Tucker Carlson has written a popular piece explaining the rise of Trump at Politico, a piece I was surprised to find agreed with my own analysis in some ways. We both believe that Republicans are significantly responsible for Trump’s popularity and that Trump has appealed to deep middle and lower class fears about security, changing culture, and jobs — fears which have not been adequately addressed by conservative leaders. But that’s where our agreement ends.
I tried to argue that the conservative failure was in not providing a beautiful, clear, inclusive vision of how to address these concerns and in tolerating and supporting demagogic publications that dramatically exaggerate these problems and advocate radical solutions. Carlson takes a different approach, blaming conservative leaders for not listening to the people and their real concerns.
According to Carlson, conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism. And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion, gay marriage, and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.
The fault was with rich, lazy, out of touch, elite Republicans and their think tanks, Carlson argues. Curiously, he mentions “abortion and gay marriage”among the neglected worries of conservative voters, two issues which Trump is particularly weak on, especially compared to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But let’s ignore the fact that this contradicts his explanation of Trump for the moment. He goes on to defend Trump’s stance on immigration (except that statement about “Mexican rapists,” which he notes was “early in the campaign,” as if that made it better), saying that “Trump hasn’t said anything especially shocking about immigration. Control the border, deport lawbreakers, try not to admit violent criminals.” Somehow Carlson skips over Trump’s plan to “deport 11 million illegal immigrants with a ‘deportation force.‘” Deporting 11 million people sounds pretty shocking to me. Carlson then defends Trump’s advocacy for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, which he admits “sounds a little extreme… But is it?” Preventing Muslim women and children fleeing the violence of Islamic extremists from entering our country because of the fear that one of them might be an agent of ISIS despite our vetting process, our counter-terrorism surveillance in the US, and the very low percentage of refugees who have historically become terrorists? Yes, that’s a little extreme.
What’s so striking about Carlson’s blaming of Republican leadership is that he completely ignores how conservative voters came to have these views. Eliminated jobs, changing demographics, and Islamic terrorism are facts about our world, not a diagnosis. In order for people to go from these facts to Trump’s Will-to-Power politics, they have to interpret them. They need to accept a story about how jobs were eliminated and how we can get them back; about why demographics are changing, how we should judge those changes, and what we should do about them; about what motivates Islamic terrorism and how we can combat it. In other words, Carlson imagines that there’s no mediating institutions or forces shaping the way conservative voters think about these facts, which is absolute nonsense.
We interpret our world in communities and through stories. The people reporting these facts and placing them within a larger narrative will help us make sense of them. These people don’t make us interpret the world in certain ways; we can choose to disagree or change the channel or turn off our radio, but we will get help interpreting the world from someone. This is just how humans work. So, the question is, who helped conservative voters who support Trump to interpret these sociological facts in these ways?
The best answer, I think, is that these interpretations have come from a variety of mainstream sources (FOX), off-the-mainstream (Breitbart, WND, The Blaze, talk radio), viral Facebook Pages, and books and churches to a limited extent. These are the political commentaries that most rural conservative voters are listening to, not those elitist think tanks Carlson complains about. One of those sources is the website that Tucker Carlson is editor-in-chief of, The Daily Caller, an ad-heavy site that features articles exaggerating the very fears that Carlson says that Trump appeals to. Tucker Carlson is responsible for one of the major publications that has spread particular narratives to millions of conservative voters about the existential dangers facing our country.
Let’s take two examples of issues that motivate conservative voters, according to Carlson’s article: Mexican immigration and the refugees crisis.
The Daily Caller ran an article by Ann Coulter after Trump said something about “Mexican rapists” early in his campaign. Coulter defends Trump’s statement: “There’s a cultural acceptance of child rape in Latino culture that doesn’t exist in even the most dysfunctional American ghettos. When it comes to child rape, the whole family gets involved. (They are family-oriented).”
Tucker Carlson — a man who is blaming republican elitists for the popularity of Trump — published this article.
In another article published last year, titled “Refugees, Or Invaders?” Brian Joondeph wonders how many Syrian refugees are actually “part of an advance wave of invasion.” Later he asks, “What are we watching? A humanitarian crisis or a full fledged invasion?”
When your publication tells its conservative readers that Mexicans tend to tolerate child rape and Syrian refugees may be part of a full fledged Islamic invasion, maybe, just maybe, you are part of the reason conservative voters are afraid enough to support Trump.
As I argued in my explanation of Trump, the way forward involves an intentional, coordinated effort to offer a better vision of our country to a broad base. Conservative explanations of the problems our country faces and their possible solutions need to be more truthful and more inclusive. The ability of conservative values to create a more humane and just society for all Americans must be communicated in our language, our policies, and, most importantly, our desires. Yes, the Republican “elites” failed us, but not because they didn’t appeal to widespread, largely unsubstantiated fears about social changes and foreigners. They failed because they didn’t offer a better response to these changes. Instead, conservative media profited by heightening those fears, much to the detriment of conservatism.
Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr