Carlson’s complaint

Tucker Carlson rang in the new year with a 15-minute monologue in which he claimed that the leaders of both political parties don’t care about American families. Liberals, libertarians, and social conservatives aren’t misguided in their beliefs about what’s good for America and its families, they are indifferent or, in some cases, hostile. Only those who subscribe to Carlson’s populist narrative, consisting of views he didn’t used to hold, care about the future of America.

Carlson’s rant contains more than a few exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims. Does “virtually everyone is Washington” truly agree that “more policing in the Middle East is always better”? I live just outside of Washington and don’t know anyone who believes this.

Are “entire populations” really “revolting” against leaders who don’t embrace the populist measures Carlson believes will improve their lives? Carlson cites France and Germany, among other nations. The “Yellow Vest” protests and Angela Merkel’s declining popularity are significant events, but they don’t support Carlson’s claim that entire populations are revolting.

These instances of hyperbole appear in the opening paragraphs of Carlson’s monologue. Others follow. For example, he asserts that “manufacturing. . .all but disappeared [in America] over the course of a generation.” That’s a huge exaggeration at best.

However, it would be foolish to dismiss Carlson’s argument on these grounds. Amidst the hyperbole and exaggeration are a fair number of insights and plausible, thought-provoking claims.

Carlson picks up substantive steam around the middle of his lecture when he discusses the relationship between culture and economics. His claim that “in many ways, rural America now looks a lot like Detroit” may be another exaggeration, but it’s the gateway to an important discussion about problems and pathologies that don’t receive enough attention and analysis.

Carlson uses his discussion of these problems to support his thesis that over-reliance on market capitalism produces bad results for American families and therefore bad results for America. One need not ascribe bad faith to free-market conservatives to perceive the plausibility of Carlson’s argument.

Read Carlson’s monologue, or watch it below, and see what you think.

You might also check out this response by J.D. Vance, whose memoir Hillbilly Elegy highlighted the crisis in parts of rural America that Carlson picks up on.

Worthwhile criticism of Carlson’s discussion can be found in this article by David French and this one by Ben Shapiro.

Yuval Levin agrees that contemporary populism is “an alarm bell that should help us see the need for rebalancing” between economic/market concerns and cultural ones. However, he adds:

It is too angry; it is frequently self-righteous and self-pitying; it lacks historical perspective; it assumes malevolence in its opponents where it should mostly see ineptitude; it leaves itself dangerously open to racial resentment and the lure of barking mad conspiracies; it lacks the gratitude for basic social order that defines the conservative disposition; it shows too little interest in accommodation and social peace; it is much clearer about what it hates than what it loves; and it has come to be identified with (and at times led by) a bullying, buffoonish narcissist [Note: Guess who] who assertively embodies all these downsides while only tangentially enabling any upsides and so threatens to discredit any rebalancing his ascendancy makes possible.

Some of this is overstated, I think, but it’s a useful “alarm bell” about contemporary populism, to which I would add that the phenomenon also studiously ducks individual responsibility for the grievances that fuel it.

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