The central premise of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was that America wasn’t so great. The mogul has described the United States as “the suckers of the world.” He’s called our infrastructure “an embarrassment,” our intelligence agencies untrustworthy, our government’s moral character unexceptional, and entire swathes of our citizenry “horrendous.” By Trump’s own account, the animating purpose of his political career has been to make America live up to promises it betrayed.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says that the United States is plagued by racism and economic inequality. “I grew up in an extremely unjust society, and the only thing that made my family excited about coming to the United States was that the United States was supposed to be the country that guaranteed justice to all,” she recently told a group of high-school students. “So, I feel it necessary for me to speak about that promise that’s not kept.”
For his incendiary criticisms of the United States, Tucker Carlson has hailed Donald Trump as a teller of hard truths. For her critiques of American racism, the Fox News host just called Omar “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.”
“Tucker Carlson said something nauseatingly racist last night” is a statement roughly as newsworthy as “the sun rose again this morning.” Still, the host’s latest diatribe against America’s first Mulsim congresswoman merits examination. And not merely because it is exceptionally hateful, even by Tucker’s formidable standards. Rather, Carlson’s monologue also serves as an object lesson on the right’s intellectual bankruptcy and moral cowardice.
Like most racist demagogues nowadays, Carlson fancies himself an iconoclast. The Fox host stands athwart a culture of political correctness yelling, “Gypsies have little regard either for the law or public decency.” And yet, for all their chest-thumping denunciations of liberal “snowflakes,” few human beings feel more entitled to substitute their own self-serving intuitions for reasoned arguments than reactionary infotainers.
Unlike Carlson, I feel an obligation to fairly represent the perspectives of my political opponents. So, before cataloguing the cowardly evasions and racist lies in Tucker’s monologue, I’ll quote it at length:
The Democratic candidates for president are on the road this week telling voters that the United States is an awful country. “America’s institutions are built on white supremacy,” squeaked Beto O’Rourke at an event yesterday. Of all the lies these people tell, and there are many, this is the most absurd. In fact, the United States is the kindest, most open-minded place on the planet. The U.S. has done more for other people, and received less in return, than any other nation in history by far. Americans like to help, it makes us feel good. Some of our deepest satisfaction as a country comes from watching penniless immigrants arrive on our shores, buy into our values, and thrive. We call it the American dream and nothing makes us prouder.
It was in that spirit that in 1992, the United States welcomed 10-year-old Ilhan Omar and her family. Omar was born in Somalia, one of the world’s poorest countries, which was then ruled by a Marxist military dictatorship. When Omar was six, she and her parents and their six siblings fled a worsening civil war and wound up in a refugee camp in Kenya. They spent four years there until America offered the family asylum here and let them settle in Minneapolis. Omar’s father drove a taxi at first, then got a job at the Post Office, working for the government. Omar meanwhile grew up free in the world’s richest country with all the bounty that implies … Omar is now, at the age of only 36, one of the most powerful women in America. It’s an amazing story really. Only in this country could it have happened.
Ilhan Omar has an awful lot to be grateful for, but she isn’t grateful, not at all. After everything America has done for Omar and for her family, she hates this country more than ever.
In a recent piece in the Washington Post, the reporter put it this way, quote, “In Omar’s version, America isn’t the bighearted country that saved her from a brutal war and a bleak refugee camp. It wasn’t a meritocracy that helped her attend college or vaulted her into Congress. Instead, it was the country that had failed to live up to its founding ideals, a place that has disappointed her and so many immigrants, refugees, and minorities like her,” end quote. If anything, that’s an understatement.
Omar isn’t disappointed in America, she’s enraged by it. Virtually every public statement she makes accuses Americans of bigotry and racism. This is an immoral country, she says. She has undisguised contempt for the United States and for its people. That should worry you, and not just because Omar is now a sitting member of Congress.
Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country. A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it. Some of the very people we try hardest to help have come to hate us passionately.
Maybe that’s our fault for asking too little of our immigrants. We aren’t self-confident enough to make them assimilate, so they never feel fully American. Or maybe the problem is deeper than that, maybe we are importing people from places whose values are simply antithetical to ours. Who knows what the problem is, but there is a problem, and whatever the cause, this cannot continue. It’s not sustainable.
No country can import large numbers of people who hate it and expect to survive. The Romans were the last to try that, with predictable results. So, be grateful for Ilhan Omar, annoying as she is. She’s a living fire alarm, a warning to the rest of us that we better change our immigration system immediately, or else.
Here is a (likely incomplete) list of unsubstantiated — or blatantly false — assertions in Tucker’s screed:
1) The idea that “America’s institutions were built on white supremacy” is an absurd lie.
Carlson presents O’Rourke’s claim as the epitome of the left’s delusional anti-Americanism. And yet his sole evidence for its falsity is, ostensibly, that the United States does not forbid low-income people from immigrating to our country. Which is a non sequitur.
Precisely what it means for any nation’s institutions to be “built on” a single ideology or mode of oppression may be subject to debate. But it’s difficult to understand how any informed, fair-minded person could regard O’Rourke’s remark as “absurd.”
America’s founding documents legitimized race-based, chattel slavery. Our nation’s highest court found in 1857 that dark-skinned Americans were “beings of an inferior order … so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” This white-supremacist principle was so deeply woven into America’s political culture and institutions, African-Americans would not secure the full rights of citizenship until 188 years after the Declaration of Independence was written.
Meanwhile, the subjugation of black people was the foundation of many, if not all, of America’s economic institutions for centuries (stipulating that America had economic institutions before it achieved political independence). As of 1860, America’s 4 million slaves “were worth some $3.5 billion, making them the largest single financial asset in the entire U.S. economy, worth more than all manufacturing and railroads combined,” according to Yale historian David Blight.
This brutally racist system of coerced labor wasn’t just foundational to the South’s economy, but also to the North’s. As Harvard University’s Sven Beckert and Brown historian Seth Rockman observe:
In the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War, slavery — as a source of the cotton that fed Rhode Island’s mills, as a source of the wealth that filled New York’s banks, as a source of the markets that inspired Massachusetts manufacturers — proved indispensable to national economic development … Cotton offered a reason for entrepreneurs and inventors to build manufactories in such places as Lowell, Pawtucket, and Paterson, thereby connecting New England’s Industrial Revolution to the advancing plantation frontier of the Deep South. And financing cotton growing, as well as marketing and transporting the crop, was a source of great wealth for the nation’s merchants and banks.
It’s easy to understand why Carlson’s audience might find O’Rourke’s claim “triggering.” But the facts of American history do not care about their feelings.
2) The U.S. has done more for other people, and received less in return, than any other nation in history by far.
This claim is hard to evaluate for a variety of reasons — not least because it’s syntactically incoherent. “The U.S. has done more for other people” suggests that the United States is a person. But, of course, it is actually a nation-state. Which makes it difficult to figure out how to check Tucker’s math.
Do the tens of millions of Native Americans who populated this land mass before our founders’ arrival count as “other people”? If so, did we really “do more” for them than we received through our expropriation of their land? Even if we keep that foundational genocide off America’s ledger, it’s still not clear how Carlson arrives at his conclusion. Without question, the United States has made many vital contributions to humanity’s well-being. I personally owe most of my life’s extraordinary comforts and opportunities to the fact that America gave my mother’s family sanctuary from the anti-Semitism of communist Poland.
But the idea that America hasn’t received much from the wider world — and has pursued aberrantly altruistic policies toward foreign peoples — is difficult to sustain. Beyond the fact that immigrants have been indispensable to America’s economic dynamism and growth, a top priority of U.S. foreign policy has long been to safeguard our nation’s wildly disproportionate share of the gains from global growth. But don’t take my word for it — take that of a U.S. State Department’s policy planning document, circa 1948:
[W]e have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.
The United States has also put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other nation in world history. For our country, the economic benefits of those emissions have been massive. For many low-lying nations in the global south, the environmental costs of America’s fossil-fuel-driven prosperity will be ruinous.
3) “Only in this country” could a Somali refugee win election to a national legislature by her mid-30s.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born Somalia, received asylum in the Netherlands, and won election to the Dutch Parliament at the age of 33.
4) Omar hates America and has undisguised contempt for its people.
As mentioned above, Carlson ostensibly recognizes that just because someone criticizes America harshly does not mean that said person “hates” America (at least, if the person in question has Donald Trump’s skin tone). The Fox News host never directly quotes Omar, and rests the bulk of his case for her hatred of the U.S. on a Washington Post article in which Omar explicitly says that her goal is to make America live up to its promise.
For her part, Omar tweeted Wednesday, “Not gonna lie, it’s kind of fun watching a racist fool like this weeping about my presence in Congress. No lies will stamp out my love for this country or my resolve to make our union more perfect. They will just have to get used to calling me Congresswoman!”
Perhaps the congresswoman is lying. But the evidence for Carlson’s claims seems rather thin: If Omar has “contempt” for the American people, why would she insist that every person in this country is entitled to free (at the point of service) health care, solely because they are members of our polity?
5) Omar’s views are typical of the latest wave of immigrants, who are not assimilating at the rate that previous ones did.
This is the core thesis of Carlson’s entire monologue: Omar is a recent immigrant to the U.S., she hates America, ergo, immigration has become dangerous to America.
Even if Tucker had documentary evidence that Ilhan Omar was guilty of treason, his argument would still be incoherent. The existence of one anti-American immigrant does not prove that U.S. immigration policy must be changed, any more than the existence of one Jeffrey Epstein proves that all white male financiers must be preemptively castrated. For Carlson’s argument to make any sense, he would need to demonstrate not only that Omar hates America, but that such sentiments are prevalent among recent U.S. immigrants. But he makes no attempt to substantiate that charge, beyond suggesting that Omar’s generation of immigrants is resisting assimilation more than previous ones did. Alas, that is just one more of Tucker’s baseless intuitions.
Assimilation can be hard to quantify. But according to the research of Princeton University economist Leah Platt Boustan, America’s newest immigrants appear to be integrating into our nation’s economy and culture at roughly the same pace as earlier arrivals. To the extent that Carlson’s vitriol was aimed at Central American asylum seekers, it is worth noting that U.S. residents of Central American descent are about twice as likely to volunteer for the U.S. military as other native-born Americans.
Regardless, if Carlson’s true concern was to encourage assimilation, it is hard to understand why he would go on national television and inform our nation’s most recent immigrants that real Americans see them as dangerous and undeserving of the right to dissent. Does the Fox host sincerely believe that his contributions to the discourse will make young Somali-American immigrants feel less alienated from white Christian America, or more eager to emulate its culture?
Reactionaries might take comfort in the thought that racism is a marginal feature of U.S. history, or that America is an exceptionally altruistic nation, or that today’s immigrants are markedly different than their grandparents’ generation. But Tucker Carlson is living proof that the way we coddle conservative snowflakes has become dangerous to this country.