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NRI Ideas Summit

Tucker Carlson Laments America’s Cultural Decline: ‘Why Is This Happening?’

National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty and Tucker Carlson (Pete Marovich)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson took the stage at the National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas Summit Friday to question, and just as often mock, the establishment-Republican orthodoxy that has dominated Washington’s conservative circles since the Reagan administration.

Two months after he touched off a long-simmering intra-party debate between populists (a term Carlson rejects) and doctrinaire, free-market conservatives via a gripping opening monologue on his program Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson joined National Review‘s Michael Brendan Dougherty to explore the chasm he’d exposed.

“The more reviled you are, the more written off you are by all of the cool kids, the more likely you are to be saying at least something that’s true,” Carlson said.

This distrust of elite consensus permeates virtually every episode of Carlson’s program and, predictably, kept cropping up Friday. For Carlson, GDP growth and the “fake” numbers that show unemployment going down as wages rise mean nothing in the face of escalating suicide rates among middle-aged men, the decline of the family, and record overdose and addiction rates.

“I’ve watched it dissolve,” Carlson said of the small town in Western Maine he’s visited every summer since childhood. “You watch the same very familiar pathologies that we wrote a lot about in the ’80s and ’90s in the inner city right in the middle of this conservative, rural, white community. Why is this happening? Is welfare doing this? I’m not sure that our assistance programs make it better, I think they undermine the family in a lot of ways. But they’re not the problem. They didn’t cause it. What caused it is the collapse of male jobs.”

The lack of available employment opportunities for men in rural counties, many of which are now dominated by the female-centric health-care and education sectors, goes along way toward explaining male despair and the resulting cultural decline, according to Carlson.

“The causes are different from what I thought,” he said, reflecting on his earlier diagnosis of the roots of urban poverty. “If men don’t have full time work, families fall apart. If men make less than women, women don’t want to marry them. This isn’t some talking point that ‘we on the alt-right’ believe. This is the product of a century of consistent social science. I wish it weren’t true, I wish women were very excited to marry overweight indolent men. I wish it were enough to be charming at dinner, but it’s not. That’s not a choice that men make, it’s an instinct that women have.”

Carlson recognized, during his remarks, the limited ability of public policy to fix what ails us as a nation, but he also rejected the familiar conservative refrain that an emphasis on personal responsibility is enough — and mocked those who espouse this view as professionals reliant on nonprofits, saying they wouldn’t recognize the free market “if it got in the shower with them.”

For Carlson, the elites — policy-makers, media personalities, entertainers, academics, and others — aren’t just wrong, they simply don’t care about the suffering evinced by rising suicide rates and lack of family formation among the poor. These elites, in his opinion, are not just uncaring; they are directionless, incapable of crafting effective domestic policy because they have no end goal in mind.

“All I’m arguing for is a clear-sight picture of what the goal is, that’s all I’m arguing for. I’m not arguing for a different economic system. I’m not arguing for higher taxes on anybody. I’m not exactly sure what I’m arguing for,” he conceded. “I’m not a policy guy I’m a talk show host but I sincerely believe that no problem is solved unless you have a clear image in your mind of what you want the result to be.”

The goal they should have in mind, according to Carlson, is a return to an America where parents can afford to “raise their own children.”

“What I’m arguing for is for people who have no special advantage, including cognitive — people with an IQ of 100, who make 70 grand a year, who have three kids, living no place special, who don’t know anybody — [to] have sort of a decent life,” he said.

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