His outbursts are relevant

Frank Bruni at the Times says Tucker Carlson is trying to be the new Trump – i.e. the new guy who says stupid shit to rile people up. Grab some popcorn, kids, it’s another episode of Who’s the Biggest Troll?

Case in point: Carlson’s endlessly denounced, exhaustively parsed jeremiad against masks on his Fox News show on Monday night.

“Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid at Walmart,” Carlson railed. “Call the police immediately. Contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you’re looking at is abuse. It’s child abuse.”

So what we should do, no doubt, is deny him the attention he’s obviously seeking, but then again it’s not as if that will make him go away any sooner.

Like Trump, he has decided that virality is its own reward. And he’s being amply rewarded, as exemplified in this very column. I’d prefer to ignore him, but I face the same irreconcilable considerations that all the others who aren’t ignoring him do.

To give him attention is to play into his hands, but to do the opposite is to play ostrich. In April, his 8 p.m. Eastern show drew an average nightly audience of about three million viewers. That made him the most-watched of any cable news host — ahead of Sean Hannity, ahead of Rachel Maddow — and it meant that he was both capturing and coloring how many Americans felt about current events. His outbursts, no matter how ugly, are relevant.

Quite so.

The amount of real estate that Carlson occupies in political newsletters that I subscribe to seems to have grown in proportion to the amount that Trump has lost. (That’s my own replacement theory.) And it proves that we need not just villains but also certain kinds of villains: ones whose unabashed smugness, unfettered cruelty and undisguised sense of superiority allow us to return fire unsparingly and work out our own rage. Carlson, again like Trump, is cathartic.

Is it that we need villains of that kind? Or is it that villains of that kind are very bad and so they motivate us to say how they are bad. I don’t feel much of a need for smug conceited cruel people, but when they’re wielding their smug conceited cruelty like a battering ram then I feel a need to talk about it.

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