Fox News and the GOP have already folded the supply chain crisis into their all-consuming culture war

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Fox News’s Laura Ingraham lays into Joe Biden over the supply chain crisis (Fox News)
Fox News’s Laura Ingraham lays into Joe Biden over the supply chain crisis (Fox News)

There are few things that inflame Fox News’ A-list pundits like the news that prosperous Americans will, however briefly, be denied the chance to buy exactly what they want. And so the news of chaos at overloaded, understaffed American ports, a private sector crisis which is conveniently taking place under Joe Biden’s presidency, has set the channel’s talking heads to the work what they do best: misallocating blame, and lots of it.

Sean Hannity tackled the story in trademark head-on style, putting up a cheerily amateurish collage of Biden backed by towering, snowy pines and the words “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. His follow-up, the sharper-eyed and darker-hearted Laura Ingraham, fell a bit short: having gone the whole hog and caricatured the president as a green-skinned elf rubbing his hands with glee, her team captioned it “The Biden who stole Christmas” – then got cold feed and shoved the words “Biden = The Grinch” into her chyron, hardly implying confidence in their viewers’ associative capacity.

So far, so ludicrous. Coming on the heels of 2021’s assortment of lurid right-wing cultural freakouts – the non-cancellation of Dr Seuss, the wipeout of the US women’s football team, an army recruitment ad that declined to revel in muscle mass and physical abuse – the prospect of delayed Christmas deliveries feels like thin gruel indeed.

Why should a stutter in the global supply chain at a time of macroeconomic upheaval have anything to do with the social contract between people and government?

At the core of it all, as ever, is entitlement – in this case, entitlement to abundance, to unfettered choice, to the American way of consumption. Or rather, to the affluent suburban-industrial complex that Fox News defends as a sacred American birthright: a mode of consumption accessible only to those who aren’t unemployed, housing-insecure, struggling under mountains of debt, incarcerated, or in some other way locked out of the sunny beige uplands.

There’s something stunningly banal about feeling entitled to demand whatever you want, whenever you want it, in any quantity, regardless of the implications for your own health or that of others (or indeed for the future of the only planet we have). It’s a childish breed of selfishness, and also the proud enemy of snobbish cosmopolitan elite taste – all entitlement and satisfaction as opposed to discernment and distinction.

But however silly it sounds and looks, Fox News’ outraged crusade against the supply chain Christmaspocalypse isn’t just embarrassing selfishness put to cynical political use. Umbrage and grievance may be the tone, but look more closely and it’s clear the story is made of the same carcinogenic sludge oozing out of the network’s angry pores.

There are far more concertedly racist and violent channels out there in the tangled far-right undergrowth, but with the continued platform given to Tucker Carlson, Fox News is playing a powerful role in the metastasis of outright ethno-nationalism – specifically the age-old and deeply unhinged “replacement theory” that claims a “white genocide” is being deliberately perpetrated by liberal progressives importing millions of fast-breeding non-white inferiors to wreck America for good.

On the face of it, there’s a lot of road between “The Biden Who Stole Christmas” and The Camp of the Saints, the bizarre racist fantasy novel whose “turd eater” villain haunts the consciousness of immigration obsessives like sometimes Trump aide Stephen Miller. But just as the worst of the far right and the remnants of mainstream Republicanism are now more politically and organisationally entwined than they have been in decades, the most mundane of folk-conservative cultural grievances are now being mobilised in the service of some of the darkest objectives there are.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee this week held a hearing on far right groups’ efforts to recruit vulnerable, disillusioned and traumatised former members of the armed forces. Those efforts have been successful before, and they still are – not in vast numbers, but in numbers meaningful enough to contribute to the surge in anti-Democratic, racist, white supremacist and misogynistic terrorism that has federal law enforcement deeply concerned.

At that hearing, Republican Congressman Jim Banks used his time to harangue one of the witnesses for writing in an academic study that some far-right groups obsess over meat-eating as a badge of masculine, red-blooded honour.

Banks, though, isn’t just a garden-variety Trumpist congressman. His was one of the five names that Kevin McCarthy put forward for the select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol – and along with Jim Jordan, he was rejected by Nancy Pelosi, whom he previously claimed “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the left’s authoritarian agenda”.

And so there he was on Wednesday, strategically using up time allocated for a discussion about far-right violence by tearing into an expert witness for supposedly serving as a footsoldier in what Fox News has previously called the “war on meat”. (Her explanation that she eats red meat herself apparently buttered no parsnips.)

As per his and some of his colleagues’ modus operandi, Banks’ questioning misrepresented the witness’ words to a degree that meant he either hadn’t read them, couldn’t understand them, or was doing it on purpose. That in itself does not matter. What matters is that Banks and his fellow travellers, from Congress to Mar-a-Lago and beyond, have achieved Fox News’ ultimate objective: to take discomfort with cultural change and irritation at personal inconvenience and mobilise them into an agenda that can take over the country.

It may not have completely consumed the US as yet, but it’s trying harder and harder. Tens of millions of people have already jumped through the portal into its parallel universe – and come Christmas, when they can’t buy the precise quantity of tacky consumables they feel entitled to, all hell will break loose on their living room screens.

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