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Our society used to have genuinely scary, shadowy villains for comprehensible reasons, and now we have people who are scary because, not only are they openly very inept, so are the people who heroize them; people like Elon Musk or Tucker Carlson driving discourse, and rather than being radicalized by them, they're radicalized by how mainstream this evil-stupid ideological slate becomes. It's almost become incidental, a plausible explanation merely for a deep seated desire to hold these beliefs, plausible that they were duped in some way by a media huckster, but I think there's vaguely more to it than that. Americans want an authority, and an undeniable one at that, to sidestep the idea that they, as the voting public, should hold ultimate authority, not the supposed constant of a daddy figure they can lionize, be it a Donald Trump or even someone liberals hold in derangedly high regard like the Clintons or Joe Biden. The latter is who is really radicalized by all of this, ultimately, as reactionary goose-stepping into a neoliberal void.
In the case of Carlson, a previous generation of pseudo-intellectual media personalities that drive the machinery of legitimizing what constitutes a theorhetical basis for conservative libertarian ideology like William F. Buckley comes to mind, and this is a good basis for comparison because they're really not that dissimilar in effect, but also their backgrounds and what made them effective ideologues.
Like Buckley, Carlson (albeit not born into it as thoroughly as Buckley was) comes from a monied prep-school background, and whereas Buckley succeeded in joining the personality cult surrounding central figures of the CIA as entrenched in political conservatism, Carlson failed, and from there, both established themselves with conservative think tank work, engaging in the kind of event horizon of debate culture with prominent media liberals, and, later, became what would constitute the basis of presidential campaigns (Buckley more directly and openly with Goldwater, and then Reagan; Carlson as a pale imitation of this with Trump). The end result of this is that it seems like even Carlson's own audience isn't even listening, because he's ultimately saying very little, because that's all our political spectrum has reduced itself down to, with liberals picking up the caboose ideologically; the competition is purely theoretical at this point.
This is why, for those who do not stand to gain from neoliberal corporatist hegemony that prominent liberal media leaders and politicians to the Buckleys and Carlsons of conservative media and politics, they are looking for populist solutions that still endorse their brand of conservative, but because that's impossible from the right, and Democrats are terminally afraid of talking to the poor, or working class conservatives at all, holding them in contempt as lost causes (or this is, I'd speculate, cover for smearing leftists for doing the same, because the Democrats are a right-wing party), they are easily recycled back into the ecosystem of even further right, now-corporatized media (OAN, etc.) Even the most iconoclastic and supposedly freethinking of fringe media attracting these people have intelligence community ties, familial or professional, and it is all, I'd have to speculate, to funnel people back into the mainstream, but agitate them by making them feel like iconoclastic crusaders themselves.
It's not that these people became less adept over time, they were always failsons: from Buckley to H.W. Bush to Carlson to even guys like Alex Jones, the degradation wasn't the quality of the villains, but the believability of the villany by the other side. George H.W. Bush seemed scary because he seemed qualified, by the sociopathic standards of the US presidency, to wield that power. Ditto Buckley, he seemed as though being the erudite commentariat that would be repackaged decades later into FOX News clarions, was naturally part of the plan. Ditto the Koch Brothers, and at least for the beginning of the new millennium, so did Tucker Carlson, as much as the politics he was justifying became to parody themselves, and thus himself, before long. The thing Bush had working against him, charisma vacuum aside, was that he was simply more deep state than he was devout corporatist (and lord knows there was plenty of that in him) than the other way around; it simply wouldn't fly, the future was this synthesis of interests, not a stilted devotee borne more of one than having simply thrived in the other.
Is it any wonder that a society sociopathic enough to want the moral justification for this kind of crumbling artifice will pretend to believe it to propel a legitimized toilet flush into the darkness beyond?
We simply used to, frankly, have villains who seemed like they could do the job, and a coherent understanding of when both sides of a publicized conflict was at least in part kayfabe, more reflective of the harm they do, rather than clownish reminders of exactly how badly needed an authoritarian populist response to that we've forged a society willing to let itself be ruined by the most effete and ineffectual an undeniably vapid and personally incapable elite could provide.