Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, by Tucker Carlson. Hardcover edition published in 2018, 256 pages.
There’s this feeling I get when someone writes what I am thinking. When they are able to say it and somehow hit all the nuances that I wish I could fill in, but am not quite sure how, and when they seem to just *get it*, even if imperfectly, such a writer is a kindred spirit. That describes Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools.
In a political climate that is so contentious and within which everyone seems to be stuck in a foolishly binary perspective, I find political conversations very frustrating. When I converse with sincere, well-meaning people who, in their zeal to help the poor, view the left as the least-best option, I cringe. I don’t cringe for the reasons you might assume. No, I cringe because I know that when you scratch the surface of things and watch what politicians do rather than what they say, you quickly realize that the left’s talking points are a mere window covering for a party as beholden to big business as the rabid, pro-corporate, so-called capitalists on the right.
In other words, there is no savior in Washington, D.C. They are almost all -regardless of the party affiliation- looking out for their own interests. This is the case Tucker Carlson lays out beautifully in Ship of Fools. I should add here that he isn’t asserting, and neither am I, that there are no good people with good intentions in politics. However, among those who wield the most power, they are very few and far between, and even those soon get swallowed up in the zeitgeist, unable to affect the change they had hoped.
Before I offer a couple of quotes, a brief outline of what I liked and didn’t like about the book. I’m a big fan of the bad news first approach to these things, so I’ll start with the problematic aspects of the book, in my own opinion:
- The tone often reminded me of Carlson’s televised monologues; so much so that I am convinced that several parts I vividly recall hearing from him before. Given that I don’t watch his show (or any news networks outside of youtube snippets) that’s problematic.
- There wasn’t enough tilling of new ground. There was very little here that I wasn’t already aware of. To be fair, I’m more informed than your average American, but I would suspect that is the case with a fair number of Carlson’s readers.
- No source notes. When you put forth as many claims on the work and positions of as many people as Carlson does here, you need to have tens of pages of footnotes and sources to back it up. Again, because of my familiarity with much of what is written here, I am comfortable with the veracity of his claims, but a book such as this one needs to provide sources for the sake of its own integrity.
What I liked about this book:
- This isn’t a “progressives bad”, “conservatives good” type of book. Carlson rightly acknowledges that there is more than enough blame on both sides of the imaginary aisle for the current political and economic predicament this country finds herself in.
- The dissecting of the sacred pillars of the political classes, both left and right.
- The populism angle speaks to me. As much as I abhor the notion of socialism as a political and economic order, I’m not overly enamored with the fake crony capitalism of the right or the market-as-king, pie-in-the-sky notions of libertarians either. I do believe that there is a third way, but because it doesn’t serve the interests of our present oligarchy it is often dismissed.
- Carlson’s witty, biting humor and gifted storytelling keep his book moving forward.
Enough about what I think. Here are a few salient quotes from Ship of Fools. On the unholy alliance between the left, who supposedly care about the downtrodden, and big businesses like Apple and Amazon, who routinely and grossly mistreat their poor, foreign workers (love those iPhones though!):
All pretty grim. Yet when was the last time you heard a politician decry Apple’s treatment of workers, let alone introduce legislation intended to address it? When was the last time a group of socially conscious hipsters from Brooklyn protested outside the home of Apple CEO Tim Cook?
Never, of course. That’s because Apple, like virtually other big employer in American life, has purchased indulgences from the church of cultural liberalism. Apple has a gay CEO with fashionable social views. The company issues statements about green energy and has generous domestic partner benefits. Apple publicly protested the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The company is progressive in ways that matter in Brooklyn. That’s enough to stop any conversation about working conditions in Foxconn factories.
On the foolishness of foreign wars began by Republican presidents and then perpetuated and often expanded by their liberal successors:
The first is that war is destructive. It kills people. War flattens cities, hobble economies, topple civilizations, and upend ancient ways of doing things; often forever. In war, children always die.
None of this is hidden knowledge- nobody would deny that war destroys- but it’s easy to forget it anyway. Look up any speech by a political leader rushing his country into conflict and you’ll notice how nonspecific the descriptions are. It’s always a battle for something abstract, like freedom of sovereignty. If politicians acknowledge that soldiers will be killed at all, it’s only to extol their bravery and highlight the sheer glory of the endeavor. In speeches, war is never a bloody slog where eighteen-year-old boys get castrated by landmines, blasted apart by grenades, or pointlessly massacred in friendly-fire accidents, though that’s exactly what it is. p.91
Tackling everything from the foolishness of modern feminism and identity politics with several detours highlighting the utter silliness of editorial and political personalities such as the hawkish Bill Kristol and the utterly banal Ta-Nehisi Coates, Carlson does a good job cutting through the bull. He invites the reader to look at the evidence rather than get swept up in talking points and media propaganda. One need only scratch the surface to see that there are no heroes to be found in our current political system.
The irony here is that like him or loathe him, the only genuine political actor in the current paradigm, the only person who is generally a “what you see is what you get” operator, is Donald Trump.
3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars