The Carlson Response

The new Mother Jones cover story is The Real Source of America’s Rising Rage – something Kevin Drum has been working on for over a year, and he explains it this way:

The piece is about why we’re all so pissed off these days, and the more I looked into it, the more I got convinced that everyone was ignoring the real problem.

The first thing to ask yourself is when this all started.

And of course it all started with those damned hippies:

In some sense, it began in the ‘60s, the wellspring of the culture wars. But we managed to survive for several decades after that without wanting to slit each other’s throats.

Then there were Rush Limbaugh, Drudge, and Newt Gingrich. I give Gingrich credit for being the intellectual force behind our polarized politics, but he only lasted a few years and then faded away in ignominy. That doesn’t really fit with (it turns out) the early 2000s being the point when fear and hatred really skyrocketed.

So what happened? It can’t be social media, which only took off a few years ago. It’s not an increase in conspiracy theories, which are no more popular than they’ve ever been (honest). And it’s not likely to be material circumstances, since on a wide variety of topics most us are better off – or at least no worse off – than we’ve ever been. There are a few exceptions, but they just aren’t numerous enough to wreck an entire country.

No, the only answer that really fits is an old, familiar one: Fox News.

Fox News took those old culture wars to their logical ending arguments:

Many liberals don’t remember this, but when Fox News started up in 1996 it was a fairly generic center-right newscast. But around 2000 that changed and Fox increasingly adopted the hard-nosed attitude it maintains to this day. Why? Maybe it was the 2000 election. Maybe it was 9/11. Maybe someone did some market research. I don’t know.

In any case, around 2000 Fox became ever more vicious at the same time that its audience really began to grow. Liberals weren’t just bad, they hated America. They were unpatriotic. They wanted to tax away all your money and give it to, um, you know. White America was on the precipice and there wasn’t much time left…

So here we are now:

The result has been not just polarization, but a genuine fear among many conservatives that if liberals are allowed in power, the America they know and love is doomed. And that’s the heart of the anger and hatred that power our country today. You may hear a handful of Republicans finally criticizing Donald Trump, but you’ll never hear any of them criticizing Fox News, the organization that put him in the White House in the first place.

That’s because they know where the real power lies.

And it now lies with one man. This week it was this:

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged vaccinated people to resume wearing masks under certain circumstances amid low vaccination rates and rising cases from the delta variant, Fox News host Tucker Carlson placed blame on Anthony S. Fauci for the changing mask guidelines.

In doing so, Carlson on Wednesday night falsely claimed that the nation’s top infectious-disease expert had caused the coronavirus.

“Here’s the man who helped to create covid in the first place,” Carlson said.

Perhaps this Fauci fellow should be arrested for mass murder. Carlson has mused about that, so he persists in this:

The host doubled down on the baseless claim minutes later on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” when he cited a handful of “breakthrough” cases of vaccinated people still getting infected by the virus. Studies have shown the two-dose coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are about 95 percent effective at preventing infection, while Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine is 72 percent effective.

“They have been telling us for six months that this vaccine is perfect, but clearly, in some cases, it doesn’t always work,” Carlson said. “And that’s not our theory, by the way. Take it from the guy who created covid.”

No one ever said the vaccine was perfect, just highly effective. It works rather well. But that’s not what Carlson heard:

Carlson, who has described himself as “pretty pro-vaccine,” has regularly challenged the efficacy of vaccination against the coronavirus to his millions of viewers on his prime-time show. “Maybe it doesn’t work, and they’re simply not telling you that,” he said in April. The claim caused Fauci to rebut what he deemed a “crazy conspiracy theory.”

But of course Fauci will never win that argument. Those who watch Fox News would not put the words “false” and “baseless” in front of any Carlson claim. Tucker must know things. He does know things. Unless he’s a fool:

When asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta this month about how Carlson’s hostility toward the vaccine would have looked when the country was fighting polio or the measles, Fauci wondered what damage the pushback could have caused.

“If we had the pushback for vaccines the way we’re seeing on certain media, I don’t think it would’ve been possible at all to not only eradicate smallpox. We’d probably still have smallpox, and we’d probably still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now,” he said. “If we had that back decades ago, I’d be certain we’d still have polio in this country.”

But that’s just what a notorious mass-murderer would say:

On Wednesday, Carlson again focused his attention on Fauci and whether he and the National Institutes of Health funded gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Some Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, have pushed the idea that the Wuhan lab, rather than a natural transmission from animals to humans, was at fault for the virus.

Fauci told Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during a Senate hearing in May that he was “entirely and completely incorrect that the NIH has not, never and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Gain-of-function research is basic biological studies deemed by some as potentially dangerous for allowing scientists to study how to combat future viruses.

And there’s no record anywhere of any NIH connection to any possible gain-of-function research in China. Carlson and Rand Paul hint that this proves the connection, and the funding, set up by Fauci. The lack of any evidence at all for any of this proves that all of this was and probably still is a brilliantly-run conspiracy They’re good!

And they’re evil:

Despite the new CDC guidance, Carlson claimed without evidence that the new guidelines came from lawmakers trying to hold on to the “unprecedented levels of power” they have amassed in the past year.

“They’re going to keep ordering you around, regardless of the science,” Carlson said on his show. “And, of course, Tony Fauci is going to do his best to defend it all.”

No, the science is clear. Things keep changing. Science is most often about tracking the changes in this and that:

Fauci has reiterated that the state of coronavirus in the United States has significantly altered since May 13, the date the CDC said that vaccinated people did not need to wear masks indoors or outside because of the protection afforded by the vaccines.

“The situation has clearly changed,” he recently told the Washington Post.

In fact, this is a new virus now. That changed everything, so by the weekend the message was this:

As new COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that “things are going to get worse.” Fauci, the administration’s chief medical adviser, said that despite the increases he didn’t believe the United States will return to lockdowns. “I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns,” Fauci said on ABC’s This Week, noting that the number of people vaccinated is likely to be “enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter.”

But he warned the outlook is still dire and there will be “some pain and suffering in the future” and the only way to prevent that is for more people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Wear masks. Do that and there might be no need to lock down everything again. Don’t do that and expect lockdowns. Okay, expect lockdowns:

“If you look at the acceleration of the number of cases, the seven-day average has gone up substantially,” Fauci said. “We have 100 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not getting vaccinated.” In the end, what the United States is experiencing is “an outbreak of the unvaccinated,” he added.

And these people need to know that the “imperfect” vaccine works rather well:

Even though it’s true that there are some breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, “they are mostly mild or without symptoms, whereas the unvaccinated, who have a much, much, much greater chance of getting infected in the first place, are the ones that are vulnerable to getting severe illness that might lead to hospitalization and, in some cases, death.”

Why risk that? And why be a jerk? That was he second Sunday morning message:

While it’s true that the vaccinated are largely protected from severe illness, the unvaccinated aren’t just hurting themselves. “The unvaccinated, by not being vaccinated, are allowing the propagation and the spread of the outbreak which ultimately impacts everybody,” Fauci said. Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation, Fauci said he understands people’s feelings that they have the individual right to make their own decisions on wearing masks but they need to understand that it isn’t just about personal choice.

“I respect that, for sure,” Fauci said. “But the issue is, if you’re going to be part of the transmission chain to someone else, then your decision is impacting someone else. It’s not only impacting you. And you’ve got to think about it, that you are a member of society and you have a responsibility.”

Listen to Tucker Carlson. No, you don’ have that responsibility to others! Their problems aren’t your problem. But things did change:

There was a 64 percent increase in COVID-19 cases across the country over the week that ended July 30 compared with the previous week, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current seven-day average of new hospital admissions for patients with COVID-19 stands at 6,071, which is a 44 percent increase from the previous week.

But there’s the appropriate Tucker Carlson and Fox News response to that:

On Saturday, Florida recorded 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, breaking its one-day record for new cases. But even as the state swells with fresh infections, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis remains hellbent on his war against mask mandates. He even recently barred school districts from instituting mask mandates when classes reconvene in August.

DeSantis feels so good about his war on masks, he’s even laughing about it. “Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” DeSantis joked to a largely maskless crowd at a conference for the American Legislative Exchange Council in Utah last week, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidelines recommending mask-wearing amid the surge of the Delta variant. “I don’t see you complying.”

He continued, prompting applause, “I think it’s very important that we say unequivocally, ‘No to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, and no mandates.’ Floridians are free to choose and all Americans should be free to choose how they govern their affairs, how they take care of themselves and our families.”

They are not “members of society” at all – no American is – because all Americans are free:

The governor, who is reportedly eyeing a bid for president in 2024, has spent most of the pandemic fiercely opposing COVID safety measures – a stance public health officials say has allowed the virus to run rampant across the state and has now made Florida the epicenter of the pandemic in this country.

But that’s the price of freedom, right? He says the various vaccines work well and really do help, and people should get vaccinated if the wish, or not, as they wish. That’s none of his business, or anyone else’s business. And there’s this:

In Mississippi, where ICU beds are nearing capacity with a surge of unvaccinated individuals, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves blasted the CDC’s mask guidelines as “foolish” and claimed that it reeked of “political panic.”

“It has nothing, let me say that again: It has nothing to do with rational science,” Reeves said on Thursday.

But of course it does:

Dr. Fauci warned on Sunday, “Things are going to get worse.” The country’s top expert on infectious diseases told ABC’s This Week, “You want them to wear a mask so that if in fact they do get infected, they don’t spread it to vulnerable people, perhaps in their own household, children, or people with underlying conditions.”

But, but, but whose problem is that? “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus said no, didn’t he? That’s what the folks in Texas believe:

Many states, cities, businesses and schools have been scrambling to institute new mandates since Tuesday, when the federal health authorities recommended that even fully vaccinated people should wear masks again in public indoor spaces in Delta-variant hot spots and urged universal masking in schools.

Not Texas.

In an executive order issued on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of the nation’s second-largest state, prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines, saying that protection against the virus should be a matter of personal responsibility, not forced by a government edict.

The order also reinforced his prior directive prohibiting local officials from requiring face masks, despite growing calls from city leaders for greater flexibility to reverse the renewed spread of Covid.

The daily average of cases in Texas as of Friday was 8,820, a 209 percent increase over the past 14 days.

But he just wanted to trump DeSantis:

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, signed an executive order rejecting mask mandates in schools and giving parents the final say on whether their children wear masks.

“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns,” Mr. DeSantis said to cheers at a restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates.”

But Mr. Abbott’s executive order reached further. “No governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a Covid-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization,” the order said. It also prohibits any public agencies or private entities receiving public funds, including grants and loans, from requiring consumers to show documentation of vaccinations before entering or receiving a service from the entity.

That’ll slow or stop vaccinations in Texas. DeSantis said nice things about the vaccines. He was a wimp. Greg Abbott believes in freedom. But he and DeSantis were actually saying the same thing.

And in a statement elaborating on his order, Mr. Abbott said that vaccines “are the most effective defense against the virus” and “remain in abundant supply.”

But he stressed that vaccinations would “always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas.”

And if the unvaccinated infect and kill tens of thousands of the most vulnerable others, everyone should respect the choice they made about that. They chose personal freedom.

Perhaps they did choose that, but Brooke Harrington, a sociology professor at Dartmouth, notes this odd bit of cheating:

Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’”

Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.

That’s not only odd, but perhaps useful to know:

Missouri is suffering one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the country. Some hospitals are rapidly running out of ICU beds. To Americans who rushed to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, some Missourians’ desire for secrecy is difficult to understand. It’s also difficult to square with the common narrative that vaccine refusal, at least in conservative areas of the country, is driven by a lack of respect or empathy from liberals along the coasts.

“Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics – or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all,” lamented a recent article in the conservative National Review. Writers across the political spectrum have urged deference and sympathy toward holdouts’ concerns about vaccine side effects and the botched CDC messaging about masking and airborne transmission early in the pandemic.

But these takes can’t explain why holdouts who receive respect, empathy, and information directly from reliable sources remain unmoved – or why some people are afraid to tell their loved ones about being vaccinated.

So it’s time to rethink this, with this:

Sociology suggests that pundits and policy makers have been looking at vaccine refusal all wrong: It’s not an individual problem, but a social one. That’s why individual information outreach and individual incentives – such as Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program, intended to increase vaccine uptake with cash prizes and college scholarships – haven’t worked. Pandemics, by definition, are collective problems. They propagate and kill because people live in communities. As a result, addressing pandemics requires understanding interpersonal dynamics – not just what promotes trust among people, but which behaviors convey status or lead to ostracism.

Understand that one must not mock Tucker Carlson:

Shifting from an individual to a relational perspective helps us understand why people are seeking vaccination in disguise. They want to save face within the very specific set of social ties that sociologists call “reference groups” – the neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and friendship networks that help people obtain the income, information, companionship, mutual aid, and other resources they need to live. The price of access to those resources is conformity to group norms. That’s why nobody strives for the good opinion of everyone; most people primarily seek the approval of people in their own reference groups.

In Missouri and other red states, vaccine refusal on partisan grounds has become a defining marker of community affiliation. Acceptance within some circles is contingent on refusal to cooperate with the Biden administration’s public-health campaign. Getting vaccinated is a betrayal of that group norm, and those who get the shot can legitimately fear losing their job or incurring the wrath of their families and other reference groups.

And the wrath of their families and other reference groups might kill us all. Other reference groups? There’s only one. Fox News.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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