Perhaps it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations, but it has been heartening to see a range of media figures denouncing the harassment of Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s family at their home by a group of self-described “anti-fascists,” which NRO’s indefatigable Jack Crowe covered last night.
Carlson is one of the most widely known opinion journalists in America, and he’s not one to shy away from controversial subjects. What I’ve found, though, is that he is deeply interested in opposing views. He routinely hosts guests with whom he vehemently disagrees. Critics note that he can be hard on said guests. Yet it is also the case that his aggressive interviewing technique often turns out rather well for the guests with whom he’s parrying — it is not at all uncommon for his left-liberal or libertarian guests to share on social media clips of their exchanges with Carlson, as if to celebrate the fact that they had entered the lion’s den and, perhaps, scored a point or two in the process. One old friend of mine, an experienced liberal journalist and a staunch believer in increasing immigration levels, had just such an experience a year ago. My friend came on Carlson’s show swinging, and he was quite satisfied with how it all turned out. Is this because Carlson somehow made a miscalculation? Not at all. He recognizes that when you’re having a spirited exchange, you’re not always going to come out on top, and that’s okay. That is the high-wire act that can make short-form televised debate so compelling.
This all occurs to me because Carlson has even had guests on his program who share the putatively anti-fascist politics of the people who broke the door of his family home this week in the hopes of inspiring terror and dread, and in doing so he introduced their ideas to a large audience. He’s had these guests on his program because he believes that it is good and right to debate people with whom you disagree. Honestly, he goes further than I would in this regard. There are lots of folks I choose not to engage at all. And no, he’s not always warm and welcoming. But he does give his political opponents a valuable platform, one that in some cases has helped propel his supposed punching bags into minor pundit stardom. What he does not do is threaten their families.
Some have argued that Carlson’s support for immigration enforcement, for example, justifies terrorizing his family, as many unauthorized immigrants fear the prospect of removal from U.S. soil. Consider that this argument, if taken seriously, would justify terrorizing a rather large share of the U.S. population. I recently observed that a large proportion of Americans oppose granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants on rule-of-law grounds, or what a group of political scientists refer to as “rigid moralistic convictions about the importance of strict adherence to rules and laws.” How many American adults fall into this category? It depends on the survey in question, but a conservative estimate is that it’s around one in four. This was true long before Carlson became a Fox News host. Yet Carlson is, in effect, serving as a stand-in for this large and diverse group of people, who are drawn from a range of different ethnic backgrounds, occupations, and neighborhoods, some of whom are native-born and some of whom are foreign-born. Not all of these people are vocal about their political views. But it is sobering to think that at least some of their fellow citizens believe that their moral convictions about the rule of law make them fair game.