Why they hate Tucker Carlson
The liberal elite’s fear of Fox News is really a fear of the white working class.
Woe betide the left-leaning hack who deviates from the narrative about Tucker Carlson. Tucker’s a fascist and any liberal who says otherwise should expect swift cancellation. Witness the troubles at the American Prospect. On Wednesday, the day after Carlson’s abrupt departure from Fox News, that young organ of pained liberalism made the grave error of publishing a piece suggesting Carlson might in fact be a complicated figure. Perhaps – whisper it – a rebellious one. Might this boisterous puncturer of the new elite’s ‘lazy pieties’, this primetime critic of war, free-market capitalism and Big Tech, hold some lessons for the left? Oh dear. Summon the mob. A liberal has made unapproved comments about Mr Carlson.
The irregular commentary was written by Lee Harris and Luke Goldstein. Yes, Carlson could be ‘obsessively nativist’, they said, not least by flirting with Great Replacement theories. But he also had a ‘willingness to challenge and mock ruling elites’ and he won a ‘wide audience’ by doing so. Which begs a question, said these reckless dissenters from Tuckerphobia: ‘Why other nightly news shows that attacked him didn’t raise the same critiques.’ It’s a good question. There was Tucker saying ‘You’d have to be a fool to worship [market capitalism]’ and roasting the DC elites for ‘spending tens of billions of dollars’ on war, while Trevor Noah was fluttering his lashes at war criminal Hillary Clinton and asking: ‘What does it feel like being the boogeyman to the right?’ Instead of mauling Carlson some more, why don’t ‘liberal media outlets like the Guardian’ do some of their own ‘skewering [of] comfortable pieties’, asked Harris and Goldstein?
Cue hysteria. Twitter – well, the small portion of it that reads the American Prospect – went nuts. Readers vented, subs were cancelled. Things got so crazy that the magazine’s executive editor, David Dayen, issued a mea culpa. We ‘fell short’, he said. We will ‘work hard to earn back whatever trust has been lost’, he pleaded. He atoned for the American Prospect’s transgression against liberal orthodoxy by publishing a follow-up piece titled ‘The Real Tucker Carlson’. The real Tucker Carlson is a ‘neofascist’ in thrall to ‘racism, xenophobia, misogyny, disdain for democracy, affinity for autocrats and autocracy [and] habitual lying’, it said. Shorter version: Carlson’s scum. Order restored. Narrative reinstated. Sleep easy, rich liberals.
Strikingly, other right-on outlets rushed to Dayen’s aid as he scrambled to repair both the American Prospect’s reputation and correct-think on Tucker Carlson. ‘Progressive magazine vows to win back trust after publishing positive Tucker Carlson article’, said the crazy headline to a sympathetic piece on Mediaite. ‘Tucker Carlson is not an anti-war populist rebel. He is a fascist’, said the Guardian. ‘The left-wing case for Tucker Carlson is wrong’, decreed New York magazine. And thus, following a brief tear in the liberal consensus, was the One True View on Tucker returned to respectable society.
This mad meltdown was fascinating. One can’t help but wonder what the decent people who tuned into Tucker every night must have thought as they watched Martha’s Vineyard types venomously turn on each other after one of their number committed the moral felony of publishing a positive article about Tucker Carlson. No doubt it confirmed everything they already thought about this distant, possibly deranged elite, which really does believe you’re either one of us or you’re a neofascist autocrat who loves nothing more than whipping rednecks into an anti-foreigner, anti-trans, anti-M&Ms frenzy. Tucker was right about these weirdos, those folk probably thought.
We need to talk about Tucker Derangement Syndrome. You don’t have to be a Carlson fanboy to recognise that the molten contempt for him in liberal circles is odd and disproportionate and possibly tells us more about the frothing liberals themselves than it does about any evil on the part of Mr Carlson. It strikes me that liberal Tuckerphobia is part fear, part envy. These people fret over Carlson’s influence on the white working class, worrying their little patrician heads that he’s exciting dangerous passions among the low-information throng. But they’re jealous of that influence, too. Deep down they recognise that this preppy dude who they mock for his ‘incredulous stare’ and ‘slack-jawed expression’ is able to do something they can no longer do and will never be able to do again: connect with ordinary people. Tucker’s no ‘working-class whisperer’, said that corrective American Prospect piece, which suggests they’re worried that that’s exactly what he is.
My view of Carlson is that he’s a very good broadcaster who has some interesting views and some batshit insane views. I was on his Fox show twice. I saw that ‘incredulous stare’ and ‘slack jaw’ in real time as I explained to him that, yes, a woman in Austria really had been convicted in a court of law for being mean about the Prophet Muhammad. Carlson’s agitation with capitalism could be thrilling to watch. Who can forget his impassioned monologue on the low pay of Amazon workers, some of whom are forced to claim welfare, meaning American taxpayers are essentially propping up the Bezos oligarchy. Yet the next day he’d go into a rant about the Dems bringing in ever-more immigrants because they nefariously long to replace ‘legacy Americans’ (oof) with ‘more obedient people from faraway countries’. One night he’d sound like a Novara Media radical (if less posh), the next he’d be channelling Tommy Robinson.
Ross Douthat has a good explanation for this political schizophrenia, for the fact that Carlson’s TV show was ‘the farthest right on cable news but also sometimes the farthest left’. Sometimes you’d tune in and Carlson would come off as a ‘George W Bush-era anti-war activist given a primetime show on Fox by some mischievous genie’, says Douthat, and other times you’d see him entertaining the ‘“Great Replacement” paranoia’ of the far right. That’s because his driver was not ideology, but suspicion. Suspicion towards ‘any idea with an establishment imprimatur’, Douthat says. Extreme wariness towards elite dogma was Carlson’s stock-in-trade, and sometimes it landed well – who doesn’t bristle at the Amazon oligarchy’s exploitation of its workforce? – and other times it made you wince. I mean, I distrust the Pentagon as much as the next man, but even I don’t think they’re hiding the truth about UFOs from us.
And yet, both the Tucker-hating radical left and the Tucker-concerned respectable right need to think about why Carlson’s politics of suspicion, his sometimes smart and sometimes crude resistance against everything establishment, hit home with people. Sure, he was no Christopher Lasch. He was no William F Buckley. Sometimes he was Howard Stern with a twist of Bernie. But viewers liked it. And that’s because they were looking for someone, anyone, reasoned or not, leftish or rightish, to stick it to an elite which for decades has been treating them with the most extraordinary derision. There’s no point moaning about Carlson’s forays into weirdthink, because it was his style rather than his substance, his nightly fuck-you to those people, that drew in the deplorables who are so tired of being defamed by the powerful.
This is the irony of Tucker Derangement Syndrome: the very people who fear the rise of Carlson created the conditions for the rise of Carlson. You think you can condemn the masses as a ‘basket of deplorables’, as imbeciles who ‘cling to guns or religion’, as gammon and Karens, as lizard-brained lowlifes, as gullible white trash led astray by Trump and Brexit, as transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic creatures in urgent need of re-education, and that there won’t be consequences? Get real. Carlson is the consequence. If he’s a monster – calm down, he isn’t – then he’s a monster of your making. Carlson’s ‘power’ among the white working class is directly proportional to the elites’ visceral derision for the white working class. Dehumanise people for long enough and they’ll look high and low for someone who treats them as human. Carlson did that, at least: he treated his viewers as human.
Following the end of Carlson’s relationship with Fox, the liberal elite has doubled down on its contempt for Fox viewers. Carlson’s rhetoric was ‘dangerous’, they say, not least because he had a ‘very impressionable audience’. There it is. The class hatred masquerading as media theory that underpins the elite disdain for Tucker in particular and right-wing media more broadly. Tuckerphobia is underwritten by a bourgeois dread that the TV-watching plebs will be driven mad by demagogues like Carlson. It’s Carlson they bash, but it’s the masses they fear. There has been much talk in recent days about Carlson’s ‘paranoid style’, à la Richard Hofstadter. And it’s true he bent towards paranoia at times. But it was the liberal establishment’s paranoid dread of the deplorable working-class that not only made Tucker possible, but which will ensure that, soon, someone will take his place.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
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