Politics

Why Sebastian Gorka Hasn't Really Gone Away

The departed Trump advisor is a bizarre character, but that doesn't make him unique.
04 September 2017, 9:45am

Spare a thought, if you can, for recently departed Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka, the last of an undead breed. Something is changing in Washington DC: Michael Flynn is gone, Steve Bannon is gone, and now Gorka is gone – all those strange bloated monsters, the wobbling purveyors of what looked like a sudden explosion in right-wing blood-and-soil mythology. The last vestiges of what could be called Esoteric Trumpism are fading away – just look at Gorka's resignation letter, with its mewling, almost pathetic references to the betrayal of the "MAGA promise" and its meek faith that, nonetheless, Trump will make sure that "radical Islamic terrorism will be obliterated, that the threat of a nuclear Iran will be neutralized, and that the hegemonic ambitions of Communist China will be robustly countered." Like the show-trial victims, insisting even as they're dragged away to be shot that they love comrade Stalin beyond words or measure.

An age is fading: the flourishing evil and weirdness of Trump's first few months is gone now, to be replaced by an evil of a more pedestrian sort. It might not be a coincidence that Gorka was pushed from the White House on the same day that Trump pardoned the brutal Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. A trade. The grand dumb Beast of Budapest with his fantasies of world domination, bartered away for some two-bit border hick who thought it would be funny to make prisoners wear pink underwear. Next up on the agenda: tax cuts for the rich – the pedestrian obsession of a familiar, more American-seeming reactionary right. So pass the delusions of the world.

In February this year, when British viewers got their first real look at White House deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, it was unspeakably bizarre. This bulbous creature out of the old nightmares of central Europe, with his deathly-grey skin and his mossy belch of a film villain's goatee, this Transylvanian menace, this misshapen scrap-bag of corpse-flesh and right-wing fanaticism – what the hell was he doing on the BBC, being interviewed by Evan Davies? It was as if Dracula and Cthulhu had been booked as panelists on Mock The Week. In his interview, Gorka spent most of his time responding to the suggestion that the White House was in disarray by accusing the BBC and the media in general of perpetrating fake news – but what really stands out was his insistence that coverage of Trump "eight times out of nine was fabricated." What kind of a creature counts to nine, rather than ten? A tripod-beast, three snatching limbs, each with three claws: that's what must be seething under Gorka's rubbery human-suit. There's no other explanation.

"Dr Gorka" speaking at SOCOM Wargame Centre, image via SK-Gorka, Wikicommons.

It fits all the available evidence. Gorka insists on being called Dr. Gorka, even though his PhD is deeply suspect – awarded by the Corvinus University of Budapest, where he shows no signs of ever having actually studied, and examined by a panel that included only one actual academic, who was also a far-right Hungarian MEP with whom Gorka had previously published a book. His career since has been pure hucksterism, flaunting what many regard to be phony expertise for cushy gigs at fringe think-tanks, universities, and Breitbart, as an "irregular warfare strategist." His expertise mostly consists of ramblings about Islam of the calibre usually seen on an EDL Facebook page – "so much for the religion of peace! Don't you know the Qu'ran commands all Muslims to have six hundred wives and stockpile Semtex?" – involving fewer memes but little more thought. For Gorka (who cannot read or understand Arabic), the failure of US antiterrorism policy is down to its refusal to see that terrorism isn't a product of history and circumstance (and decades of US-Saudi funding for right-wing religious extremists, and decades of Western wars and coups in the Islamic world). Instead, it's inscribed in the texts of Islam and the genes of Muslims.

It makes sense that's he's allegedly member the Vitézi Rend, a military order whose members were prominent in the wartime Hungarian government, who cheerfully cooperated with Nazi mass exterminations of European Jews. He's happy to wear its medal, at least, which he says he does to honour his fathers' memory. He also spoke highly of the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group whose officials have described Jews as "rats," "locusts," and "nation-destroyers." His response, of course, is that he can't be an anti-Semite, because he loves Israel ("Because we are pro-Israel, we must be attacked") – in other words, a project that collects the world's Jews, and keeps them very far away.

Sebestyén Lukács vitez Gorka, on a creeping mission that brought him from the political undeath of eastern Europe, out from the disappointment of the post-Soviet democracies and their slink into Orbánite reaction, up through Western academia and the media, was able to infiltrate the highest reaches of the American government – until finally he was defeated by a more muscular, more honest, more bovine and healthy Western brand of evil. It's a nice, neat story, but it's also itself a little Gorka-esque: the evil outsider, with a funny name and a Gothic history, corrupting our institutions from within.

Only, when Gorka speaks, he doesn't cackle in some Magyar despot's pointed vowels; he sounds British. With good reason. Gorka was born in London; he went to school in Ealing, to university in Kensington, and served in the Territorial Army. His grim far-right ideology ended up attaching itself to signifiers from his parents' homeland, but his barbarism is entirely our own.

In April, Gorka stormed off stage after students refused to stop asking questions he didn't like during a panel at Georgetown University. What he says is instructive. As students plausibly and politely identify him as a racist, he responds that "it's clear you've never read anything I've written." No, the student says: "I read approximately 20 of your articles last night." Gorka isn't deterred. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he says, before explaining that his interlocutor is committing "cultural appropriation and arrogance" and that he doesn't need to speak Arabic to be an expert on Islam, stopping occasionally to make sure the student understands what he's blathering about. We should recognise this behaviour. Trump's pet fanatic wasn't so strange. He's the distillation of every middle-aged, middle class know-it-all; every tired old Jag-driving reactionary who knows that socialism is impossible because he stopped believing it, and that the young and poor are stupid because they haven't; every cretinous paterfamilias who knows that a woman's place is in the home, because of some article he half-remembers and his wife's inscrutable glum silence on the matter; every blinkered pragmatic Anglo twerp who took a business trip to Qatar once and now knows exactly what has to be done about the Middle East. He is the Home Counties Dad.

These people are fascists in miniature, scale them up to an oversized importance and you get Sebastian Gorka. Behind all his chthonic posturing, he's exactly the same as the bland monstrosities that will follow him; just as tedious, just as banal. The only difference is that he was stupid enough to occasionally say, in public, what they all think. His goatee will hover over our world forever, alive in the eternity of reactionary dadness.

@sam_kriss