Alex Sheppard has a good summary of Tucker Carlson’s long day’s journey into horse paste and swollen balls that reaches the right conclusion:
Over the last four years, as his Fox News show adopted more and more radical positions—vaccine skepticism, white nationalism, his growing support for illiberal and anti-democratic right-wing regimes around the world—many who were once in his orbit have wondered what happened to Tucker Carlson. That question has fueled countless magazine profiles and cocktail hour conversations.
The answer is perhaps less exciting than the question seems. Carlson is, in many ways, the same as he has ever been. He is whiny and petulant. He insists that he is a rebel, shucking elites of both parties and decrying phonies and partisans. But he advocates again and again only on behalf of whites, particularly well-heeled ones. He contradicts himself constantly and seems to have no fixed ideology at all, beyond a sense of racial solidarity. “Ultimately, I’m just not a guilty white person,” Carlson wrote for Esquire in 2003. Over the ensuing two decades, he has only gotten angrier and angrier at the suggestion he should feel guilty for being white and more insistent that groups advocating for Blacks or homosexuals or anyone who isn’t white exist solely to take what is rightfully his and—as he insists frequently on his television show—yours.
The other key insight is that Tucker understands both that Republican policy ideas are massively unpopular, and so it is much better to feed his audience constant culture-war rube-running, often out of nowhere:
In that Politico piece, you got the basics of Carlson’s Fox News show, with one exception: It was about Trump. Carlson’s rise at the network was slow and somewhat stealthy, in part because his coverage of the president, compared with his compatriots’, was rare. Sean Hannity and the buffoons on Fox & Friends treated Trump like Dear Leader. Carlson often acted as if he didn’t exist at all.
Carlson has aggressively focused on culture war stories that seemed smaller than much of what else was on the news, particularly during the Trump years: Immigrants were littering a lot, private schools were teaching wokeness, the metric system was a conspiracy theory. He has focused extensively on minor journalism faux-controversies—he loves to mock female journalists for complaining about online harassment in segments that, of course, result in waves of online harassment—but also on weird animal stories: raccoons that act like zombies, pandas having aggressive sex. While Fox News tightly focused on following Donald Trump anywhere he went, Carlson pursued stories that only he covered.
Nothing exemplifies Carlson’s shtick quite like his repeated questioning of the purpose and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine. For Carlson, the vaccine is a potent metaphor for the creeping hegemony of Democratic elites. “Democrats believe vaccines are the answer to everything. ‘Shh. Don’t ask questions. Just take the shot,’” he told viewers late last year. At the same time, it is also an example of how elites police discourse to hold on to power. “From the moment that coronavirus vaccine arrived, the most powerful people in America worked to make certain that no one could criticize it,” he said in February. In July, Carlson compared vaccine passports to Jim Crow.
It’s a very good piece about a guy who is knowingly getting his viewers killed with the kind of smarmy deniability that is best learned at debate club.