WASHINGTON, DC – George Soros is a ghost.
To be clear, the Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist, now 91, is very much alive and still active in public life: just this week, he gave a speech on China to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.
But in the eyes of many on the right, he is a spectre, a warning of the consequences – and, sometimes, the cause of – globalisation. And if you think that sounds like an anti-Semitic slur, you’d be right.
These attacks have been going on literally for decades.
In 1992, the Hungarian politician István Csurka blamed Soros for the downfall of Csurka’s political party.
In 1996, Franjo Tudjman, then president of Croatia, called Soros the enemy of the people.
In 2007, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said the billionaire was a dangerous extremist who sought to open borders.
In 2008, Vladimir Mečiar, the former prime minister of Slovakia, said the reason that he lost an election ten years prior was because of Soros.
In 2010, Glenn Beck aired a three-part special on Fox promising to unveil the truth about Soros. “Not only does he want to bring America to her knees, financially, he wants to reap obscene profits off us as well,” Beck said. The Anti-Defamation League called out Beck, criticising the feature for its anti-Semitic undertones.
In 2017, I reported on why Soros had become the bogeyman of eastern Europe. There were anti-corruption protests in Romania and Slovakia, and politicians in both countries tried to imply that Soros was behind them. An interviewee back then told me that people in power didn’t actually want to legitimise the opposition by addressing them directly. And so, he said, “they have to invent a ghost. That is inflated… and they have discovered that Soros is the perfect candidate.”
[See also: George Soros at 90: The man vs the myth]
The next year, in 2018, ahead of the midterms, the then-US president Donald Trump suggested that perhaps it was Soros who was responsible for migrant caravans coming into America.
Now, in 2022, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has released a 25-minute special: Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization. The documentary basically pushes the idea that Soros is trying to dissolve Hungary’s borders and flood the country with migrants. It ends by saying that Hungary is going to the polls this year, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is up against Soros. (Actually, he is up against Péter Márki-Zay, a conservative mayor.) Meanwhile, in the US, outlets on the far right are implying that Soros is somehow meddling in voter rolls.
What’s most striking about the latest series of attacks, in Hungary and in America, is this: they are not new. It’s like a meal that everyone once found exciting, but has been heated up again and again and is now just soggy – but is nevertheless still being served up to eat.
There are other points on which one could dwell. There are the obviously anti-Semitic undertones of these various conspiracy theories, and the fact that those who push these conspiracy theories refuse to take seriously those who call out this anti-Semitism. (For anyone who is confused: criticising Soros is not anti-Semitic. Ascribing to him, a Jewish person, the power to overthrow democracy or undermine a country’s national sovereignty is, yes, anti-Semitic.)
There’s the reality that it is an election year, and right-wing actors from Budapest to Washington, DC would clearly rather run against Soros than their actual political opponents. Which is why they rail against him instead of running on their own records.
But there’s something else here, too: this whole thing is tired. If these politicians and pundits had anything genuinely new to offer, they would do so. But they don’t. Instead, for the umpteenth decade in a row, they’re slamming Soros. Doing so won’t make voters’ lives better. It won’t implement productive policy, and it doesn’t constitute a real contribution to political debate or discourse. Invoking Soros won’t end a war, or provide healthcare, or curb the pandemic, or reduce poverty.
But it keeps eyes and ears on the pundits and politicians who use the conspiracy theories. And perhaps, for them, that is just as good.