by Victor Davis Hanson, opinion contributor · August 9, 2019
The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have rightly shocked the nation. In our understandable collective furor over the senseless loss of life, all the old political divides are being revisited, now in a climate of often frightening blame, anger and distrust — from gun control to the role of extremist ideologies to mental health to responsibilities of political leaders not to inflame tensions.
Such reexamination is a fine and good thing.
But what is not is a different sort of outrage, one that leverages the deaths of innocents to destroy the reputations and careers of others.
It was to be expected that the progressive media and political activists would go after President Trump and his effort to secure the border by blaming him directly for the deaths in El Paso — while not extending such flawed logic to other mass shooters in Dayton and, previously, in Washington, D.C. Both those shooters explicitly claimed fervent support for leftwing causes and particular progressive candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
No one knows exactly all the factors that trigger the unhinged to shoot the innocent. And in that void of knowledge, it makes no sense either to level charges that will lead to more violence or to damn as culpable those who have not called for violence.
What was really regrettable about the political manipulation of these crimes is the hunt for all sorts of political opponents who can be smeared by falsely attributing to them direct responsibility for the El Paso tragedy.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted out the names of many of the Texas political donors of Donald Trump — with the implicit aim of making their lives difficult. Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) blames conservatives in general and Trump in particular for the killings — even as he simultaneously sends out pleas for donations to salvage his sputtering presidential campaign.
Protestors swarmed the house of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), screaming physical threats and claiming that he is responsible for the violence by his unwillingness immediately to champion new gun-control laws.
We are now witnessing yet another boycott of politically incorrect companies — SoulCycle and Equinox — whose board chairman supposedly no longer warrants his companies’ patronage because he supports Trump.
The subtext of these twisted efforts is that Trump brought out from the woodwork toxic white supremacy that is now everywhere and is the root of violent extremism.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has recently questioned all these narratives and now he, too, is a target of the media and the online outrage industry, in calls for sponsor boycotts and his firing.
His sin? Carlson, over the past few months and especially the past few days, has voiced some inconvenient truths that earn outrage but not refutation:
One, while white-supremacy ideology always must be monitored and can trigger the unhinged — as the El Paso shooting may turn out to suggest — it is no longer a ubiquitous movement as it once was in the 20th century.
The days of the Klan and the American Nazi Party are mostly over. They are now fringe organizations. They and others like them are derided by the public, and uniformly condemned by conservatives. To suggest that white supremacy is some all-encompassing, 21st-century existential threat to our collective security, rather than fringe extremism to be carefully monitored, is simply untrue.
Two, Carlson emphasized that in comparison to America’s real existential challenges — homelessness, drug epidemics, the threat of Chinese mercantilism, keeping a vibrant economy going — white supremacy simply does not register with the general public as a major threat. Certainly, in terms of annual fatal shootings, the staggering death tolls in Chicago and Baltimore suggest a national crisis that is ignored for largely political reasons.
Non-white immigrants still sense that reality when they risk their lives to immigrate to a white-majority America. The public knows that the media’s reportage of near-daily anti-Semitic bias is far more likely to emanate from the so-called “Squad” in the House, or an unhinged speech of Louis Farrakhan, than from the old suspects of the past in bedsheets and swastika armbands. Yet, leftwing anti-Semites are still welcomed or at least tolerated by many in the progressive movement.
Three, Carlson argued that the United States, while not perfect, is a good nation of good people who daily go about their business judging others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Its Constitution and popular ethos have always been self-critical, and saw moral and ethical improvement as inevitable as the nation’s stunning technological and material advances. Compared to the alternatives abroad, a multiracial and multiethnic America works and constantly seeks to improve. And Carlson often points out that widening class differences have superseded race as the more worrisome divides in American society.
Four, and most controversially, Carlson repeatedly has cited political opportunism as the fuel that powers these untruths. He has been unapologetic that those who falsely charge that white supremacy defines America, past and present, have clear agendas. Without such venomous charges, they cannot win popular support: “They promise some Americans reparations, they denounce others for their skin color. They call it ‘privilege.’ The entire country, they’ll tell you, is fundamentally racist and therefore, evil.”
The charge of “white supremacy” has now become the natural heir to the failed narratives of the past three years that Trump should be removed under the 25th Amendment, or that Robert Mueller would find him indictable on charges of collusion and obstruction, or that he is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors and, thus, impeachable. All reflect a lack of progressive confidence that they can vote Trump out of office in the next election, and instead seek to use extraordinary means to abort his presidency.
We are already well into the 2020 election cycle. National Democratic candidates are promoting agendas — open borders, free health care and education for undocumented immigrants, reparations, the Green New Deal and “Medicare for all.” None so far poll anywhere near 50 percent approval.
The current effort to tar the country and conservatives with the charge of white supremacy should be seen in just that context of whipping up popular outrage for policies that otherwise do not appeal to most Americans. So often, the charge of white privilege, Carlson has argued, is leveled against those who do not enjoy it by those who do, for a variety of careerist and perhaps psychological reasons.
Fifth, and finally, Carlson has emphasized that the outrage machine is asymmetrical and there is no disinterested standard by which to adjudicate extremist speech and conduct.
Americans are confused over which standards suddenly are applied to whom. Do the racialist past smears of former vice president Joe Biden (D-Del.) or former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) illustrate widespread hate speech? What did then-candidate Barack Obama mean when he talked of a “typical white person,” or former attorney general Eric Holder infer when he referred to “my people”? When Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) compares Israelis residing on the West Bank to “termites,” or Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) cites Jewish money and Israeli politicians as running U.S. foreign policy, are there commensurate condemnations?
Why is Carlson then targeted, and especially singled out among conservative commentators?
I think there are additional force multipliers to the furor against him.
His show enjoys spectacular ratings. Once signature anchorman Bill O’Reilly left Fox, few imagined that Carlson or anyone else could resurrect O’Reilly’s time-slot audience. Carlson did. And it bothers the Left that his MSNBC and CNN competitors do not resonate with the public to the same degree. That he brings in guests with opposite opinions and debates them is not seen in progressive circles as anything to be emulated — especially when leftist guests are not shy in expressing often extreme views.
Second, Tucker is an idiosyncratic, not an orthodox, conservative. He has voiced concern over the role of the Koch Brothers, and support for the use of tariffs to force China to trade reciprocally and fairly. The Never Trump movement especially dislikes Carlson’s views.
Lots of other Republicans do not appreciate his criticism of optional military engagements or the ubiquitous role of the U.S. military abroad. Often, his on-air conservative guests are as critical and as criticized as liberal ones.
Nor is his support for much of Trump’s populist economic agenda consistent with doctrinaire free-market economics. And the net result is that Carlson’s leftist opponents rightly believe he is not always supported by conservatives and thus can be isolated as a heretic and outlander.
Passions certainly are cresting, but the hatred is still not really proportional.
Conservatives are not swarming the homes of liberal anchors or congressional leaders.
Republicans in the House are not tweeting out the names and employers of those who donate to Biden or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Conservatives are not organizing boycotts of companies whose board members support Warren.
Hollywood is not releasing new movies that portray conservatives hunting down and killing liberal elites, and conservative celebrities are not voicing creative ways of shooting, stabbing, or decapitating liberal political figures.
Republican leaders are not alleging that the 2017 shooting of Rep. Steven Scalise (R-La.) and the recent tragedy in Dayton are the direct results of the polarizing and often shrill rhetoric of Sanders and Warren.
And progressive hosts on the major networks and cable news channels are not targeted for boycotts and firings for their often blunt views, as is now once again the case with Tucker Carlson.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a historian and author most recently of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won,” and an occasional non-paid on-air guest of Fox News.
The Hill · by Victor Davis Hanson, opinion contributor · August 9, 2019