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Why Tucker Carlson pretends to hate elites

Why an “out-of-the-closet elitist” rails against the “ruling class.”

Carlos Maza/Vox

Tucker Carlson has branded himself as Fox News’s resident populist, using his show to rail against the “liberal elite” that he argues makes up the American “ruling class.” The shtick has helped him stand out from his other Fox News colleagues, and has even earned him accolades from some left-wing critics.

But while Carlson loves to obsess about the culture war nonsense that typically dominates Fox News, he is noticeably silent when it comes to real stories about the exploitation of the working class.

When Republicans in Congress passed a massive tax cut for the richest Americans, Carlson was more concerned with the story of a Florida town considering removing a strip of “racist trees.” When President Trump rolled back regulations on predatory payday lenders, Carlson ignored the move altogether, choosing instead to lament Democrats’ focus on “identity politics.”

And when Republicans in the House tried to slash Medicare and Medicaid while giving massive tax cuts to the richest Americans, Carlson mocked liberals for being outraged, choosing instead to rail against a random academic paper suggesting Americans should shift to more sustainable sources of meat.

This is what Marxist theorists call “false consciousness,” a state in which the working class is tricked into accepting its own exploitation. By focusing his audience’s attention on insignificant culture war stories, Carlson is able to create a fictional version of “the elite” — vegans, anti-racist activists, feminists, etc. — while distracting from the political party that actually holds the power in government.

Carlson’s faux-populism is an act. And it’s one he seemed to recognize years before getting his own Fox News show. In a 2003 C-SPAN interview, Carlson mocked Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host whose time slot Carlson would one day take over, for the “phoniness” he epitomized while using a similar shtick.

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