On Thursday night, Fox host Tucker Carlson raged against President Joe Biden’s newly unveiled infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, in a rant which appeared tailored to two very specific audiences: those who deny the scientific and experiential evidence that our planet is dangerously warming, and those who deny the historic and present reality of inequity and racial injustice.
To help him make the case for the former, Carlson invited climate denier and Fox regular Marc Morano to spew wild claims against the Green New Deal and attacks on climate advocates. And in an appeal to the latter, Carlson mocked Biden’s infrastructure plan as “a mashup of intersectional theory from Wesleyan and some kind of South African-style spoils system.”
In reality, Biden’s plan calls for modest investment in America’s infrastructure including roads and bridges, but also water infrastructure, broadband, and clean energy, which is intended to create a more equitable and sustainable economy. It is lauded by both labor leaders and economists, who predict it will create 2.3 million jobs by 2024, injecting $5.7 trillion into the economy and raising per capita income by $2,400. And the proposal already has support from the majority of the American people -- but that is not who Carlson appears to be talking to.
Carlson suggests measure to address historic inequities and environmental injustices in Biden’s plan are reparations
Carlson’s monologue on the infrastructure plan, running approximately 15 minutes, cited the climate and equity elements of Biden’s plan to claim that it is not actually about infrastructure at all -- which is core to the right-wing medias’ attack on the plan and an already well-worn narrative on Fox News.
“First and most obviously, is this really about infrastructure -- bridges, roads, airports, things we can actually use -- or is it yet another weird climate scheme-slash-power grab-slash-race-based redistribution plan,” the Fox host asked. “What exactly is this?”
Carlson’s answer excluded any mention of the biggest ticket items in the package -- such as the $621 billion for transportation infrastructure and resilience, including the repair and construction of roads, bridges, investments in public transit and rail service, as well as improvement to ports, waterways, and airports -- and instead focused heavily on elements of the plan intended to redress historic inequities and environmental injustices:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): But what does modernizing highways mean, exactly? What are the details of that? Well, The Washington Post gave us some idea. According to the paper, an activist called Amy Stelly has been demanding the removal -- not the building -- the removal of a highway in New Orleans that cuts through her neighborhood. She thinks that highway, called the Claiborne Expressway, is bad. It's an eyesore, and it contributes to pollution in her neighborhood. For years, she has demanded local leaders get rid of it, but they’ve refused. People use it. It’s an important stretch of road in New Orleans. But now the White House and Joe Biden's infrastructure plan have decided that highway is an example of, quote, “historic inequity.” And that can be solved by billions of new spending. In other words, it's a racist highway, so you've got to pay to tear it down. Amy Stelly was enthused by this. “I’m floored,” she said. “I'm thrilled to hear President Biden call out the Claiborne Expressway as a racist highway.” Yeah, and not just racist -- sexist and transphobic, too. That highway is a Jim Crow dog whistle for white supremacy, not to mention QAnon insurrection. Got to tear it down. Expect a lot more highways to meet that fate. People who believe highways are racist are going to get tens of billions of dollars as part of this plan, as long as they’re in what the Biden administration calls “underserved communities.” The entirety of this infrastructure plan looks more like a mashup of intersectional theory from Wesleyan and some kind of South African-style spoils system.
By treating multifamily housing as incompatible with single family housing, zoning often pushes multifamily buildings closer to highways and areas with a higher risk of air pollutants. As a result of living closer to highways and other sources of air pollution (PDF), low-income people and people of color are more likely to live in places that exacerbate asthma risks and poor birth outcomes.
Black households, regardless of income, are 1.5 times more likely than US households in general to be exposed to environmental hazards like poor air quality and polluted water. And many neighborhoods with large shares of low-income residents and residents of color lack services that support better health, such as grocery stores with healthy food options (PDF).
But Carlson wouldn’t need to read a study to understand how systemic racism harms disadvantaged people; he could ask New Orleanians who have lived under the Claiborne Expressway for decades and remember how vibrant their community was before “The Monster” was built. After construction began on the highway in the 1960s, the once-thriving Tremé community, which was one of the centers of Black cultural and commercial life, was divided and destroyed.
Carlson later included a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that somehow the infrastructure plan is part of a larger scheme to enrich Democratic operatives -- who he described as “looting the country” like “their supporters in Minneapolis last summer,” adding a racist attack on Black Lives Matter protesters to his unhinged rant:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): What's going on here? Trillions of dollars changing hands. This is looting. Just as their supporters in Minneapolis last summer, the Biden people are looting the country. They have done nothing to build America. Not one thing. Susan Rice, Barack Obama, Ron Klain, the rest of these people making these decisions have not created a single thing. They are not creators, they are takers, and they've gotten rich from her doing it. How much did Susan Rice make in the last four years? How did she get that money? They are stripping the corpse, and when it falls apart, they will be gone. In the meantime, welcome to hyperinflation.
Carlson mocks climate science, climate resilience efforts, and the Green New Deal
Carlson pivoted from his rant against racial equity to attacking the Green New Deal and climate change.
First, Carlson played a statement by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who said, “In the United States, transportation is the leading contributor to climate change, contributing to a pattern of extreme weather events which takes a severe toll on our infrastructure. Every dollar we spend rebuilding from a climate-driven disaster is a dollar we could've spent building a more competitive, modern, and resilient transportation system that produces significantly lower emissions.”
Carlson mocked Buttigieg for using the “infrastructure bill to end hurricanes” and suggested that he could not speak on the climate because “not even climate experts understand the climate.” They do.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year alone, the U.S. experienced 22 extreme weather and climate-related disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each – costing the nation a combined $95 billion in damages. Biden’s plan notes, “In Louisiana, Hurricane Laura caused $19 billion of damage, resulting in broken water systems and a severely damaged electrical grid that impeded a quick recovery.” The plan, as Buttigieg's statement suggests, would invest in making such infrastructure more “resilient in the face of increasingly severe floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other risks.”
Carlson’s segment leading up to his interview with climate denier Marc Morano included jabs at electric vehicles, suggestions that Biden’s motive for investing in clean energy is to grease the palms of his donors, mockery of climate resilience efforts, and a false claim that “none of the spending goes to our oil workers, those put out of business when Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline. They can learn to code.” (In fact, the plan includes substantial funding to cap the more than 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the country and create hundreds of thousands of union jobs geared specifically to those in the fossil fuel industry -- as Forbes notes, this program has bipartisan support, and several Republican-led states have already “created programs to cap abandoned wells, putting laid-off oil and gas employees back to work.”)
For good measure, he also mocked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), one of the sponsors of the Green New Deal, before finally turning to his guest. Carlson opened the interview by asking Morano, “How much of this bill is geared not toward cleaning up the environment, which we could badly use, but toward this global warming theory that they have. How much of it is climate-based?
Interestingly, Morano pretty accurately characterized the plan and the Biden administration’s strategy on climate, with some notable exceptions:
MARC MORANO (GUEST): To answer your question, Tucker, we don’t know the exact percentage but we know it will affect things like health care and equity and all sorts of green buildings and changing all of the climate aspects, the Green New Deal, are being implemented throughout this whole infrastructure bill. They are redefining the word “infrastructure” to mean climate activities. And this is just -- this was part of their plan because Biden’s also making every Cabinet a climate agency, from State Department to Interior, to Defense Department, financial institutions. So this bill is just the latest in a round of what they’re doing because they learned in 2009, they can't put a climate agenda straight on the American people with a vote on Capitol Hill. Even when Obama had the House and Senate, they failed to get a carbon tax passed because Democrats opposed it. So they’re trying to slip it in this stealth way. That’s what they’ve been doing since January.
Green New Deal architects and champions have called Biden’s plan the “closest we’ve come to a realization of the Green New Deal,” in spite of the plan's only modest path toward carbon reduction, because it integrates issues of equity and climate with infrastructure spending. But climate policy didn’t fail in 2009 because the American people didn’t want climate action, it failed because the fossil fuel industry helped write the bill’s “cap and trade” provisions and then voraciously opposed it -- and it was further hobbled by “conservative groups that portrayed it as an economy-killing tax and lawmakers terrified that it would become a bonanza for Wall Street traders and Enron-style manipulators.”
The Biden administration’s infrastructure plan is extremely popular with the American public. A Data for Progress poll found that 69% of voters support the overall plan, while specific provisions of the plan, such as repairing drinking water systems (85%), creating energy sector jobs (79%), and modernizing the electric grid (72%), enjoy overwhelming support. But Carlson’s segment was not aimed at the broad swath of Americans who support the plan's climate and environmental goals.
As the rest of the segment and Carlson’s hysterical interview with Morano demonstrated, the toxic mix of weak, straw-man arguments, conspiracy theories, and fearmongering about how the climate crisis is a manufactured scheme to transfer power and wealth to liberal elites was aimed at an increasingly small sliver of people who deny the science of climate change, the consequences of continued inaction, and the benefits of climate solutions -- with a heavy splash of Carlson’s trademark white nationalism thrown in for his right-wing extremist fans.