How Tucker Carlson Became The Establishment’s Biggest Target

The firing of Tucker Carlson has highlighted the deep ideological divides that define American politics today — but in ways you might not expect.

Tucker Carlson's firing by Fox News, which came as a shock to many, exposed profound ideological differences in American politics beyond the usual left-versus-right divide. While it is easy to assume that the firing was a defeat for conservatives by liberals, the truth is that Tucker Carlson's heterodox views did not align perfectly with the GOP or Trump, yet they were extremely popular. This made him dangerous to the establishment.

Over the years, Carlson had criticized establishment voices in both parties, particularly on issues of war and peace. He was skeptical of American exceptionalism that led to wars for “democracy” overseas and was willing to bring on guests who criticized both President Trump and President Biden from the left and right—despite unfair caricatures of him as a partisan figure.

Even so, in public and private, establishment individuals on the left and right have reveled in Tucker’s firing. On the other hand, the cancellation has brought out unlikely voices in support of Carlson, revealing unique ideological coalitions in American politics.

Tucker is a threat to Establishment narratives

When President Trump ordered air strikes against Syria in 2019 after a purported gas attack, the media quickly cheered him on — no questions asked. All major channels, from MSNBC to Fox News, brought on military “experts” to explain why this act of war was not only justified but essential to national security. Of course, nobody in the media even bothered to ask the obvious questions — except Tucker.

Are we sure that this gas attack happened the way they said it did? Why are both the right and the left united on war against Syria? More importantly, how would a war in Syria be in America’s interest at all?

Carlson asked these questions as a lone voice, night after night, when others in the media weren’t willing to. Establishment voices — both on the left and right — joined the chorus for war. For simply asking questions, he was attacked as a spreader of disinformation and even a “Putin apologist,” as Russia had interests in Syria.

Over the years, he’s brought on controversial guests to discuss everything from U.S. foreign operations to the treatment of the controversial Julian Assange, to the left’s narrative on the riots in 2020, to the real story of January 6th, to the war in Ukraine. For Carlson, everyone was fair game. He even routinely dogged Former President Trump from the Right. For example, he called out the “First Step Act,” which released thousands of rapists and criminals into the streets in the name of prison reform. He even brought on Trump’s National Security advisor, John Bolton, and lambasted him about his record in the Middle East.

Skeptics vs. Institutionalists

Far from an establishment mouthpiece, Tucker is skeptical of all power — always willing to ask the tough questions that others ignore. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote in The New York Times this week that Carlson’s views can best be described as based on “suspicion” or skepticism more generally — of ideas, of people, and of institutions. Douthat explains:

The newer (and especially, younger) right is defined by a politics of suspicion — a deep distrust of all institutions; a comfort with outsider forms of knowledge and conspiratorial theories; a hostility toward official mouthpieces and corporate-governmental alliances; a skepticism about American empire and a pessimism about the American future — that used to be much more the province of the left.

On the other hand, we might add, there are institutionalists — those in power looking to defend the status quo. It might be said, then, that people can be divided into two political camps: Skeptics and Institutionalists. Tucker Carlson is a skeptic. His critics — on both the left and the right — are institutionalists.

Institutionalists are everyone from Hillary Clinton to Lindsey Graham to Anthony Fauci to Mitt Romney. These leaders, in both parties, prioritize the interests of existing institutions in American society, from the media to the military. These “establishment” voices are more trusting of legacy institutions and more willing to buy ideas of continued American exceptionalism — adhering to ideology rather than to what’s best for the American people.

The divide is no longer left-versus-right

In recent years, from the financial crisis to failed wars overseas, to the George Floyd riot, and to the recent pandemic, the efficacy of our institutions and the wisdom of our leaders have come into question from different factions of the left and the right.

Prominent Democrats and leftists like Tulsi Gabbard, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and journalist Glenn Greenwald have denounced the firing of Tucker, citing him as one of the only primetime shows willing to debate serious yet taboo topics like vaccines, war, and censorship. On the right, other skeptics — even including former President Trump — have called out his firing.

Yet, on both the left and the right, there are the Institutionalists who have cheered on his firing. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made waves Monday as she celebrated Carlson’s firing, saying “de-platforming works.” Democrats, like Cortez, more than insinuated that Tucker should have been taken off the air and censored long before for spreading “hate speech” and “disinformation” that hurts the current regime.

It has also been reported that many military leaders, along with Senate Republicans and other high-level Republican Party bigwigs, are secretly gushing over the news, speaking to outlets on the condition of anonymity. Speaking to The Hill, “one Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on a media figure who had a loyal following among many right-leaning voters, said Carlson’s departure from prime time would be a positive development for maintaining public support for the war [in Ukraine].”

This is only the beginning

Recent rating data indicates that Fox News received a massive blow after Carlson’s sudden cancellation. While still on top, Fox’s primetime show struggled to hit 2 million viewers. Moreover, the network came in third place in the coveted 25-54 demographic, which is highly sought after by advertisers. Each day since Tucker left the air, the network is drainingviewership.

At the time same time, a video released from Carlson’s Twitter account overnight quickly garnered upwards of 50 million views. Clearly, what Tucker has to say is popular — and yet his thoughts don’t always fit neatly into an ideological box. This is good news for every free thinker and every skeptic out there. It’s reassurance that Americans are still looking for something new, a person who shares their skepticism of power and is willing to ask our leaders the questions that others will not.

Join the conversation

or to participate.