Tucker Carlson is host of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, the second-highest rated cable news program in the United States. He made his television debut in 2000 as co-host of The Spin Room with Bill Press, where he became CNN’s youngest host ever at the time of his appointment. He’s also served as the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, hosted programs on MSNBC, and authored the book, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News. On October 2, he will release his newest book, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution.
The Yale Politic: I saw your recent interview with Cornel West, and I really respected you bringing him on the show. What exactly was the background to that? I know you wrote a piece about travelling with him to Liberia a while ago.
Tucker Carlson: I know Cornel West, I’ve known him for a long time, I like him a lot, I think he’s an interesting guy. I don’t agree with all of what he says – I agree with some of what he says – but I think he’s interesting, I think he’s brave, and I think he’s willing to take positions which are unfashionable. That’s always a sign of courage to me. I’m attracted to people who are brave enough to say what everyone else disagrees with– he’s in that category.
I went to Africa with him, had a great time, and wrote a story about it for Esquire about nine years ago. When Democratic Socialism reemerged as, I’m not really sure a philosophy, but a bullet point in the news, I thought it would be interesting to have Cornel on to explain what it is.
I really liked that piece— I thought it was funny when you were talking about Cornel West using complicated words like “dialectic” or “paradigm” with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Do you ever feel like you guys are speaking past each other?
I feel that way with many guests. I think Cornel is much more interesting than most people I interview though, because I think he’s thought about what he’s saying, and I think he’s smart. So I would say he’s in a different category in that way. But I often feel as if I’m speaking past my guests and that they’re speaking past me. It’s frustrating– I’d much rather engage. It’s not fun to throw non-sequiturs at each other. What’s fun is to tango: I think this, you think that, here’s my evidence, let me hear yours, let’s figure out who’s right. I think that’s useful for viewers. It’s intellectually stimulating and sporting. Everything about that appeals to me.
But increasingly you don’t get that, because at least from my perspective, I’m having a debate about policy and about ideas while the people I’m speaking with are having a conversation about theology. So basically, I’m saying, “I think this works,” or “this doesn’t work,” or “here’s the principle at stake.” They’re saying, “I’m a good person– you’re immoral,” or “I’m virtuous– you’re a racist,” or “you’re a white supremacist.” To me, it’s really for them a contest about who’s a better person, who’s going to heaven, who’s justified in some cosmic sense. Since I’m not a high school junior, that’s not really interesting to me.
Ben Shapiro is notorious for the saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Is that part of it?
Let me just say this– I have four kids. I care about people’s feelings. It’s not that I’m against people’s feelings. What I’m against is a conversation which begins with one side convinced of its moral superiority, because you just don’t get anywhere in that conversation. I mean really, you’re the apostate and they’re the grand inquisitor. They’re saying you’re deviating from some faith, and I don’t see politics as a faith: I see it as a mechanism for making civilization better. There shouldn’t be any taboos in a political conversation because it’s not religion. You should be allowed to say what you think, period.
I don’t ever seek to hurt people’s feelings, and on those occasions when I do, I feel bad about it. I’m an Episcopalian; I don’t believe in rudeness– I really don’t. And I am rude sometimes. Sometimes I get angry and lose control of myself, and I always regret it. I don’t like that at all. Ask anyone who lives with me, works with me, or knows me well. I don’t care for hurting people’s feelings. I just don’t. Maybe Ben Shapiro was saying that he’s so tough that he doesn’t care about people’s feelings, but that’s not what I’m saying at all. I do care– I just don’t think feelings are positive in a political debate.
Here’s a line from your book: “There’s almost no political position that can’t be justified on grounds of liberty or compassion: We have a right to do this; we have an obligation to do that.” What do you think, then, makes for a legitimate policy position?
There are a lot of different ways to justify your policies– those are the two elemental ones. Increasingly as I age, I think that natural law and nature itself are pretty good. I think they underpin our founding documents, the Bill of Rights, and I think they’re a good place to start. You know, the farther you get from what’s natural, the more trouble you’re likely to find yourself in.
I’ve been in D.C. since 1985. That’s 33 years. I’ve watched a lot of policy debates, and I’ve been won over by some of them. I have a weakness for clever arguments. Sometimes you’ll hear people say something that’s kind of elegant in the way that it’s put together, and I guess I’m kind of gullible in some ways because I fall for that often and I shouldn’t. You should always rock back on your heels and ask yourself, “does that make sense?” “Is that the way people really are?” “Is that the way the world really works?” “Does it comport with what I know to be true?” “Does it smell right?” I think those are all valid ways to measure an idea.
You can talk yourself into all kinds of ludicrous stuff, like there being an infinite number of sexes. No there’s not! There are two biological sexes– that’s how the species reproduces. Like, what? Or people are born a ‘blank slate.’ Really? I have four kids. They’re not born a blank slate. You can influence them, and you can change them to some extent by the way you raise them, but a lot of this is baked into the cake– I watched it. Just ask yourself: “Does this make sense?” or “is it true based on what I’ve seen living in this world?
How do you think people can have such fundamentally different intuitions on these issues? For instance, how can Heather Mac Donald think police brutality isn’t unequal while Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it’s literally engrained in the foundation of civil society?
Smart people of good will can interpret the same factset very differently. I don’t think you have to arrive at the same conclusion based on the same set of data– people are different. Different cultures have different ways of looking at things – so do different people – and that’s okay. That’s what diversity is: difference. So that’s okay. I’m not so bothered by that.
What I’m bothered by is the way people increasing think… or don’t think. And once you abandon the idea that truth is out there… it’s not a question of whether you have the truth or I have the truth, but whether you think there’s an objective reality that we could conceivably find. We’re more likely to find that through rational discourse. Put your cards on table, I’ll put mine on the table, we’ll assess what we’ve got, and we’ll move forward from there.
That was kind of the reigning assumption in America through my whole life – I’m 49 – up until a couple of years ago. Under those circumstances, using that method of assessing the world and making decisions based on those assessments, you could have debate without hatred. But people have started deciding that there actually is no objective truth, that everything is a product of identity: that your truth as a white man is entirely different from my truth as a black woman. First of all, I think that’s objectively wrong. But I would also say that that’s an inherently divisive way to see the world because it offers no possibility of consensus– honest consensus. So really, all you get when you have that is a forced consensus. This is the truth, I’m going to force you to believe it at gunpoint, and I’m going to punish you if you stray from it. That’s what bothers me– that the way people think has changed.
Do you think identity politics is escapable?
Unfortunately, the nature of a cable news show is that you’re captive, at least partially, to the news of the day. There aren’t enough moments where you ask the basic questions, but I always have the following question in my mind, which is: “where do you think this winds up?” What’s the end game here with identity politics? If you’re the sum of your appearance, or of your bloodline, or of the experience of your ancestors, it doesn’t really leave any room for a cohesive country. In the end, identity politics is just another word for tribalism, and tribalism always ends up with violence because it’s a zero-sum deal– the more my tribe gets, the less yours gets. That’s not speculation. That’s the story of history.
So the people who are pushing this stuff… some of them are well-meaning. I mean, I don’t think they all seek the destruction of the United States. Some do, but I don’t think most do. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through, you know what I mean? The only way a diverse country hangs together is if there’s universal buy-in on some uniting principles– and we don’t have that.
‘Diversity is our strength’ is kind of the only universally accepted slogan we have, and it’s not true, because diversity is not our strength. Diversity isn’t strength. I’m not saying it’s bad– I’m actually for diversity. But it doesn’t make us stronger. It makes our society more volatile. You can have diversity – and good for you – but you have to think it through. You have to think, “well okay, in a country where people have less in common, how do we keep it from spinning apart?”
That reminds of this Trevor Noah skit where he talks about France’s World Cup soccer players being African. Yet the French ambassador, Gérard Araud, wants to celebrate these players’ French-ness. What do you think of that? Nationalism versus multiculturalism?
Multiculturalism is a ridiculous concept. You can’t have multiple cultures in the same nation and expect not to have civil war. You can have multiple races, and you can have multiple religions, but you have to have a unifying, common civic culture. So the idea itself is stupid, and it’s been promulgated by people who aren’t very smart and haven’t thought it through in my opinion.
France offers a totally different model, and it’s obviously a product of the French Revolution. There was a lot that was bad about the French Revolution, but one thing I admire about it was the principle of color-blindness. French, to a much greater extent than the United States, really is an idea. The French get a lot of things wrong, and everything’s imperfect of course, but they really try to stick with the notion that you’re French if you buy into France. Their overseas territories are, some of them, considered part of France. And they don’t do racial sampling in the census. There’s no question about what your race or religion is when you’re French; you’re not a black Frenchman, you’re a Frenchman or you’re not. Citizenship is the defining factor of French life.
I think in a world where it’s not a choice between the perfect and the awful, but a choice between the flawed and the terrible… if you’ve got a choice between nationalism and multiculturalism, of course you go with nationalism. I’ve never really understood what, intellectually, the problem was with nationalism. There are certainly lots of nationalist countries that have done bad things, but that doesn’t mean nationalism is itself a bad idea. If you live in a country, why wouldn’t you buy into the governing precepts of the country? I don’t understand. There’s a small group of people who are very against that notion, and you know, most of them live in Washington and that’s where we are. But most people intuitively understand that if you’re going to have an ethnically and religiously diverse country, you really need nationalism to hold it together.
How do you deal with the claim that society foists an identity onto people no matter what? For instance, let’s say you have a minority who sincerely believes in color-blindness, but society still polices him based on his ethnicity— how can we escape that?
I wouldn’t say that society polices identity, I would say the Democratic party and its watercarriers police it. Everything is irony in my view. You can sort of tell what people are like by what they decry. The people that are mad about a topic – society forcing you to do this – are the very ones forcing you to do it. The Democratic Party is a coalition, and they need to keep its component parts in line, period.
Central to that are minority voters. Black voters specifically, but also Hispanic voters. So any deviation is a massive threat to them. If they lost 20% of black votes, you couldn’t get a Democrat elected president, period. So this is an existential problem for them. And they enforce this orthodoxy.
The Left is sort of party-oriented in a way that the Right isn’t: Progressives tend to be ‘joiners.’ They feel powerless– that’s the root of their rage. By joining something larger than themselves, they feel empowered. That’s just sort of the psychology of the Left. So party orthodoxy is really important in the Democratic Party – really important – and that orthodoxy is enforced not just by the party leaders, but by college professors, entertainers, tech mobiles, and everyone who buys into the idea of the party. Again, any loss of solidarity among minority groups is an electoral disaster, and the Democrats know that it’ll remove their power.
Try being a black voter with heterodoxic views. You’re smacked back into line immediately. It’s totally authoritarian. I hate it. I hope we never come to a place where white voters become another ethnic voting bloc. I fear we will, but if that ever happens, I can tell you… I’m not taking orders from somebody who’s ‘king of the whites,’ or whatever— some white Al Sharpton. I would never take orders. What, you represent me? No you don’t. Who are you? I didn’t vote for you.
I don’t know… I just don’t see the world that way, and I don’t care to ever get in line behind some self-appointed leader. I have a number of friends who are Black and non-liberal, and it drives them insane! Wouldn’t it drive you insane? Can you imagine? Some guy on TV telling you what you have to believe and informing you that he’s in charge of your beliefs? What? You’d have a stroke you’d be so mad. I can’t even imagine that.
I respect anybody who’s willing to give the finger to the people who claim to be in charge. I have a lot of respect for Glenn Greenwald, who I don’t agree with on a lot, but he’s totally uninterested in taking orders from the party apparatus… and he won’t— he has certain principles he thinks are important, and he’s sticking with them, period, no matter what their electoral effect. I really admire that.
Reminds me of Thomas Sowell.
Thomas Sowell just lived in Harlem. He didn’t go to Exeter, yet he wound up at Harvard. He’s a genius, and he ended up becoming this great academic figure who decided to think for himself. You’d imagine he’d be admired for that, and he’s not, which is sad.
Here’s a quote from the man himself: “History is what happened, not what we wish had happened or what a theory says should have happened… history cannot be a reality check for today’s fashionable visions when history is itself shaped by those visions. When that happens, we are sealing ourselves up in a closed world of assumptions.” Do you think both the Left and the Right are equally at fault?
I don’t think the Left interprets history very much. When I was a kid, there were a lot of left wing historians who were real historians and great historians— some of my favorite ones were left wing. But probably fifteen or twenty years ago, historians as a group decided that history was too important to interpret. The point of history was not to learn about the way people are, or the way that civilizations have grown and then been destroyed. The point was to affirm people– to make people feel good. That’s… I don’t know. That’s not really history. That’s not the study of history at that point. It’s something else.
I think history is becoming so politicized that it’s not even worth studying in college. In fact, I don’t even think college is worth going to— and I feel that way strongly. I have four children. One of my favorite children, my third, is about to start college and I’m encouraging her not to go. She’ll study humanities just like my first two, and I think it’s a waste of time and money. I think it hurts kids. I think we’ve allowed the least impressive people in our society to have a massive amount of power over our children. I think that’s crazy. So I’m upset about it.
Bryan Caplan came out with that book the Case Against Education…
It’s actually destroying the country. I deal with a lot of professors, and I’ve met some impressive ones, but very few. Most of them are dumb— they’re not smart. I wouldn’t even have dinner with them because they’re just not interesting. They speak in an esoteric language that’s designed to cloak how unimpressive they are. I mean… smart people speak clearly. When people speak in an opaque way, it means either they haven’t mastered the material – they don’t know what they’re talking about – or they’re trying to hide from you what they’re talking about: they’re lying. Those are the two options.
Talk to your average college professor. They speak in this way that says to me, you know, you’re not somebody that I would ever hire— much less put in charge of my children’s ‘education.’ They’re losers. And why wouldn’t they be losers? It’s a completely airtight world they live in with guaranteed employment. I just find them so contemptible. Almost every college professor I’ve ever interviewed— at the end I’ve thought: “that was the dumbest person on tonight’s show.” I don’t even mean lacking commons sense, like so sort of ethereal that they can’t fix a transmission. That’s not what I’m saying. I mean dumb as in low IQ. I mean just dumb… just dumb… like incapable of understanding abstract concepts in any depth at all. And these aren’t just professors at Slippery Rock State. These are professors at Bowdoin, Princeton, and so on who are not impressive at all. So why are we sending them 60 grand a year to lie to our children? I don’t understand the point.
Do you see a difference there between professors and journalists/cable news anchors?
You know… not really. I would also say the main problem with journalism is that it’s filled with dumb people. I blame the finance economy— I think there are bigger forces at work here. Forty years ago, if you had a lot of options, one of them might have been to work at Time Magazine or The New York Times. If you graduated Harvard in the top half of your class and you were looking for something interesting and rewarding to do with a fairly high level of social prestige and a decent paycheck, you might go into journalism. Now why would you do that? Of course not. You go into finance or tech. You move to San Francisco and join a startup, or you go to J.P. Morgan, or you go out to Stanford and join a hedge fund, or you become a private equity guy. Why wouldn’t you do that? And they do.
Did anybody in the top half of this year’s graduating class at Princeton go into journalism? No, of course not. The dumb kids go into journalism. You know— the kids who’re resentful, who’re mad at their fathers, who feel like they’re powerless and that this will empower them. The last people that you would want to have power go into journalism because it gives them power.
So, it’s not that I disagree with them. It’s that they’re not impressive. And I know this because I’ve done a lot of hiring. I’ve hired literally hundreds of people into journalism, so I’ve got a pretty good sense of the applicants’ caliber. It’s almost like feudal England or something with primogeniture, where the first son gets the estate and the second one has to kind of figure it out— he becomes a vicar or something because he’s got no options. That’s sort of what it is. We’re getting the remnants. We’re getting the losers.
What do you think is the logical end of this?
I don’t know. I always revert to Stein’s law, which is that if something can’t continue, it won’t. And I think this is unsustainable, you know, no one’s being served by this. Increasingly, people don’t believe anything they see on the television or read in the newspaper. But I do think people crave credible news sources. There’s a built-in desire for that. We’re in the middle of a massive realignment of everything and I don’t pretend to know how things will shake out, but at some point, we’ll have credible news sources again because people want them.
Though it may be a while. There’s a revolution in progress— it’s a cultural revolution. We’re right in the middle of it, and it’s hard to see the outlines because you can never really see what’s happening, right now, very clearly. Hindsight is the only way you ever assess anything, so I don’t really know. But I know that – again, being 49 – when I think of the institutions I most respected in 1991, as I entered the workforce, they’re all gone. They’re gone or discredited.
The thing that makes me sad is that not much is being created in our culture right now. I think there’s a lot being created in the tech space, but in arts & letters, the humanities, the soft sciences – art, literature, politics – nothing is being created. Things are just being destroyed. It’s very hard to build things and very easy to destroy them. How long would it take you to assemble a television set? A while. How long would it take you to wreck one? One shot with a BB gun… and it’s fun. There are a lot of reasons for this: the internet is the main one, but there are probably others. We’re in this moment where people feel empowered by destroying. You know, you could easily destroy someone’s life. It’s very easy— it’s really easy. And that’s what you’re seeing happen.
But I worry that we’re not getting anything out of it. You know, some institutions and structures are rotten and corrupt and deserve to be knocked down – I get it, that’s fine – but we’ve really taken the idea of creative destruction, had nine beers, and just taken it to the next level. How about creative construction instead? Build something interesting for me. Make my life better. Don’t just throw rocks through windows.