Tucker Carlson has been telling us for months that American progressives are too online.
In October, the Fox News host lit into Democrats for being more concerned with shattering the glass ceiling for transgender admirals than with addressing the supply chain crisis:
“[Our leaders] do not care if the actual country, the physical country, comes apart at the seams, as long as the population dutifully repeats the correct slogans. Once you understand that, you understand why every day we get some frivolous new announcement about some social justice goal that in the end will not improve the life of a single American citizen.”
Earlier this month, he played a clip of Jen Psaki laughing at the “alternate universe” Fox News creates for its viewers.
“Jeanine Pirro [is] talking about ‘soft on crime consequences.’ I mean, what does that even mean, right?” Psaki said.
Tucker’s sarcasm was merciless:
“You’d have to be delusional to think crime was a problem in this country, unless you happened to be in Georgetown last night around 6:45 p.m. If you were there, you may have seen a man shot to death outside Georgetown Cupcake… not too far from where Jen Psaki lives. But did Jen Psaki acknowledge that happened? Of course she didn’t. Noticing the collapse of your civilization is racist.”
The problem, Tucker insists, is that America’s liberal elites, insulated in their affluent enclaves, have mistaken Twitter for real life.
He has a point. But how much does that matter?
According to a recent Pew Research poll, only about 25 percent of Americans use Twitter. Of those, 25 percent of users — or six percent of Americans — are responsible for 97 percent of posts.
Carlson may prove to be the GOP’s kingmaker if the party sees a contested primary in 2024. And there’s something to his critique of the American left — but, inadvertently or not, he’s also offering us a case of the milk calling the mayonnaise white.
Tucker himself isn’t on Twitter, a decision he says keeps him “insulated and safe and sane.” Instead, he told Dave Rubin, “I spend my whole life talking to people, mostly by text… hundreds of people,” including “a lot of random people” like “a waitress that I had in Big Sur.”
It sounds like a good way to stay grounded. And yet, Tucker’s show is filled with nuggets mined from the depths of right-wing Twitter. Not long ago, he read a Tweet from reactionary YouTuber Auron MacIntyre, who has 49,000 Twitter followers and regularly hops on off-the-beaten-path political streams, word for word on air. He also used the very-online term “midwit” and has made several references to the “Alex Jones was right about everything” meme.
Tucker might not be on the bird site, but as a friend quipped to me, it seems like “his writers literally live on Frog Twitter.” (For the uninitiated, “Frog Twitter” is a reference to Pepe the Frog, a memetic character that became associated with the very-online right by a process that would be far too tedious to explain here).
I asked Lev Polyakov, who hosts esoteric political and cultural debates on his YouTube show Break the Rules (shameless plug: I was featured in one) that usually get a few thousand views, for his thoughts on the e-right.
He said he sees it as “a response to alienation from today’s woke culture” and that “it would be rare for many on the very online right to find anyone in their local town who can competently speak… about many of these issues save for the circle of people they… [find] online.”
This makes sense. Progressives interested in having these discussions can do so in person or through more official online channels if they want. They’re concentrated in cities and they dominate the universities. If you’re conservative, you don’t have that option unless you live in DC or go to Hillsdale.
Being the only trad Catholic in your liberal suburban high school today is like being the only gay kid in some homogenously Baptist Oklahoma village fifteen years ago. Obviously you’re going to seek out community online.
But these communities have their toxic side. Superficially “ironic” (or blatantly unironic) racism, misogyny and antisemitism are easy to stumble upon in these corners of right-wing Twitter.
Even when gatekeepers succeed at kicking the kooks and the bigots, discourse still frequently degenerates into personality driven turf wars centered around fringe, often-anonymous, highly obscure figures. Keep in mind that most right-of-center Americans probably don’t even know who Jordan Peterson is. Bronze Age Pervert? Zero HP Lovecraft? Mencius Moldbug? Forget about it.
But it’s too simple to say Twitter isn’t real and leave it at that. I’ve made valuable professional connections and forged real-world friendships on Twitter. Even in politics, the cyber-tail is increasingly wagging the flesh-and-blood dog.
Tucker sat down with Moldbug (a self-described monarchist political theorist whose real name is Curtis Yarvin) for a long interview in September. The Claremont Institute engaged substantively with Bronze Age Pervert’s ideas and even gave a fellowship to manosphere grifter Jack Murphy (real name John Goldman), though Murphy has faded from the public eye after quite literally shafting himself. Josh Hawley’s paeans to masculinity, J.D. Vance’s tirades against elites and Blake Masters’s aesthetic nostalgia all have their roots in online right-wing discourses that seeded the ground after Trump broke up the soil. (If Masters and Vance lose their primaries, perhaps it’ll show Republicans that they need to touch grass, but right now, all the energy seems to be with that Tucker-aligned faction.)
The left has been at this for even longer than the right. Katherine Dee has argued convincingly that the woke ideology that seemed to spring forth fully formed toward the end of the Obama administration was not, in fact, solely disseminated by progressive universities.
“I can point it, really, to Tumblr as the vehicle of transmission. I’m not saying that Tumblr invented these ideas… quite obviously, a lot of the ideas that are now… in common parlance, did come from academia, but they didn’t spread through academia,” she said on the Narratives Podcast.
When NPR did a story exploring whether it was racist for white people to use the Homer Simpson-colored thumbs-up emoji, the exact sort of nonsense you’d have expected to see on Tumblr circa 2014, one Twitter wag commented that “NPR is now just publicly funded Tumblr.”
It’s the Twitterati’s world. The rest of us are just living in it. Or, rather, the rest of you. My career basically requires that I maintain a presence on the site. Whether I see the world more or less clearly as a result remains an open question.