Don't look away: It's a mistake to ignore Donald Trump's interview with Tucker Carlson

"The discussion normalized violence as a response to political disappointment"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 30, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Last week belonged to Donald Trump.

CNN's Zachary Wolf correctly described it when he wrote, "The exhausting view of this bizarre week – with the first GOP presidential primary debate one day, followed by the fourth arrest this year of the former president the next – is that everyone should prepare for so much more of this uniquely American and continuously unbelievable political spectacle. It will be impossible to look away."

One week ago, the Republican Party held its first 2024 presidential primary debate. Trump refused to participate. He leads DeSantis, his closest rival, by 40 points in polls. Trump's foul shadow hung over the event. When asked by the moderators, 6 of the 8 prospective Republican presidential candidates basically declared their loyalty to the traitor ex-president and promised to support him should he become the party's nominee in 2024. The Fox News crowd, gathered in Milwaukee for the debate last Wednesday, booed when Trump was criticized for his crimes against democracy

The next day, Trump was arrested and booked at the Fulton County jail for his alleged crimes in connection with his Jan. 6 coup attempt, which involved rigging the outcome of the presidential election in Georgia. Trump immediately began selling images of his mug shot and has reportedly made millions of dollars so far from his MAGA followers. Trump's arrests and indictments continue to fuel his popularity among his MAGA followers and other right-wing voters.

On Wednesday night, at the same time as the Republican primary debate, Trump gave a fake interview with former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. During their conversation, Carlson and Trump amplified violent fantasies about assassination plots and civil war. The two furthered the Big Lie about the 2020 election and continued spreading the conspiracy theory that Trump is being persecuted by a "deep state" conspiracy led by the "evil" Democrats and President Joe Biden.

As I am writing this essay, Trump literally just sent out the following fundraising email to his MAGA cultists, continuing with his fascist fantasies and themes of persecution and martyrdom:

During my Tucker Carlson interview – which, by the way, has now garnered more views than when Oprah interviewed Michael Jackson – Tucker asked me how I'm able to remain cheerful even as I face 4 different sham trials and a threat of 1,000 years in prison as an innocent man.

It's a fair question. But I told Tucker that the only reason I'm able to endure such vicious and baseless attacks is because of the wonderful support I have from the American people.

When I look at the polls, when I look at our grassroots fundraising numbers, when I tour the country and am welcomed with such unbelievable love and patriotism, I am filled with endless motivation to NEVER SURRENDER our mission to save America.

The truth is: I'm not in this fight all on my own…

…I have millions and millions of patriots standing by my side who are equally as committed to making our country great again.

And yes, that's right – I'm talking about YOU, Friend.

Your support keeps me motivated, inspired, determined, and fearless in the face of the most vicious attacks I've ever been subjected to in my entire life....

(But, of course, if you're doing poorly right now in Biden's Third World America, don't even think about donating. Our movement is about making YOUR life great again, so I don't want you to incur any cost that would hurt you or your family. And very soon, I'll be back in the White House, and you're going to be prospering like never before. Just wait and see!)

None of this is normal.

Instead of continuing to warn the American people about Trump and his movement's increasing danger to American society and democracy, the ex-president's interview with Tucker Carlson was largely ignored by the mainstream news media or treated as a curiosity to be mocked. The worst and most dangerous reactions to Trump's interview by the mainstream news media and its professional centrists and hope peddlers talked about it through the lens of theater criticism and horse race journalism as something "boring" or that "we heard this before and there is nothing new, so who cares?"

"The Carlson-Trump interview put on display both Trump's paranoia as well as his uncanny ability to project it onto others."

That a criminal ex-president, who has tens of millions of followers, and is tied in or leading President Biden in the polls, and is promising to unleash a reign of fascist terror and revenge if he get takes back the White House is being ignored and dismissed by the news media because he is "boring" and "repetitive" is an indictment of them as a class and an institution. In all, many of the same voices who normalized Donald Trump in 2016 and then acted surprised and shocked when he won are doing the same thing now. That is not a mistake; it is a choice.

In a powerful new essay at The Philadelphia Inquirer, William Bunch makes this intervention:

I guess the 20th-century author and socialist Upton Sinclair really nailed it when he wrote, 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."…

If you watch enough not-Fox cable TV news, you'll occasionally see an expert on fascism like NYU's Ruth Ben-Ghiat or Yale's Timothy Snyder explaining the roots of this American authoritarianism, or you can read a piece like Margaret Sullivan's Guardian take on the fascist appeal of Trump-clone Ramaswamy. But then it's back to your regular programming, including a desperate desire to frame today's clash in the context of long-lost 20th-century democratic norms, and to blame any transgressions on a mysterious "tribalism" that plagues "both sides."….

These are the stakes: dueling visions for America — not Democratic or Republican, with parades and red, white, and blue balloons, but brutal fascism or flawed democracy. The news media needs to stop with the horse-race coverage of this modern-day March on Rome, stop digging incessantly for proof that both sides are guilty of the same sins, and stop thinking that a war for the imperiled survival of the American Experiment is some kind of inexplicable "tribalism."

We need to hear from more experts on authoritarian movements, and fewer pollsters and political strategists. We need journalists who'll talk a lot less about who's up or down and a lot more about the stakes — including Trump's plans to dismantle the democratic norms that he calls "the administrative state," to weaponize the criminal justice system, and to surrender the war against climate change — if the 45th president becomes the 47th. We need the media to see 2024 not as a traditional election but as an effort to mobilize a mass movement that would undo democracy and splatter America with more blood like what was shed Saturday in Jacksonville. We need to understand that if the next 15 months remain the worst covered election in U.S. history, that it might also be the last.

I asked Dr. Lance Dodes, who has been one of the most consistent alarm-sounders about Trump's diseased mind and the danger(s) he and his movement represent to the public, for his analysis of the criminal ex-president's "interview" with Carlson:

In the Carlson interview Trump demonstrates, again, the primitive psychology that makes him the enormous danger he is to democracy and other human beings. He inadvertently tells us of his bottomless hatred and capacity for violence in the manner he always does — by attributing these characteristics of his to his victims and opponents. This primitive process, called projective identification, is evident in his recent statements such as, "There's a level of hatred that I've never seen" in Democrats, and that they are "savage animals; they're people that are sick." Trump's assigning his own traits to others and his simultaneous inability to recognize the actual feelings, rights or thoughts of others, coupled with his absence of the capacity for empathy, is just what is seen in the famous criminals against humanity, like Putin and the well-known tyrants of the twentieth century. Trump's current interview is just another example of his derangement for those able, and willing, to see.

I also asked Dr. Mark Goulston, who is a leading psychiatrist and author, for his thoughts about Trump's interview with Carlson. He focused in on Trump's power as a cult leader:

Donald Trump was interviewed by Tucker Carlson which played at the same time as the recent GOP debate. As always Trump does have a killer instinct to turn any potential adverse event into an opportunity. For instance, consider his merchandising his mug shot to raise funds from his base. By talking "civil war and possible assassination" in his interview with Carlson, in his political base's mind, he was able to trump anything any of the other GOP candidates could/would say in their debate. The challenge for any of his GOP or Democratic rivals is how to stop his teflonic ability to turn anything thrown at him into something that works for him. He famously said, "I Could ... Shoot Somebody, And I Wouldn't Lose Any Voters."

How can we break the hypnotic spell he has over his base and more importantly his grip on the media which has been reporting on him every day since he announced that he was running for President in 2015? It appears that Trump is an "equal opportunity disparager," doesn't care about anyone else and is probably disdainful of his base for their being such easy marks for whatever he wants to do. Might there be a way to collect and broadcast video clips of arrogant disdainful remarks about people from a lower socioeconomic status that his base comes from similar to Mitt Romney saying that 47% of the United States was government dependent. And if such clips could be discovered, might there be a way to say to his followers, "Want to know what Trump really thinks of you?"

As seen on Jan. 6 and throughout the Age of Trump and beyond, the Republican Party and its propaganda machine are highly skilled at both using stochastic terrorism (coded appeals and implied threats) and overt threats and incitements to violence as a tool in their war against real democracy.

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Trump's followers listen to these commands. Over the weekend, for example, a white supremacist murdered three Black people in Florida. National security and other experts continue to warn that there are millions of Trump's followers and other members of the right wing who support and are potentially willing to engage in acts of terrorism and other violence – including a second coup attempt, civil war, or insurgency, to put Trump back in office.

Jason Blazakis, who is a Senior Research Fellow at The Soufan Center, explained to me via email how Trump's interview with Carlson is part of a much larger pattern of violence and disruption by neofascist and other right-wing malign actors:

The rhetoric of the interview between Carlson and Trump represented a 45-minute microcosm of what is wrong with extreme far-right media and extreme-far right political figures. Steeped in conspiracy theories and fond memories for the January 6 insurrection, the discussion normalized violence as a response to political disappointment. Like many of President Trump's tweets in the lead-up to the 6th of January, the Trump/Carlson engagement created a narrative that can fuel violence. Trump doesn't have to inspire mass protests to be dangerous. He just has to light the spark of evil in one person for them to do horrific things in his name. We saw this in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid, when an individual went to an FBI field office in Ohio to carry out an attack.

Donald Trump is more than a man or a leader, he is a symbol and example of a much larger history of fascist and authoritarian leaders and demagogues. In that way, Trump is behaving much the same way as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.

Dr. Marcel Danesi, author of the new book "Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories: A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective," explained to me via email how: 

The Carlson-Trump interview put on display both Trump's paranoia as well as his uncanny ability to project it onto others, reinforcing his leadership as a valiant warrior in stopping the purported degeneration of America's true nature. It was a lesson on the ability of the master liar to make his own paranoia everyone else's by creating what Oscar Wilde called a "mind fog". The interview was nothing if not a quagmire of thought confusion which, nonetheless, was intended to stoke resentments, anger, and even hatred by innuendo. In the mind fog, there is literally no clarity, just random delusional, self-referential thoughts, which Trump somehow has the uncanny ability to connect to his fictional mission to overthrow a supposed deep state.

The interview was a "Twilight Zone" of surreal verbal dysfunction, which Carlson constantly tried to make coherent with questions that appeared to have the import of truthful discourse, but which actually created further obfuscation by virtue of the fact that it allowed Trump to project paranoia. The whole interview was worrisome, reminiscent of Ralph Waldo Emerson's warning that "Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society." Carlson and Trump repeatedly created scenarios in which the hero in America's cultural war (Trump) feels that his liberty and thoughts were being dismantled by vast, shadowy forces. It was, overall, an example of what Orwell called "creative paranoia", a paranoia that is partially real and partially fabricated.

Danesi also said this about Donald Trump's mug shot:

The look of defiance that Trump simulated for his mug shot is the assumed pose of an angry lionesque warrior—an image that comes right out of Machiavelli, who advised would-be tyrants to be both a "fox," able to baffle and deceive people, and to act and look like a "lion," feigning bravery and strength, pretending to be a valiant warrior for truth and justice. Adopting the ferocious countenance of an angry lion allows Trump to portray himself before his sustainers as a captured leader needing protective support—the lion cannot fight the battle on his own; he needs an army behind and in front of him.

As Machiavelli went on to suggest, the master liar must never show any weakness or gentility; he must always be, or at least appear to be, brutal, exuding righteous anger, control, power. Machiavelli saw this as the necessary performance of the lion role that the despot must always be ready to enact. The mug shot is a portrait of this role.

For the American people to escape the Trumpocene and its great troubles and confusion, Donald Trump must be defeated at the polls and also convicted and sentenced to prison.

These two steps much be taken for his power as a fascist cult leader to be diminished – but as I explained in a previous essay, the neofascist movement is now much larger than he is and will endure for a very long time. To purge that poison will require a decades-long project of democratic renewal and rehabilitating the country's civil society institutions and political culture.

But what must not happen is for the country's news media and other opinion leaders to minimize or downplay Donald Trump and his MAGA movement's dangers to American society. To normalize Trumpism and American neofascism by accepting it as the new status quo and reporting on it through the lens of theater criticism, "bothsidesism" or the political horserace and access journalism is to almost guarantee that it will gain a permanent foothold in American society.

For at least seven years, too many leading voices and institution in the American news media have made that choice and the enduring power of a criminal ex-president and enemy of democracy Donald Trump – who is basically tied with Biden in many polls and the Electoral College – is the result.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Crimes Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Law News Media Tucker Carlson