Tucker Carlson Is Not Your New Best Friend

The Fox News host’s antiwar stance doesn’t erase all that other ugliness.

Suddenly you’re digging him. At least a little bit. I know, I’ve seen the tweets, read the commentary, heard the chatter, detected the barely suppressed cheer: Hurrah for Tucker Carlson. If only we had more brave, principled Republicans like him.

Right out of the gate, he protested President Trump’s decision to kill Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian military commander, noting that it didn’t square with the president’s determination not to get bogged down in the Middle East and warning of the possibility and horror of full-blown war. Your pulse quickened. You perked up.

He sounded that same alarm on his next show and the show after that. Every night at 8 p.m., he worried about the bellicose itch of our leaders. When all around him on Fox News were playing their usual roles (indeed, his usual role) as masseurs for the president’s tender ego, he administered slaps, hard ones, the kind that leave angry red handprints. Ouch — and don’t stop.

You rejoiced. It’s one thing when Democrats challenge what looks like a rush to war by a Republican president. It’s another when typically fawning members of his own party do.

And while Carlson was hardly alone in his rebellion — three House Republicans voted with Democrats to check the president’s war-waging authority and, over in the Senate, Mike Lee and Rand Paul raised a dissident ruckus — no one else had his ardor, his articulateness, his megaphone.

Carlson to the rescue!

Oh, please.

The fascination with him is itself fascinating, for many reasons. Can you recall a modern president before Trump whose moods and movements could be reflected and predicted simply by watching one news organization and, for that matter, just a few of its offerings? In lieu of a normally functioning White House communications department or a press secretary who holds actual press briefings (what a thought!), we have “Fox & Friends” in the morning and Carlson’s and Sean Hannity’s shows in the evening.

They don’t chronicle this presidency. They shape it, not just in terms of the volume of their applause for Trump, who craves the loudest possible clapping, but in terms of actual interactions. Carlson — like Hannity and another Fox fixture, Lou Dobbs — has in fact advised him behind the scenes.

Hence the rapt reaction to Carlson’s antiwar jeremiads. They may well matter.

Also, those of us who regard Trump as a menace can be so eager — too eager — to welcome newcomers to our shores that we overlook the polluted seas they sailed to get there. In a recent moment on the ABC talk show “The View” that was awkward at best, Joy Behar announced excitedly that the prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer had just disavowed Trump because of Iran.

Carlson, mind you, has not disavowed Trump. In fact he performed semantic acrobatics to denounce America’s military maneuvers against Iran without precisely blaming Trump. Those slaps I mentioned landed more forcefully on the administration in general than on the man-child at its apex, who is, in Carlson’s tortured rendition, a gullible marionette, his strings pulled by inveterate, habitual warmongers. If these profiteering elites would just let Trump be Trump and train his wrath on Mexicans instead of Iranians, a great presidency would get its groove back.

During his Tuesday show, Carlson performed political jujitsu and held two of the president’s principal Democratic adversaries responsible for exacerbated tensions with Iran. Referring to the Washington establishment and singling out Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he said, “These are people who have been basically advocating for a kind of war against Iran for an awfully long time.”

“It’s infuriating,” he added. “It’s because of Schumer and Pelosi and people like them that we got into Iraq in the first place.

Come again? A Republican president, George W. Bush, urged and oversaw the invasion of Iraq, and while Schumer authorized it, Pelosi voted against it, as did many more Democrats than Republicans.

And Carlson’s portrait of Trump as puppet contradicts reporting from The Times and other news organizations that some Pentagon officials were stunned when the president ordered the strike against Suleimani, a measure more extreme than other options presented to him.

Carlson remains true to Carlson: selective with facts, slanted with truths and — this is the most important part — committed to his vision of America as a land imperiled by nefarious Democrats and the dark-skinned invaders they would open the gates to if not for sentries like him and Trump.

As Matt Gertz of Media Matters perceptively noted, Carlson’s antiwar stance “is not a break from his past support for Trump or his channeling of white nationalist tropes, but a direct a result of both.” Gertz explained that in the mind-set of Carlson and many of his fans on the far right, energy spent on missions in another hemisphere is energy not spent on our southern border. It’s no accident that, in regard to the Middle East, he and Spencer are on the same page.

Following Suleimani’s death, Carlson asked his audience, “Why are we continuing to ignore the decline of our own country in favor of jumping into another quagmire?”

Carlson is defined not by a bold willingness to check Trump’s excesses or ugliest impulses but by his indulgence — no, his fervent encouragement — of those impulses as they pertain to racism and immigration. On those fronts, Carlson himself grows ever uglier, as my colleague Farhad Manjoo and others have noted. It’s why many sponsors have defected from Carlson’s show.

Carlson repeatedly uses variations of the word “invasion” to characterize migrants from Central America. He insists that “white supremacy” is a fiction, a hoax. He has used language that buys into and promotes “replacement theory” — a far-right fixation on the idea that declining birthrates among whites will cause a nonwhite takeover — and recently castigated immigrants for litter along the Potomac River.

Just last month he gave precious time on his show to an obscure Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina, Pete D’Abrosca, who has warned white Americans that they’re “being replaced by third world peasants.” D’Abrosca has also bragged of his support from the “groyper army,” a far-right group with more than a whiff of anti-Semitism.

Pete D’Abrosca

@pdabrosca

They’re being replaced by third world peasants who share neither their ethnicity nor their culture. https://twitter.com/amsoufi_/status/1186398407507750912 

Angelina Newsom@amsoufi_
Replying to @pdabrosca

What’s happening to white people in America

See Pete D’Abrosca’s other Tweets

Is Carlson himself abetting hatred of Jews? In a rare point of agreement, some Jews and white nationalists believe so, pointing to an on-air rant last month in which he bashed a Jewish billionaire, Paul Singer, by comparing him unfavorably with Henry Ford, who owned a newspaper that ran a lengthy series alleging a Jewish plot to dominate the world.

“The Fox News host goes full anti-Semite,” wrote Tablet, a Jewish publication, while Mike Enoch, who rallied with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., said on his podcast, “If you didn’t catch the German shepherd whistles where he praised Henry Ford and then went into a diatribe of a Jewish financier, you know, I don’t know what universe you’re existing in.”

So that’s some of what Carlson was up to just before he turned his attention to Iran.

How warm and fuzzy are you feeling toward him now?

Trump sounds just like a right-wing talk-radio host

Talk radio has President Trump’s back. “Where does it say in the Constitution that if Washington’s establishment doesn’t like the results of a presidential election, they get to do whatever they want to do to overturn them?” asked the broadcast king, Rush Limbaugh, after the House formalized its impeachment inquiry in October. “They have been trying to get rid of Donald Trump under false, lying premises since election night.” Mark Levin claimed that several of the witnesses testifying in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings “exposed themselves as part of a cabal.”

To these radio hosts, Trump’s voters are the ones who are really under attack: “He’s a surrogate for their hatred for us,” said Limbaugh. Given this robust defense, it’s not surprising that Trump regularly retweets or quotes hosts like LimbaughLevin and Laura Ingraham.

But there’s more to these apologetics than the fact that right-wing talk radio hosts agree with the president’s views. Trump sounds just like them. Reality TV may have enshrined his celebrity, but Trump’s tone, his concerns and his willingness to shock people are most at home on the radio waves during rush hour.

He calls the House investigation “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” and a “hoax.” He asserts without evidence that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is “a corrupt politician and a criminal” and that Republicans are dealing with “human scum.”

It’s rants like these — which mimic what millions of conservative Americans consume on the airwaves — that have helped Trump build and cement a durable bond with these voters. This relationship might prove to be the president’s political salvation, propelling him not only past impeachment but maybe even to a second term.

When Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, reporters and analysts of all political stripes dismissed him as a sideshow. Not only did he lack political experience, but he kept saying things that politicians just weren’t allowed to say. One astute observer thought otherwise: Limbaugh. He said he and his producer were “laughing ourselves silly” during Trump’s announcement speech, but he also presciently observed: “This is gonna resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys” — Limbaugh’s term for mainstream journalists — “are gonna pooh-pooh it. They’re gonna relegate it to the carnival characteristics of the campaign and so forth, but it’s gonna resonate, just like [1992 and 1996 presidential candidate Ross] Perot did.”

How did Limbaugh know that Trump’s message would connect? Maybe because a lot of what the candidate said sounded like his show. The most controversial line in Trump’s campaign announcement speech was his assertion that Mexico was sending the United States “rapists” and others who brought drugs and crime with them. This claim horrified many Americans. But later that summer, after Trump was pushed on the point during the first Republican primary debate, Limbaugh defended himarguing: “You know, they try to dump on Trump, demand proof from him that the Mexican government is knowingly sending rapists, murderers and purse snatchers, and this kind of thing. They are! It’s something I know full well. We’ve had the stories. We’ve done them on this program.” And indeed, he had: For more than a decade, Limbaugh had been railing about “violent criminals” that “countries like Mexico” were “unwilling to take back.” To Limbaugh and his audience, Trump was showing a refreshing willingness to tell uncomfortable truths that Republican politicians shy away from because they are afraid of offending liberal sensibilities or being accused of bigotry.

Stylistically, Trump is far more talk-radio host than buttoned-down politician. For instance, he employs snarky nicknames to rip the mainstream media. While Levin bemoans the “Washington Compost” and “MSLSD,” Trump lashes out at the “Failing New York Times,” “Deface the Nation” and “Very Low Ratings” CNN.

The extreme rhetoric Trump uses, especially on immigration, has long been a staple of talk radio (and other conservative media, like Fox News and Breitbart). During the 2007 debate over bipartisan immigration reform, Limbaugh warned that the Senate bill would “fundamentally, and perhaps permanently, alter American society for the worse.” Fellow talker Michael Savage said then-Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) was engaged in “gansterism” after Lott compained about talk-radio hosts.

Seven years later, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner revealed his principles for immigration reform, Limbaugh exploded again. To him, the push to admit immigrants who, he claimed, saw the United States as “no place special” was one more part of the left’s campaign to degrade America. Liberals were teaching young Americans in public schools, he said, “not only not to love the country, but they’re being lied to about how the country was founded, why it was founded, who founded it and what its purpose is.” And now, with immigration reform, Limbaugh fumed, the Republican Party wanted “the end of the country as we know it.” While Ingraham admitted in 2014 that she personally liked Boehner, she, too, declared that what he was doing on immigration was “a nightmare. It is political suicide both for the free market and ultimately for small-government conservatism.”

What enraged hosts and listeners the most was that, instead of going to war to defeat such dangerous ideas, establishment Republicans like Boehner were proposing them and trying to punish the few courageous conservatives who dared to fight back. That’s what happened to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in 2015 when he voted against a procedural rule on a trade bill that would have given President Barack Obama authority to negotiate deals faster. Leadership’s attempt to punish Meadows enraged Levin, who called Boehner a “fool” and a “moron” and demanded: “We need a new Republican Party that’s principled, that’s conservative, that believes in America. Not this crap that goes on inside the Beltway.”

Listening to talk radio, it was clear that many of the people in right-wing audiences wanted this sort of fire from politicians, too. But they had concluded that most Republican politicians were too weak or too interested in currying favor in the clubby world of Washington to adequately battle Democrats. Later that summer, after analysts panned Trump’s performance in the first Republican debate, a Limbaugh caller named Chris epitomized this sentiment, explaining that pundits underestimated the anger of Republicans like him toward their party. These voters felt “almost betrayed.” To Chris, instead of two parties arrayed against each other, “like Republican versus Democrat,” it was “almost like two versions of one party, and the other side is the outsiders that aren’t part of it.”

This belief created fertile ground for Trump: His blunt calls to build a border wall, his willingness to sneer at norms dictating what he couldn’t say or do, and his instinct to punch back at critics thrilled conservatives who had been looking for a pugilistic politician who sounded like their favorite warriors on the airwaves.

And far from becoming more presidential after winning office, Trump has continued to shred norms, sticking to the sort of rhetoric more commonly found on talk radio than in the White House — especially on his Twitter feed. A New York Times analysis last month revealed that between Inauguration Day in 2017 and early this November, Trump had attacked someone or something in 5,889 tweets, while 1,710 tweets promoted conspiracy theories, also common on conservative airwaves. The impeachment inquiry has turned the president’s Twitter feed positively molten: He has labeled Schiff “sick and suggested that the chairman be arrested for treason. He has dubbed Democrats a “disgrace” and questioned their sanity. Like the radio hosts, he has called the impeachment investigation “bulls—,” a “coup” intended to take away people’s “freedoms.” He has demanded that lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) be impeached (which isn’t constitutionally possible) and even endorsed the theory that his removal might lead to a “Civil War like fracture.”

To Trump’s base, rather than being unpresidential or dangerous, this rhetoric proves he’s a fighter willing to tell inconvenient truths and take on their burden — just as hosts like Limbaugh, Levin and Ingraham have for decades. Listeners believe that their values — such as a belief in traditional nuclear families and gender roles, patriotism, religiosity and economic freedom from government intrusion — which they see as crucial to American greatness, are under attack. And Trump has the power, the megaphone and the willingness to battle back against a cruel and intolerant liberal establishment that increasingly dominates society, no matter the firestorm he creates. As long as he’s doing that, his base isn’t going to let him be destroyed by the forces seeking to cripple the country they love.

Populism and the Future of White Majorities

The Agenda welcomes Eric Kaufmann, an immigration expert, politics professor at London’s Birkbeck College, and author of the controversial new book, “Whiteshift,” which explores how demographical change has given rise to populism. In an age marked by cultural wars and ethnic divisions, Kaufmann says, “We need to talk about white identity.” He writes that societies need to shift their thinking and analyze how Western populations – immigrants, non-whites, whites and mixed populations – can co-exist.