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We Can't Mute Trump, But We Can Turn Off Fox News

In this March 2, 2017 file photo, Fox News host Tucker Carlson poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)
In this March 2, 2017 file photo, Fox News host Tucker Carlson poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in New York. (Richard Drew/AP)

Donald Trump is a racist. And gravity pulls us down and winters are cold. Also now obvious is that most Republicans in Congress are scientific marvels with the ability to walk upright without a spine.

Even if House Democrats fail to open impeachment proceedings, the rest of us will have an opportunity to fire Trump and his minions next year when we go to the polls.

While we’re at it, let’s fire Fox News.

Trump’s racism is rarely original. The trope that people of color should “go back” to other countries has a long and ignominious history in this country. Its use is so racist and so common that federal law expressly lists telling a co-worker to “go back where they came from” as an example of illegal racial harassment in the workplace.

Trump’s application of it this week appears to have germinated with Fox News frontman Tucker Carlson, whose nightly show the president regularly watches. Last week, Carlson ran a segment on Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a former refugee from Somalia who arrived in the United States at the age of 12 and now represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.

The loop is evil perfection. Racism and xenophobia on Fox are mainlined into the president’s cable-news-dependent brain stem. He tweets. Fox applauds.

Omar is the embodiment of the American dream. But Carlson raged against her, spitting out in an angry segment that Omar “has undisguised contempt” for America and has “come to hate us passionately.” To Carlson, a successful Muslim woman of color embodied “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.”

On Sunday morning, Fox & Friends ran a segment on “the Squad,” the four progressive Democratic congresswomen (Omar, plus Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York) who have been so vocal in their opposition to Trump.

About 20 minutes later, Trump sent out a racist tweet telling those four women of color to “go back” to where they came from.

Within 90 minutes, the Fox & Friends hosts were “reporting” the president’s tweets, reading them verbatim and laughing about them. Co-host Jedediah Bila said that she believed Trump was “making an important point.”

The next day, Trump refused to acknowledge the racism of his tweets or apologize for them. Instead, he claimed that “A lot of people love it, by the way.”

The loop is evil perfection. Racism and xenophobia on Fox are mainlined into the president’s cable-news-dependent brain stem. He tweets. Fox applauds. He points to their sycophancy as validation.

The feedback loop now extends to his rallies. Validated by Fox and the president, a raucous crowd of Trump supporters chanted "Send her back!" to a packed arena on Wednesday. And with that, the president feels emboldened and recycles the racism back to the crowd; Fox streams it nationwide.

I am not trying to convince you that the president is racist or that his tweets were racist. He is, and they are. Others have explained that better than I can, and if you’re still Lindsey Graham-ing then you are beyond the capacity of my efforts.

I am trying to convince you that the focus on the president is under-inclusive. Fox deserves blame too.

Some of the news network’s most popular shows and personalities — Tucker Carlson, Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity -- regularly trade on racist stereotypes and fuel the president’s worse impulses. Hannity was the chief popularizer of the racist birther conspiracy against President Barack Obama. Bill O’Reilly — the network’s most popular star before allegations of sexual harassment forced him out — congratulated Trump’s racist attack on a judge of Mexican descent, defended the use of slaves in building the White House and explained away Trayvon Martin’s killing by saying “he looked a certain way.”

President Donald Trump listens to Fox News' Sean Hannity speak during a rally at Show Me Center, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Donald Trump listens to Fox News' Sean Hannity speak during a rally at Show Me Center, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Carlson is probably the worst of the lot. He opened a show in late 2018 complaining about how immigration made our country “dirtier.” He mimics the language of white nationalists by railing against the decay of “European culture.” Carlson’s xenophobia and racism have made him the favorite television personality of white nationalists.

Of course, Fox has a right to broadcast whatever it wants. The news network was created to be a mouthpiece for GOP talking points; that is a mundane (if unfortunate) aspect of modern political life in America. And I am sure there are fine people and even some fine journalists working there. (A handful criticized Trump's recent remarks on the air.)

But as a matter of corporate accountability, the racism is different from the routine GOP cheerleading. Fox knowingly provides a platform for bigots. The network knowingly benefits from the mainstreaming of white nationalist tropes and xenophobic fear-mongering. Any other multi-billion dollar company that trafficked in such hateful rhetoric for profit would be a social pariah.

Even those of us who would never watch Fox News at home are frequently accosted by it in public places. How many times have you sat in an office waiting room and looked up to see Fox & Friends on the television? Have you been waiting to board a plane and forced to listen to Hannity? Have you exercised at the gym with Carlson? Some of those places choose Fox because of its popularity, some out of habit, some even out of agreement with its political tilt.

But it’s a choice, and now it is clear that such a choice has effects, both inside the Oval Office and out. And Fox News does not deserve to be treated like a real news channel and broadcast in public spaces as if racism is not a scourge, devastating to our society.

It’s time to start complaining.

“Can you please turn the channel?”

“Why are you showing that?”

“I don’t want my kids to hear that.”

Or even better: “I don’t want to hear that.”

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Kent Greenfield Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Kent Greenfield is a professor of law at Boston College Law School. A former Supreme Court law clerk, he is an expert in constitutional law and corporate law. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic.

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