Soon the quadrillion online takes on Tucker Carlson’s firing by Fox News will be forgotten. Someday, Carlson himself will fade from human memory. Eventually people will think about cable news as much as they today ponder semaphore.
Yet I believe that one act of Carlson’s — his last pre-termination appearance, an April 21 speech at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th anniversary gala — will endure for millennia. It is a gargantuan achievement and will abide like a pyramid in the sand, an eternal monument to humanity’s infinite vanity, self-deception, and self-congratulation.
I’ve found it difficult to choose snippets of Carlson’s words to quote. It’s like trying to explain the perfection of Michelangelo’s David to someone, but being only able to show them its fingers, nipples, and wrinkly foreskin. You need the whole experience, to see how the parts fit together to express a larger truth, to genuinely understand its magnificence.
As you see, Carlson’s speech is about the “two conclusions” to which he’s come during the past, dark decades.
The first is that he perceives a dangerous phenomenon in which Americans are “going along with a new, new thing, which is clearly a poisonous thing, a silly thing, saying things they don’t believe because they want to keep their jobs.” This is because “the herd instinct is maybe the strongest instinct … not to be cast out of the group, not to be shunned. … It’s harnessed, in fact, by bad people in moments like this to produce uniformity.” Huge swaths of Americans, then, have “become quislings, you see them revealed as cowards.”
Because of this, says Carlson, America’s institutions are “all run by weak people.” And “weak leaders cause an angry country.”
His second conclusion is better news: For every 10 cowards, there is one shining individual who has, in Carlson’s words, stood up to say, “No, I’m not doing that. … It’s a betrayal of what I think is true. It’s a betrayal of my conscience, of my faith, of my sense of myself, of my dignity as a human being, of my autonomy. I am not a slave. I am a free citizen, and I’m not doing that. And there’s nothing you can do to me to make me do it.”
Moreover, Carlson proclaims, “The truth is contagious. Lying is, but the truth is as well. And the second you decide to tell the truth about something, you are filled with this — I don’t want to get supernatural on you — but you are filled with this power from somewhere else.”
Here’s what you might assume Carlson would say next, if you’re the kind of dreamer who’s filled with an irrepressible hope that words can have meaning:
Carlson would have confessed that he himself is one of these shameful cowards. As everyone in the room surely knew, Carlson collected huge checks from Fox even as it encouraged its audience to believe what Carlson and everyone there knew was false: that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Carlson would have explained that he’d been a quisling to the truth and gone along with a new, new poisonous thing because he wanted to keep his job. He’d have apologized for being part of the herd trying to punish heretics, since he wanted Fox to fire a reporter who was reporting on the topic accurately.
In other words, he is one of the weak leaders creating an angry country. He knows these things because he was personally tested — and failed.
And that would have been merely the start of Carlson’s electrifying, manly truth-telling. He was speaking to all the potentates of the Heritage Foundation, one of the most powerful forces in U.S. politics supporting the capitalist depredations and hawkish foreign policy that we know Carlson hates with such passionate sincerity. Scarred by his moral collapse after the 2020 election, Carlson is now going to seize an incredible opportunity to be the 1 man in 10 with the courage to defy the herd to their faces!
He could have begun by paging through the Heritage Foundation’s 2022 annual report. He would have noted that Heritage’s top donors, giving over $1 million per year, include Barb Van Andel-Gaby: a member of the family that co-founded Amway, a multilevel marketing scheme and one of American business’s scuzziest bottom-feeders. Another is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which Carlson would be horrified to note was a top contributor to the Project for a New American Century, the neoconservative outfit that helped make the invasion of Iraq happen.
He would be likewise appalled to see Heritage also got over $500,000 from Ray Stata, the co-founder of Analog Devices. Analog is a semiconductor company created with technology invented in the U.S. that is now — as it explains in an SEC filing — “leveraging an outsourcing model for manufacturing operations.” (It also owns factories in Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia, as well as the U.S.)
Then Carlson, in his role as a journalist committed to transparency, would excoriate Heritage for granting anonymity to 25 big contributors. He would be disgusted to see that Heritage tells donors “we pledge always to respect your philanthropic intent” and that it offers “a written contract clearly stating the purpose and intent of the donation and how it shall be spent.” Worst of all, the annual report proudly features a photograph of Donald Trump — a man Carlson believes to be a “demonic force” — at Heritage’s annual leadership conference.
Next, Carlson would have gotten down to specifics. He would have told his audience that Americans, wearied by the endless wars of U.S. elites, would be disgusted to learn of Heritage’s close ties with the world’s largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin. Carlson, a man devoted to peace, would have scoffed at Heritage’s eager promotion of a “new cold war” with China. Finally, he would angrily denounce Heritage’s declaration that any Biden administration proposals to weaken Covid-19 vaccine patents — and thereby lower the profits of Pfizer and Moderna — must be “dead on arrival.”
To say that Carlson did not utter anything like this is much like saying the sun is larger than a tangerine. It’s accurate — but doesn’t wholly capture the magnitude of the situation.
Carlson actually started with voluminous praise of Kevin Roberts, the president of Heritage. He reports that he’d recently gone pheasant hunting with Roberts in South Dakota and found that, unlike all the phonies in D.C., Roberts is “completely real. He’s an honest person.” Carlson double-checked this by asking a member of Heritage’s security detail what he thought of Roberts. His response: “I would go to war for him.” As Carlson puts it, “Why would he lie to me?” Obviously, there’s no possible reason. As all students of human nature know, when the boss’s rich buddy asks an employee what they think of the boss, the employee always provides the absolute unvarnished truth.
Then Carlson gets into the details of the monstrous tyranny engulfing America, a tyranny that luckily enough has nothing at all to do with the Heritage Foundation. To start with, there’s “putting your pronouns in your email.” For what it’s worth, this does not fit with my personal experience. I’ve never put pronouns in my email beyond “I” or “you,” and I’ve yet to be sent to the Pronoun Detainment Camp high in the Sierra Nevadas.
Then there’s “saying things you can’t define. LBGTQIA+, who’s the plus?” This suggests that Carlson does not have access to a notable recent invention called the internet.
Also, “You have people who are saying, ‘I have an idea. Let’s castrate the next generation. Let’s sexually mutilate children.’” And, “The Treasury secretary stands up and says, ‘You know what you can do to help the economy? Get an abortion.’” Here Carlson is standing valiantly against many terrible things that have happened in his imagination.
Higher and higher Carlson’s fever rages. In the past, American politics was about “rational debates about the way to get to mutually agreed-upon outcomes. So, we all want the country to be more prosperous and free.” But now you have the good, rational people from Heritage in the room with him, versus something that’s “not a political movement. It’s evil.”
What is good? “Good is characterized by order, calmness, tranquility, peace … cleanliness. Cleanliness is next to godliness.” And what is evil? “Violence, hate, disorder, division, disorganization, and filth.” Yes, “and filth.” As Stanley Kubrick dramatized in “Dr. Strangelove,” and science has since illuminated, conservatives tend to have a peculiar fixation on contamination. Carlson is one second away from talking about our precious bodily fluids.
Indeed, he whips himself up into such a frenzy of fear that he pronounces himself ready to be martyred like St. Paul over these issues. “I hope it won’t come to that,” he says, “but if it does come to that, here I am. Here I am. It’s Paul on trial.”
This forms the bulk of Carlson’s Great Pyramid of human fatuousness. For 35 minutes he bloviates about the supreme importance of being “the lone, brave person in the crowd who says, ‘No, thank you.’” Then he says nothing that would cause his wealthy, cosseted crowd the least discomfort. It’s like watching someone yammer incessantly about how we all must wear double-breasted purple suits while standing before you in a bright green muumuu.
The greatest propaganda always identifies genuine, deep human problems, even as it embodies these problems itself.
This is, for me, why Carlson’s speech will last the ages. The greatest propaganda always identifies genuine, deep human problems, even as it embodies these problems itself. Carlson asks his audience to say a prayer for our country and mentions the Bible. But he’s apparently never read it. “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” asks Jesus in Matthew 7:3. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s.”
So all of that is wonderful enough. But then there’s the pyramid’s capstone, the pyramidion covered in gleaming hilarious gold.
“I’m paid to predict things,” Carlson tells us at one point. “I try and think a lot about what connects certain outcomes that I should have seen before they occurred.” Given what was just about to happen to Carlson less than three days later, this indicates either that Carlson was terrible at his job, or that he never understood what he was paid for to begin with.