Tucker Carlson shook the punditariat, liberal and conservative alike, with his incisive analysis, delivered during one of his show monologues, of the breakdown of the American family, a genuine four-alarm crisis that cannot be exaggerated. In it, he fingered long-standing economic policies pushed by Swamp residents and their donors for the benefit of a rootless elite class and an establishment about whom we might be tempted to say, “They hate normal Americans,” except that it is not clear at all whether they know normal Americans exist. The latter is the best construction. Factories closed, jobs shipped overseas, Midwestern wasteland towns, stagnant wages for men in what jobs remain, illegal aliens winked at in order to depress wages and increase the bottom line: These are major factors contributing to the decline of marriage rates, the delay of marriage, and the increase in bastardy and single-parenthood, and Carlson risked a great deal in saying so, on a program that depends on the advertising dollars of major corporations.
The monologue came during the 12 days of Christmas, and I for one consider it a gift to the American people. It is an argument made by various and sundry writers in Chronicles over many years, now put to a much wider audience but without sacrificing its moral clarity and conviction.
Not everyone agrees, of course. National Review deployed David French to make the bootstraps/land-of-opportunity argument, and Ben Shapiro deployed himself on his own website to laud and magnify the profusion of quality, affordable retail goods in the free market and high-five the Invisible Hand. These platitudinous responses remind us why Mitt “Bain Capital” Romney will henceforth win elections only in Utah (and possibly on Kolob): Hardly anyone truly believes them, having witnessed life in the real world in such places as Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia—the list goes on—and those who do believe them are concentrated in very particular areas of the country and ensconced in very specific sorts of neighborhoods.
I appreciated the responses written by J.D. Vance, also at National Review (which I read while searching NR’s website for Michael Brendan Dougherty’s take on Carlson, one I suspect will be sympathetic as well), and by John Zmirak at The Stream. Vance spoke of Americans in the Middle—between the coasts, that is—who, contrary to Shapiro’s Conservative Inc. talking points, have been wrecked by government collusion with Big Pharma and the concomitant opioid crisis, giving the lie to the claim that Carlson has failed Conservadom 101 by calling for “big government intervention”; when, in fact, government intervention is plainly the problem, certainly in this case. And it is true in other cases, too.
Zmirak admirably identifies the nut of the problem as the failure of Fusionism, that conservative political victory plan of Frank S. Meyer which involved the marriage of free-market capitalism with social conservatism, now treated as Gospel (or Torah, depending). But Zmirak argues that Carlson is only “half right,” because he places the blame for the decline in marriage rates and two-parent homes on unfettered free-market competition while ignoring the “radioactive” issue of the Civil Rights Act, which proscribed discrimination based on sex in addition to race, causing a major upheaval in the entire U.S. jobs market and businesses in general. “Suddenly, private businesses that used to routinely [sic] pay more to attract that desirable quantity—a stable, reliable married man with mouths to feed—could no longer do so.”
Brilliantly, Zmirak calls upon the great work of Allan Carlson, once the publisher of this magazine, whereby he shows that social conservatives used to think much differently about economic policy, believing that the “market” should serve traditional families and not the reverse, which became de rigueur for “conservatives” after Fusion. “The market has spoken” grates almost as obnoxiously as the rootless bromide: If you can’t find a job, move.
Missing from all of these analyses are, I think, some deeper-still conservative truths—radioactive, perhaps, but also horrifying because of the inevitabilities they suggest. By any historical measure, it is monstrously insane that the economic and social fortunes of families in Des Moines, or Rockford, or Texarkana should depend so greatly upon the political maneuverings of the federal Congress and the President of the United States. I speak not of the principles of Austrian economics or abstract concepts of supply, demand, and incentive. I mean this: 325 million people should not be so utterly tethered to the policies dreamt up by far-away bureaucrats and haggled over by 435 “representatives” who wonder whether it is expedient for their re-election campaigns to pass a tariff, cut personal income-tax rates, subsidize “agriculture,” or fund abortion clinics and missions to Mars. Plainly, this country is too large to be controlled by so few elected officials plus a host of unnamed career members of the Permanent State. By the measure of human scale, there can be no truly representative government in so vast a land, with so numerous and diverse a population, even if it calls itself a “nation.”
The word economy comes from the Greek word for “household.” Hence the term global economy is an insulting oxymoron. But even our national household is too large. Tucker Carlson routinely asks a question that seems beyond the capacity of most conservative thinkers to entertain. But it goes to the heart of a genuine conservative’s ability to envision a good and virtuous life that places value on the Permanent Things: “How do we want our grandchildren to live?” His exposé of the globalist capitalists’ indifference to the plight of real families should cause us to think long-term about what sort of regional realignments, closer to the people and following the truly American tradition of constitutional, limited government, might actually result in functioning, meaningful economies of scale.