Why Tucker Carlson Thinks Australia Is Being ‘Taken Away’

On Monday, Tucker Carlson wrapped up the seventh in a series of speeches to right-wing Australian audiences. To attend the event, I had to walk under a bright-pink sign acknowledging that the “traditional owners” of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre are an Aboriginal people, the Wurundjeri Wol Wurrung. Judging by the speech I heard, this sign was not put up at Carlson’s request. “Anyone who tells you this is not your country plans to take it away from you,” Carlson said, to approving Aussie yawps (“Yeah! Tuck-ah!”). He loved Australia, he said, and proved it by delivering a heartfelt description of how he had recently held a koala and inhaled its musk. Australians’ biggest fault, he told them, was that “you’re too happy; you don’t pause to think how bad it could get.” Someone was plotting to take all of this away. “The only way you could wreck a country like this is on purpose.”

The whole evening was haunted by a question: Who, exactly, is wrecking Australia on purpose and planning to “take it away”? Probably not the Wurundjeri Wol Wurrung. The very fact that Carlson, an American, was there suggested that whoever it was had done some wrecking in America too. Carlson said, in a couple of carefully worded asides, that he was an emissary from the future, to warn native Australians of the coming dispossession. “I’m here from a country that’s further down the road,” he said, in his role as Ghost of Nativism Future. “It doesn’t end well.”

Carlson was fired by Fox News last year but has not faded from public life, as many assumed he would. After his decades as a fixture of conservative media on CNN, PBS, and even MSNBC, Fox allegedly found his tendencies corrosive to its brand, as well as a possible legal liability. He has subsequently started his own show on X and scored an interview with Vladimir Putin —a journalistic coup that many Putin haters considered a wasted opportunity to give the Russian president a KGB-style interrogation, but that was, to me, a riveting and revelatory interview anyway. Almost any hours-long conversation with the tormentor of Ukraine and NATO would be. As Carlson speaks freely, it has become clear that his true views are even more Trumpian than they previously appeared, and that if any commentator reflects the Republican presidential nominee’s view of the world—nationalist, antiglobalism, anti-immigration, opposed to wars even (or especially) in defense of America’s allies—it is Carlson. So when he speaks, even (or especially?) to an obscure audience in Australia, what he says has relevance to the future of American politics as well.

The crowd seemed pretty sure of the identity of the soon-to-be-dispossessed. It was them. Their bleats of approval and occasional outbursts conveyed a vivid sense that their government had rewarded their past patriotism by encroaching on their freedoms and looting their patrimony. Most of all, they despised the politicians who had denied them jobs and roles in public after they refused COVID-19 vaccines. A mention of Professor John Skerritt, the Australian version of Anthony Fauci, aroused the crowd to hooting rage.

Their savior in this crusade against immunity was the evening’s host, Clive Palmer, the mining billionaire and minor politician who arranged Carlson’s tour. His introductory speech began with an audio malfunction, possibly due to placement of the clip-on mic too low, toward the southern hemisphere of his belly, far from his mouth. Once he got going, the speech was quite fun. He declared that he remained unvaccinated and told the story of how he’d caught COVID, nearly died, and threatened to beat doctors with a metal chair when they tried to save his life with the antiviral drug remdesivir. He ended his speech as only a billionaire can, with a baffling and irrelevant monologue that aides to a less powerful man would surely have prevailed on him to skip, in which he presented an illustrated plan to build a full-scale replica of the Titanic.

Far more mortifying was the warm-up act from the American conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was piped in digitally to introduce 2000 Mules, his documentary film about alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election. It used crackpot statistical methods to show that several thousand people had been visiting ballot boxes in patterns unlikely to be random, and therefore surely the work of a paid Democratic conspiracy. The film is so batshit crazy that even its distributor dropped it and apologized for its errors. The audience seemed no more than polite during the screening. This lukewarm reaction came to me as a relief, because the people I spoke with seemed nice and reasonably intelligent, and to believe the conspiracy alleged in the documentary, one would have to have a brain the size of a peach pit. This stuff makes Michael Moore sound like Mycroft Holmes.

And it made Tucker Carlson sound like a prodigy—which I suppose might have been the point of the juxtaposition. The night’s Aussie emcee introduced him as “Tuck-ah—a truth seek-ah and a truth speak-ah!” When D’Souza doesn’t come across as an imbecile, he resembles a reptilian sociopath, willing to utter any lie necessary to advance his claims. Carlson, to the relief of everyone around me, sounded like a precocious and excited child, pleased to come Down Under for the first time, to ogle and sniff the local fauna and learn to say wanker and other exotic slang. To a crowd of nationalists, few things are more titillating than the admiration of one’s country by a foreign dignitary. This Tucker is Tucker the ingenue, the character who marveled at the greatness of Russian grocery stores. I do not think the marveling is scripted or a pose. It is an expression of an open-minded and charming man who knows that to persuade people to join your side, it helps to be funny and generous. Maybe he took a Dale Carnegie course. Whatever it is, it worked on this audience, which decided within the first minute that their $100 tickets were worth it.

His message began with an endorsement of Australian pride, or shamelessness. Britain, he said, had much to answer for in her management of the empire. But not Australia. “​​What exactly were your sins?” he asked. “You have nothing to apologize for.” (I would have liked to hear from any Wurundjeri Wol Wurrung on this point.) Australia’s settlers had built beautiful and majestic cities, he said; his listeners deserved to feel pride in the fact that they lived in paradise and not in the slums of Birmingham or Manchester. Perth and Melbourne were “like San Francisco, but without the drug addicts.” Australians had learned to live in peace with weird and poisonous animals, he said, and neither feared them nor tried to hunt them to extinction. What a people! Carlson’s pet cause is, well, pets, and he said that treatment of animals is “a measure of character,” so “that should be the standard for who you bring into your country”—whether they have enough humanity to treat even nonhumans with dignity.

I understood these words as a dog whistle, if you will, summoning to his side anyone skittish about the influence of the dog-eating mainland Chinese, whose cynophagy he later singled out, along with “murdering people for their organs,” as “deeply offensive” behavior. Twice he suggested that he might get arrested if he said what he really thought. Australia has laws against racial incitement that punish speech in ways that would be unconstitutional in the United States. He said that if he were the leader of China, his first act would be to invade Australia and seize Clive Palmer’s mineral wealth. Those who were currently selling Australian resources to China, he said, “hate you.”

Carlson told the Australians that he, an outsider from 10,000 miles away, would never presume to lecture them about their country. “When Bono comes to my country and starts lecturing, I think, Go back to Dublin.” Carlson then proceeded, through his series of impressions of Australia, to lecture Australians on Australian politics, and the inferences to be drawn from his happy fortnight here. He said he thought that if he “ever made any money,” he might get a place in Sydney, so he browsed real-estate listings and saw prices so high that he wondered if they were denominated “in lira or pesos or something.” “I was like, How does anybody live here?” (He must have been relying on the audience’s ignorance of the reports that he made more than $15 million a year at Fox, well above the median income in Sydney.)

The reason for the high costs, he said, was simple: There are more people than houses. If he were running things, he said, his “main goal” would be to create households for a new generation of Australians or Americans, because “if it becomes too difficult or expensive for your children to buy a house in the country they were born in—you’re going to be erased.” Why does this happen? he asked. “There’s only one reason: immigration.” He added that he rather liked immigrants themselves—what could be more relatable than the desire to move to a nice country?—but condemned those who let them in, and who lead this country with “policies making it impossible for our children to live here.” The contempt for these dispossessing policy makers should remain nonviolent, he affirmed at the end of his speech, with conviction. “There is literally nothing you can do to make me” hurt anybody, he said. The correct path is civil disobedience. “You really have to decide that you’re not just not going to harm anybody,” Carlson said, “but you are willing to be harmed.”

The question for all of these populists is who the we is—whose children count as the ones who get to live here and afford a house in the Sydney or Melbourne suburbs, and who the they are who do not. At this point, I could not refrain from noticing that the crowd was pretty much entirely white. I felt not the slightest hostility, as a person with nonwhite ancestry that might suggest a taste for dog meat. But the whiteness of the audience was, shall we say, statistically unlikely to be random.

Melbourne is the Australian city most marked by recent immigration, and improved by it. Carlson is new to Australia, but I’ve been coming here for 35 years—and I am proud to have distant Australian cousins going back to the early settler generations, including a sunburnt ethnographer who was among the first to study and describe the Wurundjeri Wol Wurrung. Australians are right to be enraged by housing costs, but immigration has been a blessing that, far from erasing Australia, has created and enriched it. When Carlson said that Australia is being “taken away,” I was truly confused about how he thinks the country that so enchanted him came to be what it is. Not by being pillaged by the Chinese, surely, or by letting in uncontrolled streams of people whose cherished values include torture of animals and people. But periodic, nutrient-rich infusions of immigration have changed Australia and prevented it from becoming a stagnant outpost of a crumbling empire, Norfolk with a high rate of melanoma.

At the Melbourne airport last weekend, I’d spoken with Uyghurs and Arabs; downtown, the block after block of clean prosperity (“San Francisco without the addicts”) that Carlson rightly praised was filled with immigrants of all types, in no visible way burdening the Australians of longer standing. I asked the attendees of the speech what I should eat while in town, and most suggested Asian restaurants. Melbourne and Perth both have plenty of addicts, and if their residents could get rid of either them or the immigrants, I assume they would choose the former. (Perth, incidentally, is Australia’s meth capital. Carlson’s hotel must not have been in the areas where you find shirtless, sweaty white guys twitching angrily on street corners.) Varied international dining options are of course a cosmetic matter, the kind of thing a rootless cosmopolitan visitor like me might appreciate. But it is simply a fact that Australia, like it or not, is a result of many years of work by people with a range of origins not well represented by Monday’s audience at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Carlson flew back to America the next morning, to a country in the acute crisis of having a president he considered “demented” and “clearly incapable of making toast.” He accused America’s shadow rulers of having murdered John F. Kennedy. (Clive Palmer, who was interviewing him onstage at the time, did not request any elaboration on this accusation. It was that kind of night.) Carlson said he felt “guilty” for being away from his homeland while the country was falling apart. He did not, I noticed, say what he would do to end this catastrophe. I have long wondered whether he will enter politics himself. These speeches had stump elements to them, like practice for the big show back home. Were he to join the Trump ticket—and only seldom does a short list of possible running mates include him—he would at least increase the number of major-party candidates not in dire need of a neurological evaluation. In the present circumstances, that would count as an upgrade to the health of our political system. But that says more about our political system than it does about him.

The Atlantic

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