Tucker is a racist asshole, but . . .
The Buffalo massacre was a horror for the victims and their families. For the nation, it’s become a media event. One that’s bound to go a bit sideways as many factions wrestle for control over the narrative. The current flashpoint seems to be Tucker Carlson — Fox News’ most successful right-wing provocateur.
I’ve never liked Carlson. He’s that entitled little prick I’ve despised ever since I was a weird outsider kid in high school. He was born wealthy and raised to be an entitled little prick, his remarkable success as a demagogue fueled by his own smug narcissism. He’s also the most popular figure on any American cable news network, and the most influential “conservative” in the nation.
That’s the main reason the liberal establishment hates him — his success. Their denunciations ring hollow in the face of their own sins, but those denunciations are, as always in American politics, performative — stage-managed virtue signalling by increasingly incompetent political strategists. That’s why they’ll overplay their hand with Carlson at the same time the right will defensively double down. The outcome of this ideological tug-of-war over the terror attack in Buffalo is anybody’s guess. If past shootings suggest anything, not much will change.
I wrote yesterday that white malice toward black people in the US has diminished over the seven decades I’ve lived here. This is undeniable. I also wrote that it hasn’t disappeared, equally undeniable. In the case of Buffalo and a host of other mass shootings, this malice has been given form by something called “white replacement theory,” which is what has Carlson in the hot seat right now.
Carlson’s been flogging “white replacement theory” for years — the idea that “white people” are endangered by their diminishing fraction within the demographic whole, which is a conspiracy, by (pick one, or both) Democrats or Jewish financiers, to suppress white birth rates (as black and brown birth rates rise) while importing non-white immigrants.
He’s done so without ever explicitly saying “white,” dog whistling euphemisms as a way of preserving a paper-thin layer of plausible deniabilty. Buffalo is a problem for the entitled demagogic little prick, because the dogs heard the whistle. His popularity rides on the fact that a substantial portion of his credulous fan base really believe in this “white genocide” horse shit, and its very explicit repetition by the Buffalo terror attacker has again called the question.
Payton Gendron has forced “white replacement” dilettantes to examine their own commitment to the creed, and it’s forcing Carlson to defend himself without risking the loss of his most conspiratorial fan base. Kind of a tricky balancing act, but he’s already got a playbook. He’s been here before.
Carlson is betting that his fans will stick by him only if he doubles down. There’s a powerful element of rich white boy bravado at play here — Trumpian bone-spur machismo, you could call it — which the fan base expects. It’s the tough guy fantasy which comfortable middle class fans share with their cult leaders. In his broadcast yesterday, he went “all lives matter” on the issue by decrying “all racial politics,” and the right wing press is already in full echo mode, claiming that Tucker “made his critics look like ghouls.”
Here’s the thing. Many of his critics actually do look like ghouls, opportunistic ghouls. Because the liberal establishment is quite obviously engaged in strategic, stage-managed virtue-signaling by trying to “take down” Carlson (already an icon) within forty-eight hours of the murders, when they ought to be pushing to strengthen the background check system for gun purchases which has serially failed.
It’s not that Carlson doesn’t bear some responsibility. There’s a special rung of Hell in waiting for Carlson for his years of irresponsible, self-serving, and highly profitable provocation.
It’s that the liberal establishment itself has been such a transparent pack of partisan hypocrites for so long now that their credibility is pre-canceled. We’ve all seen this strategic, stage-managed, kente-cloth virtue signaling before. And so they are again overplaying their hand. If they’d have let Carlson be for a while, the damage to him would have been far greater as some of his fans — unarmed by Carlson’s sly response and the escape hatch it gave them — began to examine their own consciences after watching this fucked-up kid gun down an 86-year-old grandma.
Some will reexamine their beliefs, but the right is already giving its base an out by portraying Gendron as a “mentally-ill” aberration and comparing him to James T. Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old man who opened fire on a Republican lawmakers baseball practice in 2017, wounding four people. Hodgkinson, a “Bernie Sanders supporter” with a chequered past, was killed by police during the attack.
I’m suspicious of the term “mentally ill,” not because I don’t believe in mental illness, but because it’s thrown around too easily in pop culture to explain anything out of the ordinary — part of a medicalized popular mindset. “Mental illness” also works easily as a deflection in this case, partly because Gendron, the son of civil engineers who allegedly came to his beliefs from internet searches during the pandemic, may very well be as crazy as a shit house rat. I don’t know. I do know that at one point, Hitler, who proposed similar ideas, was intensely popular in Germany; and it’s hard for me to seriously describe a whole nation as mentally ill. Mimetic theory works better for me here than the DSM. Was everyone involved it that disorganized January 6th insurrection mentally ill? A lot of them were convinced of “white replacement.”
There will be a plethora of responses to the whole developing situation, many of them too irrational to be predictable. I have no idea how many people are secretly admiring Gendron. I have no idea how many people will reevaluate their beliefs after the attack. I have no idea how many people might emulate Gendron. I have no idea how the political landscape might shift — I suspect not much.
At to Tucker Carlson, he is certainly in his back foot right now, which is why he’s putting on his little cornered terrier act with all its disgusting inferences. On the other hand, he’s getting mad publicity from the opportunistic establishment, and he’ll likely benefit from the backlash against them.
Carlson is an execrable character, and Democratic partisans will likely make him stronger for having “survived” their performative attacks.
Meanwhile, the next Payton Gendron is shopping at his local gun store.