May 4, 2023
When the news that he had lost his job flooded the media I realized that, despite his prominence, I’d never sat through an entire Tucker Carlson broadcast. He was a poster boy for the far right, but my actual exposure to him was only secondhand, through the reporting about him and the things he said, including 60-second clips of his outrageousness.
But when Jon Schwartz, writing for The Intercept, recommended that his readers read Carlson’s last speech, I found myself getting more and more concerned about the personal vision that had been driving Tucker Carlson and its pernicious impact beyond any one issue where we might strongly disagree.
The speech, which was delivered in late February, put Carlson on center stage before a Heritage Society audience gathered to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In the room were the glitterati of the Conservative world and Carlson was their fair-haired champion, the one who using his message, was able to give Conservatives and their MAGA shock troops needed inspiration to continue on in their war to beat back Democrats and “libs”.
Reading through the transcript of his 30-minute presentation gave me what I had overlooked in the hype about Carlson’s offensive comments. Behind his words was a view of the world that provides the rationale to his audience to support and act on an agenda of racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant bias, and just outright hatred of the “other.”
Underlying this bile is something that seems even more insidious. He characterizes those who deign to disagree with him as “less than,” as unworthy of engaging with. He allows his supporters to ignore the complexity of our world. They do not need to consider that there may be more than one possible way to see the world. He personalizes and permits a disturbing level of hubris, one that from my perspective is the bane of rich and privileged white men and those who aspire to become part of that group.
He sees himself as engaged in a battle of morals and not in a struggle over ideas and strategies. And he, like every self-appointed prophet, claims to be speaking for God.
In his speech, Carlson used abortion as a centerpiece to illustrate how he views the current political scene. Since Roe v. Wade was decided, establishing a Constitutional right to abortion, we have been engaged in a struggle between those who view all abortions as sinful and those who see it as a matter to be decided by each woman guided by her individual values and needs. The political controversy reached a tipping point when the Supreme Court overturned its precedent, removed a women’s constitutionally protected right to seek the medical treatment of her own choice, and allowed individual states to impose their whatever restrictions their political leadership, as gerrymandered as it might be, saw fit. The opposition to this revolution in law was to bring out a broad-based demand to protect the rights and bodies of women.
Carlson’s reflection on this political battle gave me a shiver.
“Abortion, Transgenderism as ‘Child Sacrifice’”… That’s a debate I’m familiar with. But if you’re telling me that abortion is a positive good, what are you saying? Well, you’re arguing for child sacrifice, obviously. It’s not about, oh, a teen girl gets pregnant, and what do we do about that and victims of rape. I get it. Of course, I understand that, and I have compassion for everyone involved.
“But when the Treasury secretary stands up and says, “You know what you can do to help the economy? Get an abortion.” Well, that’s like an Aztec principle, actually. There’s not a society in history that didn’t practice human sacrifice. Not one. I checked. …
“Well, what’s the point of child sacrifice? Well, there’s no policy goal entwined with that. No, that’s a theological phenomenon.
“And that’s kind of the point I’m making. None of this makes sense in conventional political terms. When people, or crowds of people…decide that the goal is to destroy things, destruction for its own sake, “Hey, let’s tear it down,” what you’re watching is not a political movement. It’s evil.”
Those who agree with him are good, those who disagree with him are evil. No need to try to understand the thinking of those who are evil.
“Well, I mean, good is characterized by order, calmness, tranquility, peace, whatever you want to call it, lack of conflict, cleanliness. Cleanliness is next to godliness. It’s true. It is.
“And evil is characterized by their opposites. Violence, hate, disorder, division, disorganization, and filth. So, if you are all in on the things that produce the latter basket of outcomes, what you’re really advocating for is evil. That’s just true.”
This is a line of thinking that does not care about public opinion. It does not care about understanding the thinking of others. Disturbingly to me, it does not care about facts and information. Real-world truth is unimportant because the only truth comes from being on the side of the good that Carlson knows he possesses.
Through Carlson’s lens, we are told it’s okay, and it is alright to see difficult and complex issues as binary. Do good or do evil.
He makes it ok to not engage in difficult conversations because those who disagree with you are evil.
“One side’s like, “No, no, I’ve got this idea, and we’ve got this idea, and let’s have a debate about our ideas.” They don’t want a debate. Those ideas won’t produce outcomes that any rational person would want under any circumstances. Those are manifestations of some larger force acting upon us. It’s just so obvious. It’s completely obvious…we should say that and stop engaging in these totally fraudulent debates…”
Whatever the issue, guns race, wealth inequality, LBGTQ+ rights or our national history, Carlson speaks to a population who is fearful of change and tells them to fight back because those asking for changes that reflect the diversity and complexity of our world are evil. Fight back because they are on the side of good and they are fighting evil.
According to Carlson, there is no need to look at the data or to consider how others disagree with you, or how the experience of others is not your experience. There is no need to think about how your position affects the lives of others. Compromise will just be giving in to evil.
A recent Washington Post article told us “Since 2020, the share of Republicans who said that crime is rising in their community has jumped from 38 percent to 73 percent, according to the latest Gallup numbers from last fall…”
“The perception that life is getting more dangerous has spread on the right as GOP leaders and pundits repeatedly argued, without evidence, that immigrants and protesters are jeopardizing American peace. Conservative news channels have devoted more airtime to violence than their center- and left-leaning competitors: Over the past three years, for instance, Fox News anchors and guests spotlighted crime 79 percent more often than those on MSNBC and twice as much as voices on CNN, according to a Washington Post analysis …”
Carlson’s power makes it okay, in fact, he makes it necessary to ignore data like this which shows that there has not been a spike in violent crime:
When every issue is made the binary that Carlson makes it, how do we engage those I disagree with?
For me, this is an alarming question. I spent a lifetime believing that engagement was always possible and that the things we share are greater than those we disagree about. I believed and still believe that if we can focus on what we can agree on, we can move things forward together. That’s never easy, and it always requires humility and respect for everyone in the room. But it is possible and I thought it could result in major accomplishments.
But when in a room with people who see only one is the ight way, their way — what do we do?