Feeling American: Affect and Notions of (In)Security in Tucker Carlson’s Coverage of Derek Chauvin’s Trial

Abstract: This paper examines a segment of Tucker Carlson Tonight from 2021 in which Carlson contextualizes the start of the trial against Derek Chauvin, whose killing of George Floyd in 2020 sparked nationwide protests. By employing an analytical framework that includes ‘feeling rules’ and ‘framing rules,’ this study argues that Carlson frames Chauvin’s trial as an existential threat to the United States’ national security, locating notions of (in)security within affective structures of fear. Notions of ‘appropriate feelings’ are promoted through emotive framing and the visual comparison of protest and terrorism. The study also highlights how mass media shape and negotiate the opposing ideas of ‘feeling American’ and analyzes how Carlson employs discourses of (in)security to enable the polarization of two distinct ‘emotional communities’ in the US. This analysis shows that political and cultural divisions in the US might be more deeply entrenched than previously acknowledged, as they constitute fundamentally different experiences of ‘feeling American.’

The United States of America seems to be at a crossroads. Once hailed as the oldest liberal democracy of our time, skeptics on both sides of the political aisle fear that recent controversies surrounding issues like abortion rights and the disputed presidency of Donald Trump signal an increasing ideological divide to such a degree that bipartisan political cooperation appears outside the scope of the foreseeable future. Political sentiments heighten a sense of insecurity as the nation remains divided in the government’s handling of international crises such as the war in Ukraine and escalating conflicts in the Middle East. With preparations for the 2024 presidential elections under way, it remains to be seen how political stakeholders will overcome their differences and find productive solutions to overcome this state of perceived (in)security.

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