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The Tucker Carlson Defense Brigade Is Getting Increasingly Goofy and Dull
Owning the Libs is big business for a certain niche of the online Self-Appointed Voice of the Working Man. Alas, it isn’t much of a coherent worldview.
After months of resisting the urge, because it’s extremely low hanging fruit and mostly designed to generate outrage traffic, I’ve decided to write about the Tucker Carlson Defense Brigade, a loose network of right-wingers, nihilists, and pathological lib haters who’ve grown their following by defending the most noxious and cruel asshole in corporate media.
While the Tucker Carlson Defense Brigade may be easy to dismiss, it is sufficiently popular, and regular humans do buy their bullshit, so I thought I’d contribute my two cents as to why one must be sober and clear about the threat people like Tucker Carlson pose.
A certain node of the anti-anti-Tucker/Trump media ecosystem has emerged that I think is worth highlighting and criticizing because it soft pedals a truly dangerous demagogue, and does so in a manner relevant to the ideological purposes of this blog: alleged defense of the working class. Greenwald, Ungar-Sargon, and Mesrobian all frame the supposed “elite” disdain as proxy contempt for the working class Carlson allegedly represents.
The idea that Tucker Carlson is contra the “elites” is, of course, absurd on its face. If multimillionaire hosts of corporate news shows are not media elites, then the term has no meaning. Tucker Carlson has a direct line to a former president (and very possibly the next president), Donald J. Trump—a billionaire elite who has the full support of a major mainstream political party.
Since the dawn of reactionary politics, there’s been a parallel effort on the part of its funders and backers to paint conservative ideology as transgressive or edgy. As I discussed last week when detailing more recent attempts to make the rightwing look sexy, it’s a media niche as old as time. Generally, people don’t want to view themselves as on the side of Goliath, so for those who are Goliath, fund Goliath, and have a vested interest in the maintenance of their preferred Goliath, there emerges a pseudo-class politics around trying to subvert the obvious power relationships between the forces of the right and the working class. (We discussed this in detail in a recent two part episode of my podcast Citations Needed.) All the above examples are just this: extremely low effort attempts at serving their parasitic media function of trying to make it look like the most popular billionaire Republican’s primary media ally is getting one over on “elites.” Carlson is a partisan functionary carrying out his partisan task of stoking racism to win elections for Republicans, but this is an unseemly thing to defend, so instead one is met with a barrage of meta-points about some alleged proxy dislike for the working class or baseless accusations of “calling every one you disagree with racist.”
One point some have made is that the New York Times reduces the phrase “ruling class” to a conspiracy, thus showing the supposed elite fear.
Now, obviously it’s true the Times is, by its own admission, a mouthpiece of capitalism. It’s, as FAIR’s Jim Naureckas puts it, “the far left wing of Wall Street.” As such, the Times' institutional motives for going after Carlson may be entirely partisan in nature—or some proxy war over his mild criticism of the rush to flood Ukraine with arms. But the basic thrust of the outlet’s findings, that Carlson is a clear-as-day white nationalist pandering to other white nationalists, is patently true. It’s beyond any doubt. The evidence that Carlson engages in overt racist ideology, tropes, and talking points isn’t something anyone can credibly argue against.
And it’s very important to note that when Carlson, or J.D. Vance, or other faux populists use the term “the ruling class,” they're not meaning it in the way any leftist or progressive or populist, or anyone with a basic class analysis, would. They mean relatively powerless academics, journalists, and others who, like Carlson, are in corporate media. And, often, they really just mean “the Jews.” So when the Times calls Carlson evoking the “ruling class” a conspiracy theory, this is likely what they mean and they’d be correct. This isn’t to say the Times wouldn’t also call Marxists using the label “ruling class” a “conspiracy theory” to protect the outlet's own right-wing leanings, but for the purposes of its three part series on Carlson, this summation of his ideological output is accurate.
The most obvious reason for the Tucker Carlson Defense Brigade is that those defending him either appear on or wish to appear on Carlson’s highly rated cable show, to juice their Substack or book sales. This is likely a major reason why he has media poodles rushing to his defense, making increasingly goofy and cynical defenses of the country’s foremost professional racist. But also, I think it’s worth noting that Owning the Libs, for many, becomes its own ideology, its own worldview, its own animating force. Liberals are so cringe, and hypocritical, and annoying, we are told, that dumping on them and catching them in some thin or low-stakes contradiction becomes one’s entire political horizon. The career and market benefits are real, and to an extent Greenwald and Co. are just boring bog standard conservatives. But in many ways, the Owning the Libs ideology can take on a life of its own and, as a result, both rot the brain and rust the moral compass.
Obviously, there is much to criticize about liberals and liberalism: Indeed, most of the content on this blog does just this. But it turns out one can do so in a principled or coherent way, not in a reflexive, glib manner more concerned with pandering to internet reactionaries than doing the difficult work of trying to build a more just and humane future. Tucker Carlson is a noxious racist. Just because the Lame-o Libs say so, doesn’t make it any less true. White nationalist ideology isn’t some benign expression of The Working Man—it is, itself, a major barrier to cross-racial, working-class solidarity. This is why billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and multi-millionaire corporate media brands like Carlson promote it. It’s worse than class politics cosplay, it’s class politics poison. And those defending and downplaying it are doing so in service of elites—just a different type of elite.