Opinion | What Does Tucker Carlson Know That The Republican Party Doesn’t?
In his book, Cass writes:
The United States should limit increases in its supply of unskilled immigrant labor. This new approach would require first and foremost that criteria for allowing entrance into the country emphasize education level — attainment of a college degree, in particular.
In the case of undocumented immigrants, Cass’s policy would be to “require unskilled illegal immigrants to leave.”
Carlson is more extreme. On Dec. 4, Carlson told viewers that “a new analysis of census data shows that sixty-three percent of noncitizens in the U.S. receive some kind of welfare benefits,” before adding:
Every night, hundreds of thousands of our citizens, Americans, sleep outdoors on the street, they’re homeless. The country’s middle class is shrinking and dying younger. The third year in a row. Again, these are American citizens. Some of them probably think they should have first dibs on help from the government, but they’re not getting it.
Later that month, Carlson escalated his claim that immigration was too costly for Americans:
It’s indefensible, so nobody even tries to defend it. Instead, our leaders demand that you shut up and accept this. We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poor and dirtier and more divided.
These comments proved highly controversial, to say the least. According to Business Insider, 16 companies stopped advertising on “The Tucker Carlson Show.”
Michael Massing, a New York-based writer who often reports on the intersection of media and politics, watched Carlson for several nights after the January monologue in an attempt to assess where Carlson really stood. In a Feb. 2 article in the Guardian, Massing wrote:
Overall, his show continues to transmit Fox’s toxic blend of race-baiting and reality distortion, through which it has done so much to poison the American mind. What, then, to make of Carlson? Is he a cynic? A hypocrite? A headlong pursuer of ratings? Perhaps he’s best described as a charter member of the same ruling class that in his monologue he indicted for working so intently to divide and confuse the American people.
In addition to the discrete conservative factions Cass and Carlson represent, there is another dissident wing of conservatism, represented by the Niskanen Center, which attempts to appeal to moderates and centrists of both parties.
“Working within the broad and diverse intellectual tradition of liberalism, we are fashioning a new synthesis that closes the rift within that tradition that emerged over the question of socialism,” Brink Lindsey, the center’s vice president for policy, wrote in an essay seeking to explain the broad goals of the organization.
Lindsey, in contrast to Cass, is far more critical of the contemporary right than of the left.
Over the course of the 21st century, the conservative movement, and with it the Republican Party, has fallen ever more deeply under the sway of an illiberal and nihilistic populism — illiberal in its crude exploitation of religious, racial, and cultural divisions; nihilistic in its blithe indifference to governance and the established norms and institutions of representative self-government. This malignant development made possible the nomination and election of Donald Trump, whose two years in power have only accelerated conservatism’s and the GOP’s descent into the intellectual and moral gutter.
Despite his severe view of the Republican Party, Lindsey contends that the goal of the Niskanen think tank is the “reimagining of the center-right”:
It is our goal to make the case for a principled center-right in American politics today that is distinctly different from either movement conservatism or its degenerate, populist offshoot.
One question, of course is, what kind of policy options a center-right think tank can offer to disaffected voters on matters involving race and immigration, subjects that help drive the very polarization they regret.
One of Tucker Carlson’s own primary concerns is immigration — and, as a likely subtext, race.
Carlson argues that capitalism is “not a religion but a tool like a toaster or staple gun.” He is focusing attention, in fact, on the godless capitalism that Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center, described in “How Godless Capitalism Made America Multicultural” — a problem that Wilkinson correctly points out affects “all wealthy, liberal-democratic countries.”
The project of fashioning an ethnoreligious American identity has always been in conflict with a dominant and defining American impulse: to get rich. The United States has always been a distinctly commercial republic with expansionary, imperial impulses. High demand for workers and settlers led early on to a variegated population that encouraged the idea, largely traceable to Tom Paine, that American national identity is civic and ideological rather than racial and ethnic.
Contemporary political polarization reflects the intensification of the endless struggle to integrate America and, more recently, to assimilate millions of newcomers, some legal, some not.
Wilkinson addresses this conundrum:
Assimilation is an issue not because it isn’t happening, but because it is. The issue is that the post-1968 immigrants and their progeny are here at all. And their successful assimilation means that American culture, and American national identity, has already been updated and transformed.
This process can be very hard for some people, especially white voters over 50 (a strong Trump constituency) to accept:
Swift and dramatic cultural changes can leave us with the baffled feeling that the soil in which we laid down roots has somehow become foreign. Older people who have largely lost the capacity to easily assimilate to a new culture can feel that the rug has been pulled out from under them.
The result, according to Wilkinson, to whom I will give the last word, is that
rapid cultural change can make a truly common national identity hard to come by, if not impossible. It’s not clear to me how important it is to have one. But it does seem that a badly bifurcated cultural self-understanding can have very dramatic and potentially dangerous political consequences. David Cameron imperiled the integrity of the entire European Union by fundamentally misunderstanding the facts about the evolution of British national identity and putting it up for a vote. Donald Trump, you may have noticed, has called for a referendum on American national identity, and he’s getting one.