Last night, Fox News host and quasi-sentient boat shoe Tucker Carlson said something on his show that turned a few heads. I’m not talking about his (deeply suspicious) words of praise for Elizabeth Warren, which fit with a pattern of misdirection that shouldn’t fool anyone. I refer, instead, to his description of the metric system as “the yoke of tyranny.”
This is fucking perfect. This is what Tucker should be doing every time he’s on the air.
No transphobia, no white supremacy — just inane prattle on a near-universal standard of measurement that American children learn in middle school. There isn’t even anything, like, going on with the metric system right now; Tucker’s guest, the right-wing art critic James Panero, a man sometimes paid to say that social justice is bad in the pages of Wall Street Journal, has not launched any kind of anti-metric movement or written a book on the United States’ refusal to adopt the kilogram. This is, purely and simply, two middle-aged, smooth-brained Republicans rolling on their blood pressure meds and mainlining the secret history of Imperial units. I absolutely love it.
The segment doesn’t just kick ass for its faulty premises. (Is the metric system “completely made up?,” the screen wonders, as if King Edward II never declared an inch to be the length of “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.”) No, it slaps for showing us the best version of the worst channel on TV.
A couple months ago, writer Luke O’Neil collected heartbreaking stories of people whose relatives have been transformed by and even lost to the insidious glow of Fox News, finding “deep, addictive comfort in the anger and paranoia.” Thing is, these viewers rarely started out as culture warriors or hardened bigots. Rather, the steady drip of hateful, hysterical rhetoric — the aggrieved outcry that engaged them in the first place — colonized their worldview. If you took away all this racism and misogyny and sneering climate denial, you’d be left with relatively harmless stuff like Carlson’s metric-bashing, which, by the way, is a far better likeness of our national disposition: resisting common sense and practical improvement.
Imagine, if you will, a Tucker Carlson Tonight exclusively devoted to these irrelevant matters of stubbornness-as-exceptionalism. Tucker could detail how we as a country still demand free refills on our sodas when this custom has never caught on anywhere else, or he could scold us for not calling French fries “freedom fries” anymore — it’s not like France ever apologized for opposing the invasion of Iraq! Hell, I’d be happy to have him continue to hammer the metric system for weeks at a time; give it the wall-to-wall coverage that migrant caravan got before the midterm election mysteriously changed the subject overnight. Keep his targets large and abstract so he can’t demonize specific brown or LGBTQ people. If his guest wants to claim that revolutionaries first imposed metric standards “at the business end of the guillotine,” well, that’s both inaccurate and insane, but at least his beef is with people who have been dead for 200 years.
There is a level at which this is all the Fox News loyalists really want: some assurance that they are right, that their every presumption is sound, and that others, somewhere else, are zany, deluded, wrong. This, in fact, is what most everyone, right or left, craves from their media, it’s just that the right-wing machine prefers to accomplish this by ginning up the fear of marginalized groups as shadowy corruptors of patriotic norms and institutions. Any alternative to that is probably a net win by comparison, even if it is a touch anti-science and patently ahistorical.
The arbitrary nature of our commitment to obsolete weights and measures — the U.S. was almost the second government to adopt metric ones — means it’s also easy to visualize the mirror-dimension take, where Tucker paints a decimalized America as the lone holdout against the global hegemony of ridiculous “yards” and “gallons” and “pounds,” all of them “completely made up.”
Aside from the refreshing absence of stakes here (with no actual critique, Tucker is forced to smear the metric system as “creepy,” as though it were the late Roger Ailes), this kind of segment is a blessing because it wages a war that’s pretty much over. American industries use metric to streamline international trade; folks run 5Ks and buy 750 ml bottles of wine. If a talking head wants to ignore all this to declare that we will NEVER SURRENDER to such a foreign convenience, we’ll take it. Anything for a momentary reprieve from the slow march toward repealing Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, building more concentration camps and solidifying minority white rule.
Please, Tucker: Abandon those causes and focus on your own pet peeves. Take a whole show to complain about the dressing rooms at Brooks Brothers. Deliver an impassioned defense of clapping when the plane lands. Tell us that a cabal of mysterious elites is stealing Amazon packages off your front porch. Your opinions will still totally suck — you can’t quit being you — but perhaps they can be curbed.