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Tucker Carlson is uncancelable

Fox News host Tucker Carlson isn’t going anywhere.

You might expect him to, given his sudden, strange laughs mid-broadcast — the sort of thing that could have taken him off air for a while in the “Dean scream” era. Or you might think he’d resign over a college yearbook image circulating in which a much younger Carlson appears to make an inside joke about the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Macone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the latter of whom was California’s first openly gay elected official.

You’d be wrong. We’re in a weird space, culturally, with public shaming and what used to be called “gaffes.” I think there’s something real to the charge of “cancel culture,” though the concept is much abused. Yet, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed in 10 theses on the subject, its threat “is most effective against people who are still rising in their fields.” For those who have reached the top, particularly in politics, the threat is increasingly empty.

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Indeed, in that elite realm — which obviously includes Carlson, for all his railing against the elite — we’re rapidly approaching a point where anything short of tattooing Nazi symbols on your face on live television is not disqualifying for anyone willing and able to ignore the haters for a few weeks or months. Memories are short. Forced resignations aren’t what they once were. Now, you can just refuse to be embarrassed and keep on trucking. Former President Donald Trump was a big part of this shift, but so are Democratic Govs. Ralph Northam (Va.) and Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.), who have steadfastly refused to resign after major public scandals.

Carlson, who last year had the highest-rated program in cable news history and is a rumored 2024 GOP contender (he denies interest), will do the same. The playbook is very simple. He’s already using it, just as he has with scandals past. When his show’s lead writer resigned after getting caught writing pseudonymous, racist posts online, Carlson took a vacation he said was “long-planned,” then simply moved on from the subject. This month, he walked up to the line of advocating “replacement theory,” then doubled down, with network support.

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This is just opposition research, he’ll tell his fans of the yearbook. Our shared enemies are attacking me because I’m telling the truth, and because they hate you. It’s all tribal. It’s all dishonest. It’s all games. It’s all irrelevant. And it will be.