A few days ago, Tucker Carlson gave a little speech on his Fox News program. Framed as a response to Mitt Romney’s WAPO op-ed criticizing Donald Trump, this text has roiled the world of the American right wing. Carlson’s monologue was was actually pretty interesting, in that it called into question various sacred tenets of movement conservatism in this country. For example:
Romney’s main complaint in the piece is that Donald Trump is a mercurial and divisive leader. That’s true, of course. But beneath the personal slights, Romney has a policy critique of Trump. He seems genuinely angry that Trump might pull American troops out of the Syrian civil war. Romney doesn’t explain how staying in Syria would benefit America. He doesn’t appear to consider that a relevant question. More policing in the Middle East is always better. We know that. Virtually everyone in Washington agrees.
This is an exaggeration, but not a huge one, and the basic point — that an interventionist foreign policy continues to be the dominant position across most of the elected political spectrum — is fair.
Then things get really fun:
Corporate tax cuts are also popular in Washington, and Romney is strongly on board with those, too. His piece throws a rare compliment to Trump for cutting the corporate rate a year ago.
That’s not surprising. Romney spent the bulk of his business career at a firm called Bain Capital. Bain Capital all but invented what is now a familiar business strategy: Take over an existing company for a short period of time, cut costs by firing employees, run up the debt, extract the wealth, and move on, sometimes leaving retirees without their earned pensions. Romney became fantastically rich doing this.
Meanwhile, a remarkable number of the companies are now bankrupt or extinct. This is the private equity model. Our ruling class sees nothing wrong with it. It’s how they run the country.
Um . . . yeah.
Mitt Romney refers to unwavering support for a finance-based economy and an internationalist foreign policy as the “mainstream Republican” view. And he’s right about that. For generations, Republicans have considered it their duty to make the world safe for banking, while simultaneously prosecuting ever more foreign wars. Modern Democrats generally support those goals enthusiastically.
This sounds exactly like something Noam Chomsky would say. It also happens to be a completely accurate description of the Republican party, and a far too accurate description of the Democratic party for much of the last generation — although this now appears to be changing fast.
And it gets better:
At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be gone, too. The country will remain. What kind of country will be it be then? How do we want our grandchildren to live? These are the only questions that matter.
The answer used to be obvious. The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.
Karl Marx, come on down and answer just three questions to win this beautiful lounge set!
There’s a whole bunch more in Carlson’s monologue that sounds like a classic leftist critique of contemporary capitalism:
For our ruling class, more investment banking is always the answer. They teach us it’s more virtuous to devote your life to some soulless corporation than it is to raise your own kids.
Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote an entire book about this. Sandberg explained that our first duty is to shareholders, above our own children. No surprise there. Sandberg herself is one of America’s biggest shareholders. Propaganda like this has made her rich. [Note: I have no idea if Sandberg actually said this, or something like this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a gross distortion of her comments — this is Tucker Carlson after all.]
What’s remarkable is how the rest of us responded to it. We didn’t question why Sandberg was saying this. We didn’t laugh in her face at the pure absurdity of it. Our corporate media celebrated Sandberg as the leader of a liberation movement. Her book became a bestseller: “Lean In.” As if putting a corporation first is empowerment. It is not. It is bondage. Republicans should say so.
They should also speak out against the ugliest parts of our financial system. Not all commerce is good. Why is it defensible to loan people money they can’t possibly repay? Or charge them interest that impoverishes them? Payday loan outlets in poor neighborhoods collect 400 percent annual interest.
We’re OK with that? We shouldn’t be. Libertarians tell us that’s how markets work — consenting adults making voluntary decisions about how to live their lives. OK. But it’s also disgusting. If you care about America, you ought to oppose the exploitation of Americans, whether it’s happening in the inner city or on Wall Street. . .
Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.
Now there’s a bunch of stuff in the monologue that is facially absurd, including a reboot of Reefer Madness in its classic form, plus a bunch of the standard issue right-wing nativism and culture war nonsense.
But Carlson’s basic claim — that contemporary consumer capitalism, and the accompanying financialization of economy, are great for the economic elites but actually terrible for most Americans — is obviously true, which is one reason Donald Trump’s obviously phony gestures toward economic populism so successfully distinguished him from his Republican competitors, who were contractually obligated to never acknowledge this.
The scary part about all this is that white ethno-nationalism, which is what both Carlson and Trump actually market to their respective, heavily overlapping audiences, is likely to become even more successful if it manages to morph into a kind of welfare state herrenvolk democracy, in which “real Americans” receive genuine protection from the depredations of capitalism, while a permanently disenfranchised underclass of guest workers and the like gets to live in the libertarian utopia envisioned by the Koch brothers et. al.