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Tucker Carlson and the turncoat Republicans

What does Tucker Carlson's interview of Vladimir Putin say about the state of the Republican Party? 

Update : 24 Feb 2024, 03:12 PM

When Tucker Carlson interviewed Vladimir Putin, critics mocked him as the useful idiot of a fascist murderer. Carlson began the two-hour interview by asking why Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and the Russian president blathered on for over half an hour, starting not with the invasion nor with the Maidan Uprising of November 2013, but 1,151 years before with the mythic origins of Russia itself and then painfully working his way forward, blending history with fabrication as he spoke.

Most folks mocked Carlson for not pushing back on Putin’s lies, such as the claim that Poland provoked Nazi Germany to invade it. Even Putin later said he was surprised by Carlson’s softball questions. Others said it’s not the duty of a journalist to push back or fact-check guests in real time, but merely to present their views.

Still others suggested Carlson’s greatest sin was simply that the interview was unbearably boring. But Carlson wasn’t done, not by a country mile. He next went from arguably violating journalistic ethics to spewing fascist propaganda. In the process, he helped highlight the greatest shift in Republican politics since the Southern strategy.

Tucker goes to the train station

Carlson began his propaganda tour by visiting the Kiyevskaya metro station in western Moscow. Here’s what he had to say:

“One of the ways you understand a society is through its infrastructure … and what we found shocked us … There’s no graffiti, there’s no filth, no foul smells. There are no bums or drug addicts or rapists or people waiting to push you onto the train tracks and kill you. No, it’s perfectly clean and orderly. And how do you explain that? We’re not even going to guess. That’s not our job. We’re only going to ask the question … how does Russia … have a subway station that normal people use to get to work and home every single day that’s nicer than anything in our country?”

Never mind his “just asking questions” tactic, which he has used for decades. Never mind his insinuation that Russian infrastructure is impressive compared to the West. The countries with the best quality of infrastructure are places like Singapore, Switzerland, and the US -- wealthy nations with highly skilled workforces, especially in construction and engineering, and capitalist economies with low corruption.

Never mind also that Russia is better than the US in none of these categories and embarrassingly bad in more than one. It ranks 141st out of 180 countries in corruption while the US ranks 24th. As a result, Russian infrastructure ranks alongside that of Serbia and Mexico. Its railroad infrastructure quality is a bit better, ranking higher than Indonesia, but far below nations such as the US.

Rather, consider how Carlson tried to depict his homeland as a hellhole compared to the supposed paradise of modern-day Moscow. Before we get to why he is doing this, let’s dismantle his lies, one at a time.

Carlson’s greatest sin was simply that the interview was unbearably boring

First, there’s the graffiti. Russia may not be as wallpapered with graffiti as Athens (no place is), but it’s not spotless. Still, Moscow does have less graffiti than your typical US city. But this is for the same reason that there’s no graffiti in North Korea. In the UK, Banksy pieces sell for up to $1.1 million whereas the “Russian Banksy,” Pavel Pukhov, died in 2013 under “mysterious circumstances.” The following year, the “Banksy of Donetsk” was tortured for six weeks.

Suffice it to say, there’s more graffiti in the West because fascist dictators will go to greater extremes to stamp it out, while in the US we have these pesky things called human rights. So unless you’re putting up pro-Putin graffiti like Russian police, your wildstyle could be seen as dissident art and earn you weeks of torture, if not death.

But what about the lack of homeless people Carlson mentions? This point surely resonates with many of his viewers who will be well aware of the homelessness problem in the US But let’s compare. Boston has 1,545 homeless individuals while San Francisco, one of the worst cities in the nation for homelessness, has 7,754. This feels out of control to most Americans, but by Russian standards, that’s nothing. Saint Petersburg has up to 60,000 homeless people while Moscow has up to 100,000.

Why then didn’t Carlson see homeless people everywhere he went? The answer is that Russia is so brutally cold that the homeless of St Petersburg and Moscow take shelter below, huddling in sewer pipes, which raises another issue. Russia would have even more homeless people if the weather wasn’t constantly killing them, filling the sewers with their frozen corpses. Homeless deaths reached 815 in New York City in 2022, and that was a record high, meanwhile 1,000 homeless people die on the streets of St Petersburg and 3,000 die on the streets of Moscow every year.

But at least there are no “drug addicts or rapists or people waiting to push you onto the train tracks and kill you,” right Carlson? Bad news there too, I’m afraid. Moscow is the least safe European capital for women when it comes to public transportation. And in Russia, even the police will rape you. In 2004, a 19-year-old was shot in the head after he unearthed a police rape ring on the Moscow Metro. In 2016, police tortured and threatened to rape a peaceful protester. Last year, Moscow police tortured and raped a guy for protesting the draft. The list of examples goes on and on.

You’re also more likely to be murdered in Russia, where the intentional homicide rateis 6.8 in per 100,000 people compared to 6.4 in the US. As for Carlson’s specific claim about being pushed onto the tracks, someone pushed a 15-year-old onto the tracks and killed him mere months before Carlson visited -- at the very same station.

How can Carlson be this stupid? As he would say, I’m not even going to guess. I’m only going to ask the question. Literally none of his comments about Kiyevskaya are true, save one. It really is beautiful. In fact, the station is stunningly gorgeous with its ornately decorated baroque flourishes and white Ural marble.

But this is a sleight-of-hand. Moscow is a den of lavish wealth and repulsive destitution. Yet Carlson decided not to show us the latter and instead took viewers to the wealthiest parts of the city. Kiyevskaya station is less than a 40-minute walk over the Moskva River from the “Golden Mile,” the city’s most exclusive neighborhood, home to celebrities and state officials, where the wealth of the entire nation’s most successful people is concentrated within a few city blocks. Outside this, the city looks much different, and outside Moscow, things often look more like an Indian slum.

But Carlson shows us none of that.

Nor does he show us random scenes from the wealthiest part of the wealthiest city in this mafia state. He could have featured a museum, for example. Or a local hospital. He could have stood in awe of the Noble Row, a six-unit townhouse development where units start at $22 million, also walking distance from the station.

Or, of course, he could have shown us any other metro station than the one in the middle of the city’s fanciest neighborhood. But he didn’t do that. And because this is propaganda, he didn’t say he was showing us only the fancy parts either. Instead, he suggested these scenes are representative of the city, or even the whole country.

But if you were to walk through Kiyevskaya, you’d immediately come to understand why Carlson chose this particular place. Namely, its symbolism. Carlson has supported Russia since Day One of its invasion of Ukraine, and Kiyevskaya is not just a symbol of Russian wealth but of Z ideology, with its ceiling frescoes of Ukrainian life and giant mosaic commemorating the reunification of Russia and Ukraine.

That’s not a coincidence, folks. That’s Propaganda 101.

But then Carlson visited a grocery store, and that’s when I realized we were seeing something far more sinister than a doofus reporter fawning at the feet of our enemy and trying to convince us that a subway station in a fascist hellhole is “nicer than anything in our country.”

That’s when I realized that what I was looking at could very well spell the end of our nation as we know it. Let me explain.

Tucker goes to the grocery store

For his next trick, Carlson the Illusionist visited a Russian grocery store, remarking, “I went from amused to legitimately angry” because he and his crew put what they would normally eat in a week into the cart and tried to guess what it could cost. They all guessed about $400, he said, but it came out to $104. Yes, Carlson, groceries cost less in poorer countries. A school-child knows this. But here’s what he had to say:

“And that’s when you start to realize ideology maybe doesn’t matter as much as you thought. Corruption. If you take people’s standard of living and you tank it through filth and crime and inflation, and they literally can’t buy the groceries they want, at that point maybe it matters less what you say, whether you’re a good person or a bad person, you’re wrecking people’s lives in their country. And that’s what our country’s leaders have done to us. And coming to a Russian grocery store, the ‘heart of evil,’ and seeing what things cost and how they live, it will radicalize you against our leaders. That’s how I feel, anyway, radicalized.”

Wait till he finds out the cost of steak in Afghanistan. He might just move there. There’s also a video of Carlson marveling at the existence of coin-return shopping carts, which are common in the US, as if he’s never seen such advanced technology. You really have to see it to believe it.

Now here, I suppose I could point out that the US has one of the highest standards of living in the world, surpassed only by places such as Denmark, Switzerland, and Japan, whereas Russia’s standard of living is comparable to that of Mexico. As with infrastructure, a high standard of living costs money and is correlated with higher consumer costs. It’s simply more expensive to live in nicer places.

Carlson manages the feat of being wrong on every point. He even tries to suggest that things like moral virtue and corruption do not matter so much as the quality of your daily life, as if to say that Russia has a better quality of life

Also, since Carlson mentions crime in general this time and not just homicide, one could point out that Russia is one of the worst places in the world in terms of general crime, with an overall criminality rate of 6.9, worse even than crime-soaked Venezuela, which has a rate of 6.7. The US, by comparison, has a rate of 5.7.

As for inflation, Russia currently has a rate of 16% compared to about 3.1% in the US. But David, you may be thinking, this is the result of the current war, whereas Russia normally does much better. No, Russia has never had a lower rate of inflation than the US. Indeed in 2015, it was 155 times higher.

Carlson manages the feat of being wrong on every point. He even tries to suggest that things like moral virtue and corruption do not matter so much as the quality of your daily life, as if to say that Russia has a better quality of life. I suppose you’d have to ask the 20% of Russian who still use outhouses what they make of such claims.

Imagine the governor of Maine trying to run for re-election if one-fifth of state voters had to go outside at night in the middle of winter and sit in the icy dark just to take a shit. Now you understand why invading Russian troops stole toilets from Ukrainian homes -- back in Russia, that’s a luxury.

But credit where credit is due, Carlson has made me revise a few opinions. For instance, I always believed the Nazis were the baddies of World War II, but then I learned that when Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany had a 30% unemployment rate -- yet by 1938, unemployment was virtually non-existent.

People also tell me Mussolini was a totalitarian monster who, among other things, was responsible for the genocide of up to 125,000 Libyan Arabs. But then I learned that he made the trains run on time. Here in America, trains are sometimes late. Maybe we should be teaching fascism in American public schools, right Carlson?

John Wayne Gacy has a terrible reputation on account of the fact that he raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 boys. But did you know that he used to dress up as a clown? Comedy is the light of the world, after all. I must say, I feel radicalized.

The origins of turncoat Republicans

Say what you will about Carlson letting Putin walk all over him, or his trashy and idiotic visits to the metro station and grocery store, or that he has long been open about his support for our enemy and even opposes sanctioning Russia. But this problem is bigger than Carlson.

During the 2016 US presidential election, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s troll farm Glavset carried out Project Lakhta to destabilize the United States by sabotaging the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, reaching millions of social media users with various types of disinformation, but mainly focusing on attacking Clinton, praising Putin, criticizing Ukraine, and smearing Alexei Navalny.

To this day, you can find Republicans and social media pundits whose worldview has been largely shaped by such Kremlinbots, especially on the issues noted above. It is no secret that our enemies have infiltrated our political infrastructure. The woke Marxism we see today is partly a result of Russian and Chinese influence campaigns.

When teenage TikTok historians recently tried to persuade us that Osama bin Laden was misunderstood, you may have noticed they all used some of the same phrasing, as if reading from a script. As the intelligence analyst James Scaminaci has explained, this is fourth generation warfare and we have to prepare ourselves.

But Russia and China are not simply targeting the political left. They’re targeting both sides, and for many Republicans, Ukraine has been the inflection point, their Vietnam as it were, when they began espousing anti-American ideas, attacking our allies, defending our enemies, and trash-talking our nation.

Trump famously had bad things to say about the US and the men and women who defend it, as well as good things to say about our enemies such as Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un. Trump even blocked $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to blackmail Volodymyr Zelenskyy into giving him dirt on Biden. But Trump isn’t the only Republican to take this position.

Marjorie Taylor Greene has blamed Ukraine for its own invasion, JD Vance has said he doesn’t care what happens to Ukraine, Candace Owens said we should listen to Putin when he blames us, and Steve Bannon said no Republican should vote to send money to Ukraine. Worse, Peter Navarro has spread the lie that Ukraine is not really a country, Paul Gosar has said, “Ukraine is not our ally. Russia is not our enemy,” and Nick Fuentes has remarked, “I wish Putin was president of America.”

That last comment may come from the most far-right person listed above, but it also cuts to the heart of this trend. There is a growing desire for dictatorship, for rulers like Putin or Xi, and this phenomenon explains thinkers like the monarchist Curtis Yarvin, who I recently wrote to in a letter exchange.

Then this week, Navalny died in prison, a tragic death that nevertheless seems to be perfectly timed to highlight the moral depravity of Carlson’s sucking up to our enemies and the political betrayal of these turncoat Republicans.

What is going on here? Why is the American right becoming anti-American? After all, they used to be the party of national security, the party most aggressively opposed to our rivals, even to a fault, the party of the war hawks, the party of loud-and-proud patriotism. It’s tempting to trace the current decline back to Trump, given how he has overtaken the party and his pro-Putin rhetoric, but the trend goes back much earlier.

One explanation I’d like to share comes from the essay “Putin as the Patron Saint of Right Wing Misanthropy,” in which Richard Hanania writes: “Shortly before the invasion of Ukraine, I wrote an essay arguing that establishment liberals were driven by an irrational hatred of Russia. Meanwhile, one of my themes over the years is that conservatism is to a large extent an oppositional culture that is motivated by a reactive hatred of its perceived enemies. So of course, they had to go and prove I was absolutely correct, by becoming inverse caricatures of the left specifically in their attitudes towards Russia.”

If there is anything the American right hates more than our enemies, I often say, it’s the American left. Except these days, the American left seems to be the only thing they hate, and they’re starting to love our enemies. But oppositional culture is only part of the problem. Hanania continues: “The market skeptical right likes to mock ‘line goes up’ ideology. It discounts GDP and corruption indexes and thinks that things like patriotism, a public acceptance of Christianity, well-defined roles for men and women, low tolerance for social deviancy, and a rejection of LGBT are actually much more important. Russia sucks by standard measures of how well a country is doing, but if there was a right-wing index of civilizational health, it would be near the top … anti-American right-wingers … care much more about keeping groups like gays, foreigners, and criminals in line than any kind of positive vision of people living healthy lives and forming families. Drag queens per capita is a superior measure to not only GDP, but total fertility rate.”

Hanania is right here too. But as above, these aesthetic preferences are only part of the answer. Another part comes from the essay “Tucker Carlson and the Woke Right by Konstantin Kisin,” in which he writes: “Where the Woke Left has systemic racism, the Woke Right has globalism and the WEF, a shadowy global elite conspiring to deprive us of our rights, civil liberties and bodily autonomy.

Russia and China are not simply targeting the political left. They’re targeting both sides, and for many Republicans, Ukraine has been the inflection point, their Vietnam as it were

“Stagnating wages, uncontrolled and increasingly illegal mass immigration, the housing crisis, the deliberate stoking of racial tensions, blatant anti-white, anti-male, anti-family rhetoric, the promotion of trans ideology and a whole host of other issues have turned many people from sceptics into cynics.”

The right has indeed grown weary of democracy for precisely the reasons Kisin highlights. Namely, they’re not getting what they want. God only knows why they think they’ll get more of what they want under dictatorship, but you can understand a people’s disillusionment with a system when that system stops working for them.

If democracy means decriminalizing crime, rampant homelessness, weakness abroad, and chaos at home, isn’t it time to look at the alternatives? The Right’s fascination with Vladimir Putin and Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele is not accidental. Like Trump before him, Tucker is not the problem. He is a symptom. And unless Western elites start listening to the people they are supposed to represent, the problem is only going to get worse. And so are the symptoms.

Both Hanania and Kisin are insightful here, but allow me to add to their analyses. The anti-American woke right is oppositional, more aesthetic than pragmatic, and fundamentally disillusioned with the American dream. But part of the underlying reason for these things is that this has always been an anti-government movement.

That is the crux of it for many Americans, in whose minds a greater lack of government equals a greater sum of liberty. This is the Wild West spirit. The pioneer’s love of the plain. This is the heart of the American dream and the ink of the American imagination. But alas, some have been drinking the ink instead of using it to write.

The Right hates America too

This movement has grown with each new economic stumble, each new war, each new spike in taxes. When the anti-government right elected George W Bush, they thought they were getting a good old Texan from outside the DC beltway. But of course, that was an illusion. Bush wasn’t from Texas and he certainly wasn’t a good old boy. He was the son of a president, had attended boarding school, was the head cheerleader during his senior year, then went on to Yale.

Even worse, when Bush took office, he didn’t cut the government down to size. He enlarged it. His Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act raised multiple taxes. Plus, he waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Americans during his term witnessed the abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis.

We cannot blame him for all these things, but many did. Many on the right who had pinned their last, best hopes on Bush to shrink the behemoth of Big Government were bitterly disappointed and had their hope in America hollowed out.

When Trump lost the re-election and the legal hounds were set loose, this only gave his supporters a lethal sense of victimhood, further entrenching their resentment

Then Barack Obama was elected and the government got significantly larger. Also, Obama being black exacerbated anti-Americanism among the far-right who now figured America was done for and that the only thing to do was to burn it down and build something better from the ashes. This is partly why so many white nationalists and white supremacists voted for Trump -- not because they thought he would make a great president, but because they are accelerationists who, like Democrats, believed he would ruin the nation. But unlike Democrats, that’s precisely what they wanted.

This resentment snowballed into the Tea Party movement with its central aim of opposing Obama, lowering taxes, and shrinking the government. But Big Government just got bigger, the hard economy just got harder, and the bitter right got more bitter. This was the perfect wave for a new candidate to ride in on, and that’s a large part of how we got four years of Trump.

But Trump, the New York real estate mogul with an apartment plastered in gold, was not a man of the people any more than Bush was a Texan good old boy. Blue-collar Republicans had been fleeced again. The economy lost 2.9 million jobs, the number of people without health insurance rose by 3 million, the federal debt almost doubled, and home prices rose 27.5%. Again, not everything bad that happened under Trump can be pinned on Trump, but these things only made the anti-American right more embittered against the system, their government, and their country.

When Trump lost the re-election and the legal hounds were set loose, this only gave his supporters a lethal sense of victimhood, further entrenching their resentment. And let’s not forget the authoritarian protocols of Covid, the misleading information from our own institutions, in particular the CDC, and the ever-increasing slide of our universities, newspapers, and other establishments into woke idiocy.

More and more people became convinced that the US is not only headed in the wrong direction, but that it is doomed. Politicians like Trump and pundits like Carlson see the opportunity. Feed these people anti-Americanism, confirm to them their own worst thoughts like a dopamine-tapping social-media algorithm, and watch your base expand.

You can hear the Soviet journalist Yuri Bezmenov darkly chuckling in despair from the grave as his famous warning to America proves true. Russia and China could never defeat the US outright. But they can manipulate us into turning on ourselves. After that, they need only finish us off.

But I am not a member of the anti-American right. I remain a patriot, and a hopeful one at that, because I deeply believe in the dream of the American people and in the improving potential of this project in which we share.

The only way to defeat these actors, of course, is not by turning our backs on our country but by investing in its future. The more we press for liberty, against the toxic wave of woke authoritarianism and the bitter fruit of the anti-American right, then the better our economy does, and the more we defend free speech in the face of cowardice, the more easily these voices will be drowned out by the tide of our success.

David Josef Volodzko is the author of the newsletter The Radicalist. His writing has been published in New York Magazine, Foreign Policy, Bloomberg, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and more. A version of this article previously appeared in The Radicalist.
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