This is Going to Get Really Ugly, Really Soon
Tucker Carlson and the Right have created imaginary rivals in order to legitimize their antidemocratic actions
To watch Tucker Carlson Tonight is to punish yourself. Tucker Carlson’s act is obnoxiously acidic. The sneering cruelty. The hateful screeds. It all comes together to form what The New York Times accurately called “the most racist show in the history of cable news.”
The content is predictable as the show’s producers scavenge the ugliest corners of the Far Right’s online presence for any emerging conspiracy theory that could be cleaned up, deloused, and presented to Carlson’s millions of viewers who, outside of a very narrow sliver, have no idea where any of it originates or what it actually means. It is a platform for laundering QAnon narratives, trumpeting hypermasculine fascist fantasies, and spreading white supremacist paranoia that inspires mass shootings.
As this is the purpose, Carlson’s program is intended to forward a political project. To be more specific, it presents an alternate reality meant to inspire fear in its viewers in order to bolster a reactionary agenda of national conservatism, traditionalism, and a return of total domination by wealthy, white, evangelical men. The means by which this is achieved are insidious.
The segment above came on the heels of the tragic mass shooting in Buffalo, New York by a white supremacist who, by his own admission, was radicalized by White Replacement Theory and conservative conspiracy theories. That Carlson’s program continually communicates this conspiracy theory by telling the audience Democratic politicians are intentionally replacing them with “compliant” immigrants presented a problem in the wake of the shooting. Carlson had to, once more, twist the story until it suited his goals.
This is, of course, the same Tucker Carlson who vehemently agreed with guest Jesse Kelly in 2021 when Kelly asserted “the Right is going to pick a fascist” as their leader in order to oppose Democrats and their “progressive” agenda.
Now, even as ten people are dead in Buffalo, Carlson is back to peddling the idea that Democratic politicians and progressives are responsible for an environment that is radicalizing people and will, as he says, create a scenario where “things are going to really ugly, really soon.” This is textbook authoritarian rhetoric. The blaming of the victim. The legitimization of radicalization through imaginary enemies and conspiracy theories.
What Carlson is saying is that the Right is more than prepared to get violent and literally destroy liberal democracy and its institutions.
What Carlson is saying is that they simply have no choice.
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For members of the Left Wing and liberals, this framing is beyond maddening. The Democratic Party has been captured for decades by neoliberal interests and now, despite enjoying the presidency and both houses of Congress, has been almost completely stymied by a group of members bought and sold by the wealthy and special interests. In fact, Democratic leaders have repeatedly and frustratingly refused to address the crisis of authoritarianism, instead have continually claimed Republicans would simply “wake up” from their current state or that Donald Trump is the cause of the problem and the sum of the disease.
Buffalo is a sobering reminder of the state of things. In the past, when a radicalized shooter massacred innocents, at least there was a call for reforming gun laws and possibly even banning semi-automatic rifles that make these tragedies possible. There hasn’t been so much as a peep lately because that agenda is considered impossible. Instead, Democrats release the expected statements expressing their profound sadness, communicating their thoughts and prayers, and then, following a shorter and shorter period of remembrance, the cycle continues on and on and on.
What Tucker Carlson and Republicans continually refer to is a phantom. There is no dominant Left Wing project in the United States. The Democratic Party comprises the political spectrum from the Right to the Center-Left. Police aren’t being defunded. In fact, Joe Biden, who helped create the modern police and incarceration state, just emphasized the transition of COVID relief funds to bolstering police departments.
“Wokeness” and “Cancel Culture” are largely figments of the collective Right Wing imagination and projections of their own fear of changing conditions. These bogeymen are bolstered by institutions like The Times and Washington Post, which are, themselves, publications owned, directed, and in the aid of, the status quo as desired by wealthy Americans.
There is a developing movement among the people for change and a desire to move the Democratic Party leftwards. Younger Americans of all stripes are tired of neoliberalism and largely recognize the GOP as an extremist front, and this is the source of much of the fear. In the future, Republicans might very well face an America that is more diverse and more progressive, and this is why they are attacking public education and rigging elections. But even the Democrats have opposed this trend and proof of this fact is as obvious as reading any of those newspapers or watching any of the associated cable news networks and hearing “centrists” demean progressives as being “bad for elections.”
The Left is a phantom that haunts both parties. But it does not hold any actual power at the moment, outside of possibly in culture, where depictions of “wokeness” are easier to come by than any actual political ramifications or manifestations. But that phantom is more than enough to power the GOP and Right Wing reactionaries and create a fever dream of paranoia and fear that legitimizes their authoritarian goals.
Jared Yates Sexton’s new book THE MIDNIGHT KINGDOM: A HISTORY OF POWER, PARANOIA, AND THE COMING CRISIS is available for pre-order. Following up on AMERICAN RULE’s retelling of American history, THE MIDNIGHT KINGDOM traces the movement of power, white supremacy, and the conspiracy theories that protect them through history, all of it leading to this current crisis where Right Wing authoritarianism threatens the world as we know it. Pre-order now to reserve your copy
Dispatches From A Collapsing State has been following the Right Wing love affair with Viktor Orbán and his Hungarian illiberalism for awhile now. Simply put, Orbán’s total domination of the Hungarian state and all facets of its socioeconomic and political culture is what the GOP aspires to. Orbán knows this and has cultivated a mutually-beneficial relationship that, according to plans, will result in a Right Wing authoritarian order. Or, as he has said explicitly, “This is the future.”
This past week that relationship deepened as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Budapest, Hungary, the first time it has ventured outside the United States. It was predictably a miserable, racist, misogynistic affair marked with miserable racists and misogynists who plotted a future where their racism and misogyny would be the defining characteristics. Orbán opened the conference by welcoming his friends and outlining how he was able to create his own illiberal paradise.
Orbán told an enraptured audience of American conservatives that he had “cured” Hungary of liberalism, likening it to a disease that must be defeated lest it destroy the nation and its traditions. What happened then was the usual reactionary nonsense. Conspiracy theories about white replacement. George Soros attacking Christianity and national sovereignty. Thinly-veiled talk of opponents “controlling the media,” leading Orbán to dispense a prescription: airing Tucker Carlson around-the-clock until Americans accepted the message.
The rhetoric is distressingly similar because it is a shared perspective. Liberals in Orbán’s stories are almost all-powerful and obsessed with using transgenderism, LGBTQ rights, feminism, and pluralism as weapons, all of it in order to destroy proud peoples and institute “Neo-Marxism.” Just as Carlson and others in America have continued to do, it is a wrestling with phantoms that simply do not exist or hold any power. But their continued framing as destroyers and existential threats make it all the more necessary for illiberals like Orbán to seize political power, turn schools into indoctrination academies, and use the full power of the state to oppress the people.
It is a tried-and-true method that authoritarians have relied on for generations. Fascists and Nazis and reactionaries before them have continually spun these tales as a means of precipitating actions that serve them and their interests and rely on violence, intimidation, and antidemocratic behaviors in order to carry them out. To do this, they create a false sense of emergency that inspires emergency measures that would otherwise be unthinkable or grotesque. The appeal is quite simple.
Allow or perish.
Join or die.
Carlson is simply the deliverer of a message that is much, much older than him or his insipid show. These are the precursors to that violence, to that intimidation, conservative reactionaries have relied on for so, so very long. And he’s correct. This is going to get really ugly, really soon.