March 9, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Argue with Carlson? Define him
We can say, as the White House did, the Fox host can’t be trusted. Or we can say you can’t trust people who won't think for themselves.
I would like us to take a deep breath. Tucker Carlson has done this before. The Fox host will do this again. And again.
He’s done this so frequently, so consistently, that there should be no doubt he’s a propagandist, a hypocrite and a liar. This has been so thoroughly established as fact that the reaction to his latest effort feels almost respectful, as if we knew nothing about his character and were pained for having given him the benefit of the doubt.
For those who don’t know, Tucker Carlson aired this week the first in a planned series of broadcasts that attempt to portray the J6 insurrection as nothing more than sightseeing gone wrong, or an inside job by the US government or, really, anything that might to his viewers wash the blood from the hands of the criminal former president.
Carlson broadcast was pieced together from tens of thousands of hours of video footage of the insurrection that was obtained by the J6 committee that investigated Donald Trump’s failed coup d’etat. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reportedly provided the footage.
The reaction has been bipartisan, superficially. Few who work at Fox will associate with Carlson’s erasure of public memory. The Republican Party’s Stern Fathers, such as US Senator Mitch McConnell, have openly tsk-tsked him. In a statement, the White House cited Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox: “We … agree with what Fox News’ own attorneys and executives have repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: that Tucker Carlson is not credible.” Moreover:
We agree with the chief of the Capitol Police and the wide range of bipartisan lawmakers who have condemned this false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law – which cost police officers their lives.
If the outcome of all this is a change in behavior on Carlson’s part or his employers’ party, then good. Something useful has come of it.
I think you know that’s not going to happen.
Carlson and Fox might, might, feel some fallout for discrediting the J6 committee, whitewashing political crimes and rewriting history for the purpose of keeping white power’s place above the rule of law. But after some mild discomfort, we know what will happen – Carlson will go back to being a propagandist, a hypocrite and a liar. No amount of gotcha – no amount of YOU HYPOCRITE! – is going to change that.
This is difficult for my liberal brethren to hear, because of a deeply felt faith in the power of knowledge to overcome stigma and hate. If facts don’t matter, they can’t change people, and if they can’t change people, what hope do we have in changing anything for the better?
This is why I said let’s take a deep breath. We’re looking at this wrong.
Let’s not meet lies with facts but instead see how the lies are used.
We have heard over and over about the Republicans in the Congress and in state legislatures circulating the same or similar lies about the covid, about the 2020 election, about the J6 insurrection – whatever the subject, we can be certain the Republicans, with enough time and effort, will circle around the same or similar lies, all of them saying the same thing, over and over, as long as they sense that it’s useful.
That’s the first thing.
The second thing is saying that deviation from saying the same thing, over and over, comes at a cost. It can be minor. It can be major. In any case, there is a cost, which leads me to my third thing.
Saying that there’s a cost to deviating from saying the same thing is a form of policing. Anyone not saying the same thing is punished. It can be minor. It can be major. In any case, there is a punishment.
A group that polices individual speech and punishes deviation from saying the same thing that the group is saying is a group that privileges the group over the individual. What the group thinks is more important than what the individual thinks, and we know this by watching the group punish the individual for deviation from saying the same thing.
Members of the group, because they are members, understand the cost of speaking independently and, to avoid punishment, censure themselves. Eventually, with enough time and effort, groupthink has grown beyond self-censorship to something close to thought police.
To stay in the group, to avoid punishment, individuals must stop thinking of themselves as individuals and start thinking of themselves as parts being assimilated, or having been assimilated, by the whole.
In the end, they stop thinking altogether.
What I’m trying to demonstrate here is defining the Republicans – saying who they are as a consequence of what they do – rather than fighting with them over facts. Facts, alas, are weaker than lies. Facts, alas, require a prioi knowledge to have a serious effect. Fact is, most people don’t know anything about politics, don’t pay much attention to politics, can’t tell a lie from a fact, don’t know they’re being lied to.
But most people can see patterns once they’re pointed out.
Show the world that the Republicans say the same thing at the same time for the same reasons, because they believe the same thing at the same time for the same reasons, because groupthink is totalizing. Individuals cannot and must not be permitted to think or speak for themselves, because the moment they do is the end of the group.
Rather than fact check Carlson, rather than pounding our chests proclaiming FACTS MATTER, we can say what the Republican Party is as a consequence of what it does, which can be seen by everyone. It’s the closest thing in America to the Chinese Communist Party.
The best part is you don’t have to prove it. The Republicans do that work for you, over and over, with every word coming out of every mouth giving voice to every lie – and with every broadcast attempt to “prove” what Donald Trump has been saying, over and over.
We can say, as the White House said, that Carlson can’t be trusted. Or we can say you can’t trust people who won’t think for themselves.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.