Tag Archives: Tucker Carlson

Let Me Explain This One More Time…

I see that Tucker Carlson has applauded the demise of Roe v. Wade, and characterized the decision as a “return to democracy.” Evidently, someone needs to explain America’s approach to democratic self-rule to Tucker and his constitutionally-illiterate audience.

Democratic systems can take several forms. In a “pure” democracy, where an unrestrained majority rules, voters participate in all government decision-making; the majority is even able to decide who has the right to vote. (I’m unaware of any country with so “pure” a democracy, for obvious reasons.)

America’s Founders didn’t choose that system. (For one thing, their concerns about the “passions of the majority” were well-known.) Instead, they crafted a republic in which voters would choose lawmakers from among the ranks of the thoughtful and knowledgable (!!), and those lawmakers would debate the merits of legislative proposals, negotiate and compromise among the various points of view, and pass well-considered laws.

Then they constrained those lawmakers by enacting a Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights–as I have often explained in these posts–is essentially a list of things that American government is forbidden to do, even when a majority of voters approve. Thanks to the Bill of Rights, government cannot censor our communications. It cannot prescribe our prayers (although after the Court’s most recent ruling, it can evidently coerce them) or dictate our reading materials. It cannot search or seize us without probable cause.  It cannot invade our liberties or take our property without due process of law.

Let me reiterate that, for the edification of any Fox viewers who might be lurking: the Bill of Rights limits what popular majorities can authorize government to do. It is a limitation on majority rule–on what the Tucker Carlsons of this world conceive of as democracy. It protects the right of individuals to choose their own political and religious beliefs and follow their own life goals, their own telos, free of government–or majority– interference.

Over the years, the Court has had to interpret the operation of the Bill of Rights–to apply its broad principles and protections to specific situations. Since the 1960s and until this week, the Court has recognized a right to privacy, and has drawn a line between decisions that government can properly make, and those that must be left to the individual. It has based that line on citizens’ right to due process.

There are two kinds of due process: procedural and substantive. Substantive due process (often called the right to privacy) is the doctrine that requires official respect for individual autonomy–the doctrine that forbids government from making decisions that are none of government’s business, “intimate” decisions that under longstanding understandings of the Bill of Rights must be left up to the individual involved.

The existence of that line protecting individual liberty from government interference rests on multiple precedents interpreting the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. 

If the doctrine of substantive due process goes away, those “democratic” state governments so beloved by Tucker Carlson will have the right to prohibit same-sex or interracial marriage, re-criminalize sodomy, and ban the sale and use of birth control…All of those rights and others are in the cross-hairs so long as Republicans can keep their stranglehold on American government via gerrymandering, the Electoral College and other mechanisms  (mechanisms that are all, ironically, exceedingly anti-democratic). 

The decision overturning Roe was deeply dishonest, especially in its discussion about  whether a particular right was historically recognized, but Alito’s distorted history is ultimately irrelevant– a red herring. In order to find that the government has a right to control the reproductive decisions of individual women, the Court had to fatally undermine the doctrine of substantive due process. And when that doctrine is no longer viable, all other personal rights are vulnerable.

Clarence Thomas may have been the only Justice willing to admit to the obvious agenda of this rogue Court, but it is abundantly clear that the other four members of the religious tribunal that now controls the Court share that agenda.

Debates about abortion have always been both superficial and dishonest. “Pro life” has always been a misnomer, since anti-choice policy is blatantly indifferent to the lives of women (and to the lives and welfare of fetuses once they become children). But there needs to be far more recognition that this decision isn’t simply an endorsement of the right of state governments\ to make very bad policy decisions–it is an endorsement of autocracy, of the right of government to invade the most personal precincts of citizens’ lives, and to impose the religious views of those in power on those of us without.

Giving legislators the right to make my most intimate decisions isn’t the Founders’ view of “democracy”– and it sure as hell isn’t mine.

 

Disinformation Kills

Propaganda takes all sorts of different forms, and serves a variety of interests. Does the latest scientific knowledge undercut your fundamentalist religious or political beliefs? Does the upcoming election pit your preferred candidate against one who is espousing more popular measures? Are you frantic because “those people” are asserting their entitlement to rights equal to your own, or because those you consider “real Americans” are losing their privileged  social or cultural positions?

Lie. Target those lies to an audience likely to be unsure or unaware of the facts and thus receptive to your preferred version of reality. Examples emerge daily. Allow me to share a few.

From Axios, we learn:

In March 2020, when everything changed, roughly nine in 10 Americans, regardless of their preferred media outlet, said they trusted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Within weeks, though, that trust was plunging among Americans who mostly watch Fox News or other conservative outlets, as well as those who cited no source.
By the end of last month, just 16% of those who said they get most of their news from Fox or other conservative outlets still said they trust the CDC, compared to 77% of those who favor network news and major national newspapers and 87% of those who primarily watch CNN or MSNBC.

People who primarily got their news from Fox or other conservative media outlets were also more likely to be unvaccinated, and to report that they had tested positive for COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic.

An essay from the New York Times pointed out the under-appreciated damage being done by those despicable Rightwing “groomer” accusations.

As we head into the 2022 midterm elections, calling someone a “groomer” or a “child abuser” has become the conservative attack du jour. What once felt like language reserved for the followers of QAnon, a fringe community united by a central conspiracy theory that America is run by an elite ring of pedophiles, has seeped into the mainstream. The use of these terms has even sparked the anti-gay slur “OK, groomer,” a play on the phrase “OK, boomer,” which is often used by young people to disregard or mock retrograde arguments made by baby boomers…

If the politicians making those accusations were actually concerned about ending child abuse, the kinds of institutions they would be challenging would include religious organizations, youth sports and even the nuclear family — systems that exert control over children and their bodies. These are the venues where child sexual abuse commonly occurs. The misuse of these words is not about stopping abuse, but rather a reassertion of homophobia, gender hierarchy and political control.

The author of the essay, a survivor of actual childhood sexual abuse, points out that in the real world, this indiscriminate and dishonest accusation is “dangerous and corrosive to the very real and devastating experience of sexual abuse. To use these words in this way voids them of their real meaning and desensitizes civil society to bodily harms.”

It isn’t only America’s frantic culture warriors. Russia is fighting back against growing global ostracism by concocting a wholly-invented threat posed by Ukrainian “bio-labs.” That claim, according to NBC, has been eagerly seized on by the American Right.

Russia’s early struggles to push disinformation and propaganda about Ukraine have picked up momentum in recent days, thanks to a variety of debunked conspiracy theories about biological research labs in Ukraine. Much of the false information is flourishing in Russian social media, far-right online spaces and U.S. conservative media, including Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News…

 Most of the conspiracy theories claim that the U.S. was developing and plotting to release a bioweapon or potentially another coronavirus from “biolabs”’ throughout Ukraine and that Russia invaded to take over the labs. Many of the theories implicate people who are often the targets of far-right conspiracy thinking — including Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Joe Biden — as being behind creating the weaponized diseases in the biolabs.

We don’t know how many people died as a direct result of COVID disinformation, or how much real damage has been done by ludicrous “grooming” charges. We cannot calculate the percentage of wartime deaths in the Ukraine that can be attributed to the fact that several GOP Senators adopted the biolab fantasy and delayed the sending of critically-needed aid.

But there is one death from persistent disinformation that we can easily see: the death of civic discourse and Americans’ ability to govern ourselves.

I used to tell my students that if I say a piece of furniture is a chair and you say it’s a table, we will never be able to agree on its use. If you prefer fantasy A to uncomfortable but demonstrable fact B, or “alternative facts” to reality, that preference is deadly to the democratic enterprise. 

 

 

 

Tan Those Genitals!!

The American Right just keeps getting crazier. Don’t take it from me; Dana Milbank, among several others, is reporting on Tucker Carlson’s current wacko campaign. 

As Milbank points out, now that the “hoax” of the pandemic is fading, “there are fewer occasions to swallow ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine or to inject oneself with bleach.
So what’s a Trump-loving, conspiracy-obsessed Fox News-viewing guy to do?”

He should stand naked and spread-eagle on top of a large rock at twilight and gaze heavenward as a red laser illuminates his genitals.

Believe it or not, Milbank is not making that up. Carlson is advocating “testical tanning” to address the problem of waning testosterone levels in men. If that “cure” seems….crazy….Milbank agrees.

To the extent declining testosterone levels are a problem, the correct solution would be to address a major cause: rising obesity. Instead of shining a red light on your private parts, dear Fox News viewer, turn off Tucker Carlson, get off the couch and go exercise…

Carlson sees testosterone collapsing in “American men” (it’s a worldwide phenomenon). There’s paranoia about the government: “The NIH doesn’t seem interested in this at all,” Carlson says, impersonating some presumed official from the National Institutes of Health saying “it’s not a big deal” (the topic is widely studied). There’s paranoia about the media: McGovern claims the benefit of red-light therapy “isn’t being picked up on or covered” and says “there’s a lot of people out there that don’t trust the mainstream information.”

Gee–I wonder why trust levels are even lower than testosterone levels…Could Fox “News” have something to do with that?

Milbank points out that Carlson’s recent obsession has a great deal in common with Trumpism: the celebration of a masculinity defined as aggression–a definition that has lately been promoted by Sen. Josh Hawley and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka–and an unwavering belief in and celebration of junk science.

Actually, sketchy data makes sweeping conclusions suspect. But there’s little doubt testosterone levels are falling — and there’s no doubt obesity can contribute to this by facilitating the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.

Maybe Carlson will encourage his viewers (including one particular Florida resident who favors Big Macs and eschews exercise) to pursue healthier lifestyles. So far, his greenlighting of red-light therapy seems to be telling them that what they really need to be true men is more testosterone. And though testosterone supplementation will indeed increase a man’s “manly” aggression, it will also reduce his fertility.

Millions of Tucker Carlson viewers unable to reproduce? Maybe junk science isn’t all bad.

That last sentence does seem hopeful…

On the other hand, as a report for The New Republic put it,

“There is a real connection between these male supremacists and white supremacist networks,” says Kristen Doerer, managing editor of Right Wing Watch, a project that tracks extremist activity for People for the American Way. She points to Carlson’s concern for faltering manliness as just another version of the Great Replacement theory. “These men are concerned about the white race being destroyed, and part of that concern involves the need for controlling women and particularly white women, and an investment in them having white kids.” She warns that the manosphere is fertile soil for red-pilling, recruitment, and general crosspollination. “It’s not too hard to go from one scapegoat to another: ‘I’m going to blame all Jews, or all people of color.’”

Whatever the cause and/or cure of reduced testosterone levels, I am considerably more concerned about the evident, massive reduction in sanity levels and the associated growth in the credulity of the American public, exemplified by the tribalism and White Nationalism of the Tucker Carlsons of our world.

It isn’t just the “Big Lie.” Nearly half of self-identified Republicans in recent surveys say they believe that top Democrats in government are pedophiles. (I couldn’t find data on the percentage of GOP voters who believe that George Soros financed Jewish Space Lasers, but I’m sure it’s a non-trivial number.)

We are living in an extremely difficult era. We have all kinds of real problems, economic and social, all exacerbated by the very real possibility that climate change may decimate much of humanity. Rather than engaging in concerted, evidence-based efforts to solve those problems, a significant portion of our population has opted to reside in cuckoo land.

Maybe Milbank is onto something when he suggests that the crazies will adopt a worldview that will prevent them from reproducing. The other possibility, of course, is that their growing  numbers and influence will prevent all humans from reproducing–that their “solutions” and political preferences will end up erasing that thin veneer we call civilization and /or eradicating humanity altogether.

 

 

Embracing The Lies

As the GOP has steadily radicalized, its ardent base has embraced an alternate reality– a place where, among other things, Donald Trump won the 2020 election, Democrats engage in pedophilia, Jews operate space lasers, and public schools are teaching Critical Race Theory.

The number of Americans who appear to actually believe these things–the number who have adopted some or all of what has been called the “QAnonification” of the GOP– is staggering. The danger this mass psychosis poses for democratic (small-d) government has been obvious for some time; we are now beginning to see how disinformation–lies–shade into something akin to treason.

The Guardian recently reported on the embrace of Putin’s propaganda by the American Right.The article focused on the conspiratorial narratives being  pushed by radical American politicians and media figures who have echoed Russian lies about its invasion of Ukraine, and have “bolstered and created synergies with the Kremlin’s legendary disinformation machine, experts on information manipulation say.”

Led by Tucker Carlson at Fox News, a few Republican rightwingers in Congress, and some key conservative activists, a spate of comments that have disparaged Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and echoed other Russian war disinformation have been recycled by Moscow, say experts.

A feedback loop between the Kremlin and parts of the American right has been palpable since the war’s start in February, which Moscow falsely labeled as a “special military operation” aimed at stopping “genocide” of Russians in Ukraine and “denazification” – two patently bogus charges that drew widespread international criticism.

The fact that multiple credible sources have debunked Russian claims hasn’t kept Rightwing influencers like Tucker Carlson from pushing these false narratives to millions of Fox News viewers. The Guardian reports that Fox segments echoing Russian propaganda have been “eagerly embraced and recycled by Moscow and by parts of the American right.

On a separate front, two Republican congressional conservatives, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene, delighted Moscow last month by condemning Zelenskiy without evidence in conspiracy-ridden terms that sparked some bipartisan criticism. Cawthorn called Zelenskiy a “thug” and his government “incredibly corrupt”, while Greene similarly charged that Zelenskiy was “corrupt”.

Further, the former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, last month attempted to soften and spin Putin’s onerous crackdown on independent media in Russia, where reporters and other citizens now can face prison terms of 15 years for not toeing the Kremlin’s Orwellian war line and spreading what Moscow deems “fake” news about its Ukraine invasion. Gabbard made the wild claim that “what we’re seeing happening here [in America] is not so different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia”.

More recently, Russian state TV lauded Gabbard as “our friend Tulsi”, when it introduced a Carlson interview with her in which Gabbard accused Biden of “lying” about his true motives in Ukraine after Biden said in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power”, which the White House quickly clarified was not a call for regime for change.

The Guardian article explores what it calls the “feedback loop” between Moscow and significant elements of the American right, and notes that when the same narratives are being repeated by influential political figures and pundits on news networks in Russia and the United States with large audiences, those narratives are reaching a lot of people. As one observer noted,

 “Given that many within those audiences have been primed to dismiss and distrust the ‘mainstream’ media and expertise writ large, there’s no amount of factchecking and objective reporting that is likely to change attitudes once certain falsehoods become adopted as facts.”

What is most mystifying–at least to me–is that this wholesale embrace of Russian propaganda is occurring primarily among the MAGA crowd, the “America First,” self-proclaimed patriots and believers in America’s Exceptionalism and historical purity. The threat Putin poses to the United States and the West is obvious; you would expect these particular figures to be first to rally around the flag, defend the myth of America’s glorious past, and agitate for an even stronger response.

Evidently, the allure of Putin’s strongman populism outweighs their asserted patriotism. Putin’s war on modernity–his defense of traditional (!) Christianity and efforts to stamp out “deviations” like homosexuality are presumably more appealing to the American Right than defense of that messy thing we call democracy and respect for other countries’ right to self-determination.

In another era, these weren’t the folks you’d expect to see giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies. But then, as I wrote in yesterday’s post, this isn’t your father’s GOP.

 

 

It’s Not Just Putin

Most Americans think of the United States as  different from the rest of the world, with a very distinct political and social culture. That perspective far too often limits our preoccupations to issues within our borders. Academics may engage in comparative studies, but most of America’s “chattering class” confines its chatter to American politics and institutions.

These days, there are numerous articles, books and columns  devoted to the American Right, for example (especially about its current control of the GOP), but aside from a throwaway sentence here and there, there are relatively few efforts to tie that paternalistic, theocratic, nationalist movement to the broader, worldwide culture war that is pitting people who are embracing–or at least accepting– modernity against those hysterically trying to stop the (emerging) world so that they can get off.

Despite the lack of attention to similar movements elsewhere, there are significant similarities–and since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a couple of recent columns have traced the connections between our homegrown cultural Luddites and their fellow resisters around the world.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted Paul Krugman to consider the roots of Putin’s appeal to the American Right.

Krugman locates the sources of the right’s infatuation with a brutal dictator–an infatuation that he reminds us began even before Trump’s rise–to Putin’s championing of  “antiwokeness “— Putin is someone who (to quote Tucker Carlson’s recent defense of his pro-Russian propaganda)  “wouldn’t accuse you of being a racist, who denounced cancel culture and ‘gay propaganda.'”

Some of it reflected a creepy fascination with Putin’s alleged masculinity — Sarah Palin declared that he wrestled bears while President Barack Obama wore “mom jeans” — and the apparent toughness of Putin’s people. Just last year Senator Ted Cruz contrasted footage of a shaven-headed Russian soldier with a U.S. Army recruiting ad to mock our “woke, emasculated” military.

Finally, many on the right simply like the idea of authoritarian rule. Just a few days ago Trump, who has dialed back his praise for Putin, chose instead to express admiration for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Kim’s generals and aides, he noted, “cowered” when the dictator spoke, adding that “I want my people to act like that.”

In one of his more perceptive columns, David Brooks also delved into the mind-set of the pro-Putin Right. According to Brooks, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the continuation of identity politics by other means.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the writings of conventional international relations experts to be not very helpful in understanding what this whole crisis is about. But I’ve found the writing of experts in social psychology to be enormously helpful.

That is because–as Brooks points out–the war in Ukraine is primarily about status. “Putin invaded so Russians could feel they are a great nation once again and so Putin himself could feel that he’s a world historical figure along the lines of Peter the Great.” Along the way, Putin has increasingly portrayed himself as not just a national leader “but a civilizational leader, leading the forces of traditional morality against the moral depravity of the West.”

Right-wing populism hasn’t been confined to the United States and Russia; these movements can be found throughout the Western world –and for that matter, probably in every country that is experiencing significant modernization and liberalization, which are seen as undermining “traditional values.”

Populist movements are generally associated with rejection of science, particularly the science underlying environmentalism, with nationalism and nativism, and with anti-globalization fervor. (Trump’s protectionism fit right in.) As Wikipedia defines the European variant of the populist movement,

 In Europe, the term is often used to describe groups, politicians, and political parties that are generally known for their opposition to immigration, especially from the Muslim world, and for Euroscepticism. Right-wing populists may support expanding the welfare state, but only for those they deem are fit to receive it; this concept has been referred to as “welfare chauvinism.” 

Here in the United States, research confirms that our homegrown populists cling to the belief that only White Christians can be “real” Americans. These people–terrified of losing cultural hegemony– have their analogues around the globe. (It’s one more way in which we aren’t “exceptional.”)

What’s scary is recognition of how widespread that terror is–and how powerfully motivating. Obama’s  much-criticized observation that frightened, disoriented people “cling to their guns and their bibles” may have been politically unwise, but it wasn’t wrong–and the phenomenon isn’t limited to the U.S. Islamic fundamentalist cling to their Korans and bombs…

Global populism is just one more reminder that–despite different geographies and cultures– humans are essentially similar mammals…