On September 18 2020, Twitter user Alexandra Halaby shared what became a viral tweet — it claimed that Dr. Cornel West appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and got Carlson to admit that he was “basically on board” with democratic socialism:
Alongside the 45-second long clip, Halaby wrote:
After Dr. Cornel West appeared on @TuckerCarlson and broke down what Democratic Socialism is…
Tucker Carlson: “Well, if that’s what Democratic Socialism is then I’m basically on board.”
The more we educate the more will learn that we are not enemies.
Screenshots of the tweet spread on Twitter, and led to a widespread assumption on Twitter that had Carlson labeled himself a democratic socialist and that was that. Another tweet featuring the same video was shared by user @berniebromanny on September 17 2020:
Yet another popular version from activist Ady Barker spread the short clip further:
It didn’t take very long to locate a more complete version of the segment involving Carlson and West.
On July 6 2018, Fox News uploaded a nearly ten minute-long clip of the segment to their YouTube channel, titled “Tucker takes on Cornel West over Democratic socialism.” The first two minutes of the clip involved Carlson’s exposition about democratic socialism and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in particular.
Carlson noted that in 2016 the DSA endorsed Bernie Sanders but not Hillary Clinton, adding that democratic socialists in general support “socialism,” and that some of them “explicitly support communism.” The Daily Caller, affiliated with Carlson until mid-2020, shared a version of the clip without Carlson’s introduction which primarily showed the exchange between Carlson and West:
In their September 18 2020 tweet, the Daily Caller stated:
We hate to break it to everyone, but Cornel West did not in fact get Tucker Carlson to embrace Democratic socialism:
“Has it struck you as interesting that it has never actually worked anywhere?”
Watch the full segment from July 2018 here:
A transcript of the segment from July 2018 provided Carlson’s introductory remarks about Democratic Socialism:
Democratic socialism is not, by the way, a wing of the Democratic Party. At least not yet. It’s an entirely separate movement with its own national organization, the Democratic Socialists of America. Two years ago, the DSA endorsed Bernie Sanders and opposed Donald Trump, but did not endorse Hillary Clinton. So, at times, it has been antagonistic to the Democratic party.
What did democratic socialists believe? There’s no formal platform, but the outlines are pretty clear. Democratic socialist support socialism, state ownership of major industries. That would include healthcare, technology, manufacturing, some of them explicitly support communism.
The co-chair of Portland, Oregon’s chapter of the DSA recently tweeted this, “As a DSA chapter co-chair, I just want to set the record straight for a minute — communism is good.”
But democratic socialism is about more than economics. The DSA’s official Twitter account demands reparations for African-Americans in the form of free and open enrollment at public colleges, retroactive forgiveness of student loans and a guaranteed lifetime minimum income. The DSA has also called for an end to all immigrant deportations everywhere in the United States.
In New York, the DSA has demanded the abolition of profits, prisons, cash bail and borders. Not all democratic socialists have the same views on everything, but that gives you some idea. Unlimited uncontrolled immigration into the US, coupled with race-based reparations, the abolition of prisons and, by extension, law and order and a massive expansion of a welfare state financed by an economic system that does not recognize profit.
How would that exactly? Has it ever worked in any country in the world? Those suddenly seem like relevant questions. And at this pace, democratic socialists could get the Democratic nomination at some point and be elected president.
So, we thought it was a perfect moment to speak to possibly the most famous of all advocates for democratic socialism, Cornell West. He is a professor at Harvard. He’s an honorary co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America and he joins us tonight.
That item also transcribed the portion in the out-of-context clip, in which Carlson asked whether West could “point to an example, an extant example,” of democratic socialism “that works,” and mentioning Venezuela:
So, give us some sense of what democratic socialism is. Can you point to an example, an extant example of it, that works? Venezuela seems like a an example of democratic socialism? Would you say that it is? And if so, does it work?
No, I don’t think that democratic socialism as an ideal has been able to be embodied in a larger social context.
There’s different forms of it. Some are bad, some are medium, some are better. But the fundamental commitment is to the dignity of ordinary people and to make sure they can live lives of decency.
So, it’s not an ism, no, brother. It’s about decency. It’s about fairness. It’s about the accountability of the powerful vis-a-vis those who have less power at the workplace, women dealing with a household, gays, lesbians, trans, black people, indigenous peoples, immigrants.
How do we ensure that they are treated decently and that the powerful don’t in any way manipulate, subjugate and exploit them.
Carlson then said:
Well, I mean if that’s what democratic socialism is, then I’m basically on board. I do think that ordinary people — middle class people — oughta have dignity, and I think that our current systems make it hard for them to have dignity, so I … I agree with all that.
At that point, the clip on Twitter ended. However, in the actual complete segment, Carlson’s commentary above ran from 3:35 to 3:49. The conversation between Carlson and West continued for roughly six more minutes. A July 2018 article from Daily Wire quoted Carlson’s commentary just prior to introducing West; its interpretation of Carlson’s commentary in a paraphrase alluded to the actual context of the clip:
Carlson responded by saying if that’s the definition, then he along with most people would be on board. But clearly not satisfied by that markedly abstract definition, Carlson tried to move the conversation into more real-world specifics.
Alternatively, the crosstalk during the exchange revealed the actual positions of Carlson and West:
CARLSON: I mean, if that’s democratic socialism is, then I’m basically on board. I do think that ordinary people, middle-class people ought to have dignity.
CARLSON: And I think that our current systems make it hard for them to have dignity. So, I agree with all of that.
CARLSON: But the details matter.
WEST: That’s precisely why – that’s why Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Norman Thomas, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, we can go on and on, they’re all democratic socialists. Michael Harrington, one of the great founders of Democratic Socialism of America –
CARLSON: I understand. But has it struck as interesting that it’s never actually worked anywhere. So, the question is not what are our goals. Our goals are the same. How do we get there is the question.
So, what happened in Venezuela? They called that democratic socialism, but they don’t have toilet paper, and it’s less equal than ever.
West and Carlson continued bantering on a number of issues — bail, immigration, prisons — and again, the exchange at the very end of the segment reinforced that while both were cordial, they were clearly not in agreement:
CARLSON: Then you’ve got to get a hold of the DSA of New York’s Twitter account because they’re saying some pretty reckless things over there.
WEST: Well, we’ve got a number of voices in DSA. I love them. We believe in disagreement. We believe in disagreement. You were just talking about disagreement in terms of defending civil liberty. I believe in protecting civil liberties, yours, mine, Page’s, Bernie Sanders’, (INAUDIBLE), a whole host of folks. But we have to be consistent.
CARLSON: You always lose me at the end, Cornell. Thank you so much for coming on. I hope you will come back. Cornell West.
That disparity was also captured in one reaction to the clip’s recirculation:
A misleadingly clipped segment of a 2018 exchange between Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Dr. Cornel West suggested that Carlson claimed that he was “basically on board” with democratic socialism, presented as evidence that Carlson was open to West’s ideologies and opposing political factions had more in common than most people thought. As uplifting as the idea that we all actually agree might be, it opaquely painted over the meaning of Carlson’s words — that if West’s words were a true reflection of the meaning of democratic socialism, all people would “basically be on board” with it.
Carlson continued first by adding that the “details matter,” before debating a number of major political issues with West — and largely disagreeing with him.