Tucker Carlson's Departure
Tucker Carlson being out at Fox is a huge deal. If I could organize a symposium of academics to talk about it, I would.
This week I will write on a short haiku about being rich. Why might having wealth make us less appreciative of art and nature? I can hear you muttering "if that isn't obvious, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you," but our assumptions about being rich are not the same as actual behavior and motivations. I also believe that asking how we'll change if we get what we want is worthwhile. If I become rich, what happens to my priorities?
I want to write on Kay Ryan's "Crown," too. It raises the question of how the sacred has to be both inaccessible and yet accessible.
But right now I think it's important to react to the news. Tucker Carlson being out at Fox is a huge deal. If I could organize a symposium of academics to talk about it, I would. It's not just an issue for those of us who spend too much time on Twitter or are news and politics junkies. The Media Matters crew puts down what is relevant succinctly:
Andrew Lawrence asserts that "tucker carlson is the most prevalent purveyor of hate in my entire lifetime, he popularized conspiracy theories that have radicalized violent extremists." He then cites the record, the record being enough to sue everyone involved in production of his show to oblivion:
Again, the stunning thing is how we haven't done anything about mass media inspiring mass shootings or whitewashing an insurrection. Here's an article about the links between Carlson's ideas and the Buffalo massacre. Carlson's efforts to paint January 6th as just another day are infamous. I am at a loss to explain how we let garbage content like this dominate our lives and worse. To expound on that last point: Carlson, with regard to January 6th, may have been the most powerful person in the world. His platform made it possible for GOP officials to hide behind conspiracy theories and evade the possibility of consequences. He helped diminish the efforts of the Jan 6th committee, even as the committee laid out a clear case of what happened and who was responsible. His popularity provided an implicit excuse for the inaction of the Attorney General and the President (who took an oath, last I checked, to protect us from threats foreign and domestic). They could say to themselves that it was too costly to go after people who tried to overthrow the government. The sheer invective of Carlson's show made those who were guilty seem incredibly formidable.
I have an academic question. I'm wondering about the next few weeks and months. A TV show doesn't just dictate what to say for a moment. It makes an impression on people—they'll replicate the tone of voice, the style of argument, the choice of stories, the sense of what is a joke or a win. In a weird way they got used to panic, anger, and listening to bottom feeders who are "open" to race science. What happens now? I imagine we'll still see fake stories from right-wing outlets or places like 4chan. Fake stories which, assembled a certain way, would be featured on Tucker Carlson Tonight. But those stories won't go anywhere, despite an audience which was conditioned for them. It may be the case that hate and laziness go hand-in-hand. Hate lends itself to easy ways of explaining a world where complicated things happen.
Yet we know that hate in America always resurrects. The same talking points from decades ago—complete with failed predictions from decades ago!—become the platform for a new generation of extremists. Here's Kat Abughazaleh on how the John Birch Society is alive and well in the 2020's:
For me, what's interesting is how the paranoid, exaggerated, angry rhetoric creates an emotional space in people. They start feeling like they have to hear that California is falling apart or that everyone in Chicago is being gunned down as we speak. And then, you pull away the source of that rhetoric. They still have the same thoughts and feelings, but they refer to nothing but the image they've conceived. That image, strictly speaking, has no referent. So it's like there are these rhetorical ghosts floating around, sometimes floating around for decades, which quietly hold enormous sway over our political and media landscape.
Tucker Carlson's legacy is that by mainstreaming white nationalism, he created a number of ghosts we have yet to address. I remember years back Carlson running a segment on the Roma in Pennsylvania, a segment completely dehumanizing them. I remember being completely in shock. You couldn't call his rhetoric "neo-Nazi" because it was straight Nazi rhetoric, right from the Third Reich itself. Dehumanizing the Roma isn't a dog-whistle. They literally did suffer mass executions because of this sort of talk. Talking about them like they cannot function in society is begging for the attention of white nationalist extremists.
FWIW, I don't think the ghosts will be as powerful when they reappear. The striking thing about our present moment is how much anger there is at right-wing talking points and Democratic party inaction. Where I am right now is relatively conservative. Talk like your uncle that's always mad about the border or your grandpa who thinks Biden is a socialist and people audibly groan. Tucker, unlike his conservative audience, is not completely oblivious to those groans. Welcome to hell, Mr. Carlson.