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Why Tucker Carlson Is Obsessed With Trash

His new docuseries on San Francisco highlights the right's attempts to link homelessness and urban decay to Democratic rule.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last month, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson devoted a portion of his nightly white nationalist variety show to litter. Not because Carlson is an environmentalist, or cares about civic pride or public health. Rather, trash was a metaphor for what happens when Democrats take power.

Over footage of detritus in parks and on sidewalks, Carlson pressed his guest, the Manhattan Institute’s Seth Barron, about why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district in Queens was so dirty. The answer was simple, Barron replied. It was dirty because of all the immigrants. “Part of the reason is because her district is actually one of the least American districts in the country,” Barron replied. “Now by that, I don’t mean that it’s not part of America, but that it’s occupied by relatively few American citizens. A very high percentage of her district is, in fact, illegal aliens.”

Jackson Heights, the neighborhood in Queens that Carlson and Barron were so concerned about, is not particularly dirty, as many, including Ocasio-Cortez, quickly pointed out. But highly misleading footage of trash was Carlson’s version of The Hunger Games: A dystopian portrait of what happens when your part of the country is taken over by Democrats. They may spout idealistic bromides about equality and the American dream, but all you get is garbage.

Garbage has been on Carlson’s mind of late. “I hate litter,” he told The Atlantic in a recent profile, adding that the Potomac River “has gotten dirtier and dirtier and dirtier and dirtier. I go down there and that litter is left almost exclusively by immigrants.” This week, Carlson has expounded on this thesis, launching a five-part docuseries about urban decay and crime in San Francisco.

“The reality of that city we discovered when we spent time there is even worse than you may have heard,” Carlson said before the first segment aired. “Civilization itself is coming apart in San Francisco right there in broad daylight on the city sidewalks, which are littered with junkies and feces and dirty needles.”

In the segment that followed, San Francisco Police Lt. Tracy McCray invoked a city in the grips of anarchy. People in the city, she told Fox News, can get away with almost anything—drug use, prostitution, illegal weapons, indecent exposure. Even when arrests are made, McCray said, criminals are back on the street within a day, thanks to liberal prosecutors. “Just ask anybody. You know it. We feel it. Crime is really out of control,” said Erica Sandberg, who has reported for the Manhattan Institute–funded City Journal.

On Tuesday, Carlson devoted airtime to concerns that a ballot initiative passed in 2014 that downgrades shoplifting from a felony to a misdemeanor was making private enterprise impossible. “You often see people walk in with bags into these stores and just shovel stuff in there and walk out,” grocery store owner Gilles DeSaulnier told Fox. Wednesday’s segment was devoted to scared citizens turning to private police as a last line of defense between themselves and the chaos enveloping the city. On Thursday, viewers were introduced to residents who were living on boats because they had been priced out of the city.

The homeless population in San Francisco—and in California more broadly—has risen dramatically in recent years. Carlson’s analysis of the problem is tailor-made for his reactionary, elderly audience: Let police officers like McCray do what they think is best, which is locking people up. Otherwise you end up with a twenty-first-century version of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Right-wing attacks on cities, which have long been centers of liberal power, are nothing new. In the Trump era of supposedly populist conservative politics, these critiques have taken two distinct forms: the coddled, out-of-touch city governed by “elites” and the gross, unlivable city overwhelmed by “trash.” Trump himself has used both characterizations, railing against elites while describing Baltimore as “rat-infested,” claiming that people were fleeing his hometown of New York City, and ridiculing Chicago for its high levels of crime.

Carlson is linking his portrait of coastal cities—degenerate, decaying—to the right’s larger attack on the coastal elites leading the Democratic Party. It’s no accident that he is focusing on San Francisco, where Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lives in a mansion. According to Carlson, America’s cities are hellscapes, thanks to decades of Democratic control.

Cities are, of course, significantly more diverse than rural areas. As many noted, after Trump’s “rat-infested” comments about Baltimore, this narrative of civilizational ruin is meant to discredit multiculturalism. While Democrats may talk a good game about lifting people up and bringing them together, the result of minority-majority living is a morass of violence, prostitution, and poverty. This argument is also meant to undercut any attempt at resolving complex issues such as California’s housing crisis, since that  doesn’t get at the underlying issue of Democratic corruption.

The actual reasons for the rise in homelessness in California are much more complicated than Carlson’s tidy narrative about liberal politicians and social justice warriors run amok. One problem for California is too much wealth, particularly in the tech sector, which has caused a housing shortage and a rise in rents. Carlson is trying to surgically remove the economic basis of the rise in homelessness because this doesn’t quite fit his preferred solution: letting the police have their way with those homeless bums.