hungary’s Prime Minister from 1998 through 2002, visited the White House during his first term in office. But Monday’s visit was first since his Fidesz party returned to power in 2010, allowing him to embark on a series of constitutional changes meant to replace the democratic government Hungary established after the fall of the Soviet Union what he calls “illiberal democracy,” a system — largely devised by Orban himself — under which laws are structured to restrict press freedom, hinder political opposition, and curtail the rights of ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.
While his hard-line immigration policies and moves to curtail a free press and academic freedom have drawn widespread condemnation from most European leaders and the Obama administration, Orban’s government has become a favorite of American white nationalists, who point to Hungary’s draconian anti-immigration policies as a model for the United States to follow.
Asked whether he had any concerns about Hungary’s retreat from democracy, Trump chose to defend Orban, who he called a “tough” and “highly respected man, who has done the right thing, according to many people, on immigration.”
Orban, for his part, said his country’s new constitution is “functioning well.”