Some in the Republican Party hope that it can eventually maintain the Trump coalition without the toxic excesses of Donald Trump’s disordered personality. Already, a variety of talented and calculating figures — Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) come to mind — are trying to model populism minus the psychopathy. They are clearly imagining a day when a working-class and fundamentalist cultural revolt can be channeled into constructive public purposes. As one Republican congressional staffer has said: “Trump has changed the party forever, but that doesn’t mean he will control the party forever.”
It is a rational instinct. It also strikes me as a nearly impossible task. And Tucker Carlson illustrates why.
Every mention of the Fox News host, of course, plays into his career advancement strategy. He is the prime example of a professional troll. The Anti-Defamation League has demanded Carlson’s firing for his unapologetic embrace of “replacement theory.” Here is how Carlson defined this idea in the process of defending it last week: “The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate of the voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.”
Why people should be offended by this mystifies Carlson. “Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it,” he continued. “No, no, no, this is a voting-rights question. I have less political power because they are importing a brand-new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that? The power that I have as an American, guaranteed at birth, is one man, one vote, and they are diluting it.”
There is a reason, of course, that “everyone” wants to make a racial issue out of this. Because it is a putrescent pile of racist myths and cliches. Nearly every phrase of Carlson’s statement is the euphemistic expression of white supremacist replacement doctrine. “The Democratic Party” means liberals, which translates into Jews. They are importing “new people” from the “Third World” means people with black and brown skin. Those kinds of people, in the racist trope, are “obedient,” meaning docile, backward and stupid. Their votes do not constitute real democracy because they are replacing the “current electorate” — which is presumably whiter and less docile. These paler, truer Americans are thus deprived of their birthright of political dominance. And fighting back — making sure the new Third World people have less power — becomes a defense of the American way.
This is what modern, poll-tested, shrink-wrapped, mass-marketed racism looks like. Carlson is providing his audience with sophisticated rationales for their worst, most prejudicial instincts. And the brilliance of Carlson’s business model is to reinterpret moral criticism of his bigotry as an attack by elites on his viewers. Public outrage is thus recycled into fuel for MAGA victimhood. And so the Fox News machine runs on and on.
Wouldn’t it be best to simply ignore Carlson’s provocations? That is increasingly difficult. Carlson plays the reprehensible but illuminating role of turning Trump’s instincts into ideology. Carlson’s redefinition of conservatism is insidious but coherent. And it seems to be prevailing.
In Carlson’s version of the MAGA worldview, politics is played for the highest of stakes. “Western civilization” is under attack from liberalism. “America isn’t falling to foreign invaders,” Carlson has said. “It is rotting from within because the people in charge don’t think it is worth preserving.” And one of the main instruments that liberalism uses to secure power and undermine Western culture is elevation of “diversity” as a social ideal. In fact, according to Carlson, people from non-Western countries dilute and adulterate America’s culture and heritage. Immigration makes the country “poorer and dirtier and more divided,” he said in 2018. (Earlier, Carlson said Iraqis come from “a culture where people just don’t use toilet paper or forks.”) Mass migration, according to Carlson, is not merely a threat; the promotion of mass migration is a political conspiracy. Liberals are attempting to control the country by changing its ethnic makeup and polluting its culture. And this deprives true Americans — those with, say, the racial makeup of Fox News viewers — of their rightful place of social and economic influence.
Each day, Carlson gives a pure, accurate depiction of Trumpism. This viewpoint is not focused on the working-class economic dislocation caused by globalization, or even the moral panic resulting from rapidly changing cultural norms. It is an argument in favor of cultural purity, of social hygiene. Note Carlson’s use of “dirtier” in describing immigrants, and his reference to toilet hygiene. Trumpism is an argument that Western society, and American society in particular, is being infected by dirty outsiders who are destroying the country’s very nature.
Such a belief is difficult to reform around the edges. It can only be embraced or rejected. In the end, there can be no form of Trumpism with its hating heart removed.
Michael Gerson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.