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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

What The Left Must Fight Against

Tucker Carlson’s new book is dangerous because it puts accurate economic observations alongside outright white nationalism…

You will not be surprised to be told that Tucker Carlson’s new book, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, contains a series of attacks on diversity, immigration, feminism, and “identity politics.” You may, however, be surprised to be told that the book contains high praise for Ralph Nader, quotes from Studs Terkel, laments the disappearance of the anti-capitalist left, and presents Jeff Bezos as one of its central villains. Carlson has written a book that is as staunchly nationalist as one would expect. Yet it’s also a little bit “socialist.” It’s kind of national socialist, if you will.

Carlson’s basic framework would commonly be described as “populism.” There are the people, and then there are the “ruling class” elites. The rich and powerful care only about themselves. They do not care about Middle America, and have presided over the opioid epidemic, the hollowing out of industrial towns, and exploding inequality. Meanwhile, ordinary workers suffer. At times, he almost sounds like Bernie Sanders. His analysis can be persuasive, well-written, and often funny. But it’s also terrifying, because elsewhere in the book, Carlson makes it clear: He wants a white-majority country, thinks immigrants are parasitic and destructive, misses traditional gender hierarchies, and dismisses the significance of climate change. Carlson’s political worldview is destructive and inhumane. Yet because it has a kernel of accuracy, it will easily tempt readers toward accepting an alarmingly xenophobic, white nationalist worldview. Carlson’s book shows us how a next generation fascist politics could co-opt left economic critiques in the service of a fundamentally anti-left agenda. It also shows us what we need to be able to effectively respond to.

First, let’s look at the parts that are most right, and perhaps most unexpected. In an analysis almost identical to that of leftists like Thomas Frank, Carlson says that Republicans and Democrats are now both beholden to corporate power. Sometime in the 1990s, Carlson says, he began wondering “why liberals weren’t complaining about big business anymore,” and had started celebrating “corporate chieftains” like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and the Google guys. Ralph Nader should be a hero to all liberals, spending his days “greeting a parade of awestruck liberal pilgrims” from a retirement home. Instead, he is “reviled,” even though “every point Nader made was fair” and “some were indisputably true.” Suddenly “both sides were aligned on the virtues of unrestrained market capitalism… left and right were taking virtually indistinguishable positions on many economic issues, especially on wages.”

The “prolabor” Democrats, Carlson says, were “empathetic and humane” and “suspicious of power.” But today they have disappeared, and the party of the New Deal is now a party of Wall Street. Carlson points out that Hillary Clinton won wealthy enclaves like Aspen, Marin County, and Connecticut’s Fairfield County (the hedge fund capital of the country). “Employees of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon donated to Hillary over Trump by a margin of 60-to-1,” and while “Seven financial firms donated 47.6 million to Hillary,” they gave Trump “a total of $19,000, about the price of a used pickup.”

As a result, Carlson says, Democrats are now largely silent on labor issues: “When was the last time you heard a politician decry Apple’s treatment of workers, let alone introduce legislation intended to address it?” Corporations make vaguely “socially liberal” noises, like decrying gun violence and being pro-LGBT, and as a result escape criticism for mistreating their workers or contributing to economic inequality. Carlson cites Uber, which has prominent liberal Arianna Huffington on its board and has had to commit to reforming its “bro culture.” And yet it still treats its drivers like crap:

[Uber is] running an enormously profitable business on the backs of exploited workers… An obedient business press [has] focused on the “flexibility” Uber’s contractors supposedly enjoyed. … [But] Feudal lords took more responsibility for their serfs than Uber does for its drivers… Uber executives weren’t ashamed… They sold exploitation as opportunity, and virtually nobody called them on it.

What happens, Carlson says, is that corporations “embrace a progressive agenda that from an accounting perspective costs them nothing.” They are, in effect, purchasing “indulgences from the church of cultural liberalism.” Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In and Mark Zuckerberg is floated as a possible Democratic presidential candidate, but Facebook is an evil corporation to its core. Sean Parker has admitted that Facebook was engineered to be addictive, that its designers thought: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?… We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once it a while.. To get you to contribute more content.” Carlson notes that the company commits “relentless invasions of the public’s privacy,” and that epidemiologists have linked the product “with declining psychological and even physical health.” Carlson writes:

Evidence has mounted that Facebook is an addictive product that harms users, and that Zuckerberg knew that from the beginning but kept selling it to unknowing customers. Those facts would be enough to tarnish most reputations, if not spark congressional hearings. Yet Zuckerberg remains a celebrated national icon.

We know Facebook is manipulating people’s emotions to sell advertising, and yet we still get headlines like “How To Raise The Next Mark Zuckerberg.” Or look at Amazon. Jeff Bezos supported Hillary Clinton for president, yet “no textile mill ever dehumanized its workers more thoroughly than an Amazon warehouse.” Carlson asks: “when was the last time you heard a liberal criticize working conditions at Amazon?… “Liberals and Jeff Bezos [are now] playing for the same team.” Successful businessmen “pose as political activists,” and pitch their products as woke. That way: “affluent consumers get to imagine they’re fighting the power by purchasing the products, even as they make a tiny group of people richer and more powerful. There’s never been a more brilliant marketing strategy.” He goes on:

The marriage of market capitalism to progressive social values may be the most destructive combination in American economic history. Someone needs to protect workers from the terrifying power of market forces, which tend to accelerate change to intolerable levels and crush the weak. For generations, labor unions filled that role. That’s over. Left and right now agree that a corporation’s only real responsibility is to its shareholders. Corporations can openly mistreat their employees (or “contractors”), but for the price of installing transgender bathrooms they buy a pass. Shareholders win, workers lose. Bowing to the diversity agenda is a lot cheaper than raising wages.

Carlson mocks the “socially liberal” Davos elite who hand-wring about inequality while reaping its fruits. He points to the example of Chelsea Clinton, who talked nobly about her values (“I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t… That wasn’t the metric of success that I wanted in my life”) before buying a $10 million, 5,000 square foot apartment in the Flatiron District that spanned an entire city block. Chelsea Clinton’s career, for Carlson, shows how contemporary believers in “meritocracy” benefit from an unjust and nepotistic system: Clinton was paid $600,000 a year as a “reporter” for NBC despite appearing on the network for a sum total of 58 minutes. The bubble of privilege that many elites inhabit was exemplified in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which suggested that “Things in America are Fine.” (The slogan was actually “America Is Already Great.”) Carlson is not wrong here: Hillary Clinton herself was so out of touch that she is still saying things like “I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product… So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.”

Carlson also says that there has been a troubling tendency for both sides to embrace the military-industrial complex. Key Democratic figures supported the Iraq War (e.g., Feinstein, Kerry, Clinton, Biden, Edwards, Reid, Schumer). It was New York Times reporters who contributed to scaremongering about Saddam in the leadup to the war, the New York Times op-ed page where you can find contributions like “Bomb Syria, Even If It’s Illegal” or “Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late,” and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who said that the Iraq War had been “unquestionably worth doing” because it told Middle Easterners to “suck on this.” Barack Obama (who was given the Nobel Peace Prize, Carlson says, for “not being George W. Bush”) killed thousands of people with drones, including American citizens, prosecuted whistleblowers, kept Guantanamo open, and failed to rein in the vast global surveillance apparatus. Hillary Clinton pushed aggressively for military action in Libya, which destabilized the country. There is a D.C. consensus, Carlson says, and it is pro-war. Some of the book’s most amusing passages come when Carlson flays neoconservative hacks like Max Boot and Bill Kristol, who have now become allies of the Democratic Party in paranoia about Russia. Boot’s career, he says, publishing articles like “The Case for American Empire” and advocating invasion after invasion, shows us how “the talentless prosper, rising inexorably toward positions of greater power, breaking things along the way.” The hawkish consensus is no joke, though, and Carlson says he misses the liberal peaceniks, who “were right” when they warned that “war is not the answer, it’s a means to an end, and a very costly one.”

To many on the left, everything Carlson says here will be familiar. The phenomenon he’s pointing to, by which Democrats and Republicans both became free market capitalists,  has a name: neoliberalism. Larry Summers was quite open about it when he said that “we are now all Friedmanites.” Carlson’s point about how corporations whitewash exploitative practices by appearing socially progressive is one leftists make frequently (see, for example, Yasmin Nair’s essay “Bourgeois Feminist Bullshit” and Nair and Eli Massey’s “Inclusion In The Atrocious“). The foreign policy stuff is a little off: It’s not that Democrats used to be pacifists, since the Vietnam tragedy was initiated by JFK and expanded by Lyndon Johnson. Empire has always been a bipartisan project, antiwar voices in the minority. Aside from the suggestion that this is new, it’s accurate to say that American elites have largely embraced the projection of American military power.

But Carlson is not going to be joining the Sanders 2020 campaign. His book has a dark side: a deep suspicion of cultural progressivism, inclusion, and diversity. Carlson believes that liberal immigration policies have been imposed because they serve elite interests (Democrats get votes and Republicans get cheap labor for Big Business). As a result, the fabric of the country is fraying. He writes:

Thanks to mass immigration, America has experienced greater demographic change in the last few decades than any other country in history has undergone during peacetime… If you grew up in America, suddenly nothing looks the same. Your neighbors are different. So is the landscape and the customs and very often the languages you hear on the street. You may not recognize your own hometown. Human beings aren’t wired for that. They can’t digest change at this pace… [W]e are told these changes are entirely good… Those who oppose it are bigots. We must celebrate the fact that a nation that was overwhelmingly European, Christian, and English-speaking fifty years ago has become a place with no ethnic majority, immense religious pluralism, and no universally shared culture or language.

To some people, what Carlson writes here may not seem racist. And like many conservatives, he resents having what he sees as common sense treated as bigotry. I don’t think there’s any way around it, though: Carlson’s problem is that the United States looks different, that it’s not “European” any more and has no “ethnic majority.” He’s explicitly talking the language of ethnicity: It’s destabilizing that we’re not a white-majority country anymore. This isn’t simply about, say, the “Judeo-Christian ethic” or embracing the “American idea.” If that were the case, then it would be hard to make a case for why we shouldn’t let in the Catholic members of the migrant caravan, who love American culture and want to march across the border saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The problem is that they are not European, that they change the look of the place, that they disrupt the “ethnic majority.” Europeans are the real Americans, the ones that hold the fabric of the nation together, and minorities, people who are different, threaten to undo that fabric. 

Opposing having non-white people as the national majority seems to me like what we would naturally call “white nationalism.” But Carlson rejects that label. He lambasts the Southern Poverty Law Center for having called anti-immigration activist John Tanton a white nationalist, arguing that Tanton is instead a “lifelong progressive” whose concerns about migrants come from his concern about the environment. But here’s Tanton in his own words: “One of my prime concerns is about the decline of folks who look like you and me” and “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” A clear white majority. How can we avoid calling this racist?

Carlson believes that elites have embraced a radical open borders agenda that the prolabor Democrats of years past would have rejected. He notes that the labor movement always supported immigration restrictions. The Knights of Labor and the AFL backed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Cesar Chavez called Mexican migrants “wetbacks” who were undermining his union. (Chavez’s anti-immigrant sentiments were ugly indeed.) In the 1970s, politicians like Jerry Brown, George McGovern, and Joe Biden all opposed new immigration at one time or another. Carlson suggests that today’s rich elite, who want cheap Central American housekeepers, are undermining the economic fortunes of native people because employing immigrants benefits them financially and makes them feel noble. This importation of labor, which has “radically and permanently changed the country,” has been imposed “against the will of [the] population,” because our immigration policy is actually “unpopular… only the ruling class supports it.” Carlson writes that “for more than fifty years, Gallup has polled Americans on whether they want more immigration, less immigration, or about the same amount. Not a single time has a plurality supported higher immigration. They all want less than the current amount.”

Let’s first get the facts about public opinion straight: Americans are generally pro-immigration, and getting more so. This year a record 75 percent of them said immigration was a positive for the country. The Gallup polling that Carlson cites shows that: 72 percent believe that the legal number of immigrants should either be kept the same (38 percent) or increased (34 percent), with only 25 percent wanting it decreased. 83 percent favor allowing people brought here illegally as children to become citizens, and 57 percent oppose significant new border wall construction. The change in attitudes among Democratic politicians reflects a change in attitudes among the general public. We are more open now, as well we should be! Progressives today look back on Chavez’s xenophobia, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, as moral blots on the labor movement, which is supposed to be about uniting the “workers of the world.”

Carlson’s arguments that immigrants are harming the country are spurious. Elsewhere, I have shown how he has offered bogus crime statistics in order to scare people. He also avoids dealing with any of the economic literature on the effects of immigration, probably because so much of it concludes immigration is a net positive. Instead, he argues that diversity, often called a “strength,” actually threatens to undo the “glue” that holds the country together:

Diversity is not a value. It’s a neutral fact… Countries don’t hang together simply because. They need a reason. What’s ours? … the ruling class ought to be looking for the glue strong enough to hold a country of 330 million people together. … Is diversity our strength? The less we have in common, the stronger we are? Is that true of families? Is it true in neighborhoods or businesses? Of course not. Then why is it true of America? Nobody knows. Nobody’s even allowed to ask the question.

Now, I am not sure that countries do, in fact, “need a reason.” I also don’t know why Carlson doesn’t feel “allowed to ask the question,” considering that he asks it in front of millions of viewers every night. (Yet again, a conservative who is “pretty loud for being so silenced.”) It’s obvious, as I’ve written before, why people think diversity is good: Much of the country’s richness has been produced by its cultural pluralism. Enjoying living in a country with many different types of people is not the same as saying that “the less we have in common” the stronger we are. In fact, there’s very little risk of Americans losing their “common culture”: American culture is so strong that it is literally colonizing every country on earth. It’s immigrants who have trouble preserving their culture: Their children often don’t grow up learning their language, and a family is fully “Americanized” within a generation or two. Carlson gives almost no examples of how the cultural fabric is actually eroding, and I have to conclude that it really is as simple as “foreigners talk funny and look different.”

There’s more ugly stuff in the sections on race. Carlson is nastily dismissive of Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose popularity he calls “embarrassing.” Coates is  “dumb,” “nutty,” and an “unusually bad” writer. Carlson is truly horrible here: He essentially implies that Coates is an imbecile who is literally only successful because he is black, taking pains to note that Coates “failed eleventh-grade English but was nevertheless able to enroll at Howard University. He attended for five years but failed to graduate, in part because he failed classes on British and American literature.” “No honest reader with an IQ over 100 could be impressed by” Coates’ writing.” These passages made my skin crawl. There is an argument to be made that white people over-praise Coates to make themselves feel good, but he’s absolutely an important intellectual whose work is worth engaging with.

Notably, when Carlson does actually try to respond to Coates, he resorts mostly to mockery rather than argument. “In Coates’ telling, America was constructed with the labor of enslaved Africans,” he scoffs. But… it was, wasn’t it? Carlson doesn’t actually respond, he just says that “Coates despises white people” and is “shallow and bigoted.” He mocks Coates’ articles for being too long, and Between the World And Me for being too short (but also overlong). In reply to Coates’ famous “Case for Reparations,” Carlson doesn’t actually try to go through any of the voluminous historical evidence Coates amasses. Instead, he says that because Coates’ policy proposals are vague, they must not be about addressing racism.

All of Carlson’s discussion of “identity politics” is about at this level. He has the standard conservative argument that the left is dividing people up needlessly and feigning mass victimization:

Nobody in Barack Obama’s world even pretends there is still one America. There are now as many Americas as there are hyphenated identities. The 2016 Democratic platform includes the acronym “LGBT” nineteen times and “African” or “black” fifteen times.

I was curious, when I read that passage, what parts of the Democratic platform he was referring to, so I looked them up. What are these constant uses of “black” and “LGBT” that Carlson so objects to? Some examples:

  • LGBT kids continue to be bullied at school, restaurants can refuse to serve transgender people, and same-sex couples are at risk of being evicted from their homes. That is unacceptable and must change.
  • It is unacceptable that the median wealth for African Americans and Latino Americans is roughly one-tenth that of white Americans.

Is he saying that the Democratic platform shouldn’t oppose the bullying of gay kids? That it shouldn’t deal with the black-white wealth gap? It’s unclear, because for Carlson, the very fact that the platform mentions black people is enough to prove that it’s engaging in divisive Identity Politics and are demanding “collective race guilt.”

Ship of Fools contains all the stuff you’ll find in Heather Mac Donald’s work about social justice politics, although somehow with even fewer citations. (There are exactly zero endnotes or footnotes in Carlson’s book.) He objects to the cancelation of college speaking events by Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray. I didn’t think those events should have been stopped either, but notably Carlson does not mention that neither man actually deserves to be invited on a college campus in the first place: Yiannopoulos gives cruel, vulgar speeches that single out individual students for bullying, and Murray is a racist. If you’re going to criticize student activists for blocking these men’s talks, you need to at least mention why they did it. (Carlson also repeats his completely false account of the controversy at Evergreen State College around professor Bret Weinstein, saying Weinstein was told he “would have to leave campus” because he was white, and when he refused, students threatened him with violence. This is not at all what happened.)

I am sure you won’t be stunned to hear that Carlson is concerned about the impacts of feminism. Men are “becoming less male,” as evidenced by their declining sperm count. There are problems that are worse for men, of course—life expectancy, incarceration, suicide, anything to do with the prostate—but Carlson appears to think that this makes feminist complaints meritless. He gives the right’s standard “debunking” of the gender pay gap:

The statistic is repeated everywhere. .. [But] once you compare men and women with similar experience working the same hours in similar jobs for the same period of time—and that’s the only way you can measure it—the gap all but disappears.

Perhaps I should clear up once and for all why this “debunking” does not settle the issue the way conservatives think it does. Let’s see how this logic would look if it was applied to, for example, the sharecropping system in the Jim Crow south. Yes, there is a racial income gap, but if you compare people working the same jobs for the same period of time, there is no gap. All sharecroppers, black and white, earn the same amount. We can see how this misses the point: We can’t answer the question “Do black and white people earn the same amount if they both work shitty jobs?” and ignore the question “Do black people have all the shitty jobs?” Likewise with contemporary gender issues: Women may earn the same amount of men if they’re in the same jobs. But they’re not in the same jobs, which is why there is a gap! The kind of jobs that women tend to have are compensated less. This is a core part of the feminist argument: The labor that women have had to do, such as housekeeping and child-rearing, is not compensated, and even when women enter the workforce, they end up in jobs that pay less. If both males and females in the same occupation earn the same amount, that’s useful to know, but it doesn’t prove that there’s no unfair wealth distribution by gender.

Let me just mention one more terrible part of Carlson’s book: his discussion of the environmental movement. Carlson says he is pro-conservation, but believes that environmentalists have gone off the rails. They used to follow the spirit of the “Crying Indian” ad and try to clean up waterways, whereas now they pursue the more “abstract” goal of combating climate change. Carlson hypothesizes that because the movement succeeded, it had to invent causes: “There are only so many rivers you can restore before you run out of high-profile victories. At that point, where does your movement go? … [H]ow do you raise money? Environmentalism as a religion is more compelling than environmentalism as a means to save birds or clean up some river in Maine.” Carlson does not say that climate change is a hoax, but he implies that it’s not a problem and that people who love the earth should focus on saving birds from being killed by wind turbines. He does not mention the IPCC, or refute the scientific consensus, instead spending his time pointing out the hypocrisy of Bill DeBlasio’s motorcade and Al Gore’s house. He also complains that Sierra Club didn’t issue a statement when an unauthorized immigrant caused a large forest fire, yet it takes “a vigorous position in favor of transgenderism and taxpayer-funded abortion.” Needless to say, overlooking climate change like this is catastrophically irresponsible.

You can see how Carlson’s book is a strange mixture, then. We get the usual Fox News grousing about political correctness and campus activists, a lot of perfectly sensible observations about neoliberalism, and then outright white nationalist talking points about ethnic demographic change and the loss of a European majority. It’s a toxic brew. But it’s not at all an anomalous one, and it represents a tendency that the left needs to work very hard to fight against.

As Carlos Maza of Vox has pointed out, white supremacists like Tucker Carlson more than they like any other Fox News commentator. The Daily Stormer has called him “literally our greatest ally,” Richard Spencer has spoken positively of him, David Duke has said “God bless Tucker Carlson.” This is because Carlson differs from other conservatives: Many praise immigration and the American “melting pot,” and reserve their criticism for illegal immigrants. Carlson is different: He’s not just concerned with unlawful entry. He’s also concerned with, as we see in his book, “demographic” change. The loss of a European “ethnic majority.” Most conservatives are not openly pro-white. Carlson, on the other hand, dares to talk about how cities “look different” now—the changes are changes of color and culture. Carlson’s “ethnic majority” is pretty much exactly what Richard Spencer says. Spencer believes that European American culture is the glue that holds the country together, that we need a white ethnostate, and that changes in ethnicity, religion, and language are bad and will destroy the country. Carlson’s talking points are about half an inch away from this. Again, just to emphasize, he is clear in the book that “ethnicity” is a component of the change he finds destructive.

That would be scary enough on its own. Carlson is using his Fox show to spread fear about foreigners of all kinds, not just the unauthorized immigrants. He lies about their crime rates and singles out individual horrific crimes committed by immigrants and discusses them in lurid detail. He speaks in broad generalizations about how our differences make us weaker rather than stronger. Having the Daily Stormer’s “greatest ally” giving Richard Spencer’s arguments to an audience of millions every night is very concerning. It’s a very damning indictment of Fox, and everyone from the network should be shunned and shamed. (I do not, however, think surrounding Tucker Carlson’s house and shouting at his family is an effective political tactic.) 

But it’s Carlson’s skepticism of inequality and free market capitalism that makes me even more worried. It’s not at all unprecedented to see white nationalism combined with economic populism. There was a reason the Nazis were called “national socialists,” and it wasn’t because they believed in establishing a classless, stateless worker-controlled communism. It was because they knew how to speak to the same (genuine) economic grievances that actual socialists are concerned with. Many of the other contemporary white nationalists (including Spencer) talk the same way Carlson does about the way rich elites are amassing wealth and power for themselves and leaving crumbs to the workers. (Of course they often also claim that these elites are a cabal of nefarious Jews, which Carlson does not.) “Anticapitalism” is “one of the main points of agreement of the Nationalist Front, a coalition of roughly 10 American neo-Nazi groups organized in 2016 by Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party, an anti-gay, anti-Semitic group linked to street violence.” The far right often talks about legitimate economic difficulties, but pins their causes on the marginalized. (This is one reason why the “were Trump voters economically anxious or were they racists?” question is poorly framed: Racism is often fueled by people’s perceived or real loss of economic status and concern about their economic future. Their genuine hardship leads to scapegoating and hatred.)

Tucker Carlson’s book is so dangerous because it’s partly right. Neoliberalism is bad! Democratic leaders have neglected poor and middle-class people! Many liberals seem to identify more with bosses like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg than with labor unions. But you know who else says that? Bernie Sanders. One interesting aspect of Carlson’s book is that he doesn’t mention the “left-liberal” divide. He talks constantly about “liberals” and “Democrats,” without noting that there is a strong dissenting faction (13 million votes in 2016) that rejects this “elite consensus.” This is important: it means that, for the economically struggling white people who might be tempted to agree with Carlson, there is an alternative that offers the same critiques of capitalism without the bigotry and nationalism.

Carlson does not position himself as a Trump supporter, but merely a Trump explainer: He thinks it was understandable that some people wanted to reject the “establishment,” and he says that Donald Trump is different from the “elites”: He’s not a politician, he didn’t start any wars, he gets the Forgotten Man, etc. We on the left know that Trump’s “populism” is completely phony: His cabinet is stuffed with billionaires, he immediately gave a huge tax cut to the rich, he’s happy to destroy important social programs, and he couldn’t give a shit about anyone except himself. When “Trump populism” is given a serious challenge from the left, it crumbles. Steve Bannon, asked how Betsy DeVos could possibly be considered “non-elite,” struggled to come up with an answer. Fascism isn’t actually leftism: It uses some left language, but ultimately it’s an elitist and authoritarian system that wants to preserve the rule of the few over the many.

But fascism can also be very politically appealing, especially when the existing political elites are non-responsive to popular needs. Look at what happened in Brazil: A far-right candidate was swept to victory because people were desperate and didn’t know who else to turn to. They’re willing to accept a homophobic, sexist authoritarian, because he promises to bring order and stability. That could happen here. Donald Trump is too incompetent to be a true totalitarian, but I fear that the Bolsonaro phenomenon is a warning.

In order to prevent this, we need a strong left alternative. We can’t let Tucker Carlson be the only one on television talking about the decline of labor unions. Carlson is a white nationalist. He thinks dark-skinned people should not be in the majority. We need an anti-racist “populism,” one that speaks to the same issues of corporate concentration and unequal bargaining power, but without spreading fear about immigrants and Social Justice Warriors. This can be done: Sanders showed it in 2016, and I still think he would be an extremely effective challenger to Trump in 2020. He can prove that Trump’s “man of the people” shtick is phony in a way that Hillary Clinton never could, because she was too closely associated with Wall Street and the Iraq War.

But even if the Democrats do not nominate Bernie, we need to heed the warning presented by Carlson’s book: If you don’t offer a compelling critique of free market capitalism, white nationalists will step in. That’s precisely what happened in the 1930s: A perverse ideology called “national socialism” used some vaguely left-ish appeals alongside its rabid racism, even as it liquidated leftists by the score. Carlson-ism is so dangerous because parts of it are right. Fortunately, democratic socialism offers a way to salvage the accurate aspects while totally rejecting the prejudiced ones, forming a genuinely humanistic and caring set of political principles that see all people’s struggles as one, and that unite the workers of the world against exploitation, bigotry, and oppression. 

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