Should Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s anti-intervention commentary be credited for President Donald Trump avoiding a war in the wake of the U.S. killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a key figure in Iran’s military and government? The president “told people that he had watched Carlson’s show and it had affected his view on the Iran situation,” BuzzFeed reported Wednesday, and he ultimately did not order a further military escalation after Iran launched a retaliatory strike at a U.S. base.
The U.S. appears to have avoided the immediate threat of a spiral of deadly escalation, though it is difficult to fully assess the impact of the last week without knowing what Iran’s next steps might be. And Carlson was a rare voice of restraint on the president’s favorite network.
That said, the fact that commentators are discussing the impact of Fox commentators on Trump’s state of mind and decision-making process is a sign of the abnormality of this administration.
It is bad that the president takes advice from his television.
In the past, that habit has influenced his decisions to shut down portions of the federal government, pardon war criminals, and fire national security officials. His relationship with Fox is at the center of the events that ultimately triggered his impeachment.
That the results this time appear to have avoided calamity does not alter the dangerously chaotic nature of our current status, in which federal policy frequently turns on the counsel the suggestible and erratic president receives from right-wing ideologues whose expertise largely consists of generating ratings with volatile commentary.
What would have happened if Iran’s retaliatory strike had -- deliberately or accidentally -- killed Americans? Would Trump have stopped listening to Carlson and instead seized on the commentary of his Fox colleagues like Sean Hannity and Pete Hegseth, who had argued for massive military escalation including the targeting of Iranian refineries and cultural sites?
What if he had simply missed Carlson’s show over the past few days (the president, theoretically, has a full-time job that should not allow for constantly watching cable news) and listened to those voices in the first place?
And how many will suffer if Trump takes the rest of Carlson’s advice and turns his attention from Iran to the further repression of immigrants and the homeless?
The president’s predilection for the counsel of Fox hosts may have worked out this time. But do you feel safe knowing that the only thing standing between the United States and another major war may be whether the president finds the most recent monologue from Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity more compelling?