Tucker Carlson interview Vladimir Putin

Notes on Tucker’s Interview with Putin


Dear friends,

Over the weekend, I watched Tucker Carlson’s 127-minute interview with Vladimir Putin from start to finish. The interview has been watched over a hundred million times and offers important, if troubling, windows into our time.

I’m sharing some notes that I took on the discussion as I watched. As always, thank you for stopping and thinking with me.

  1. Authoritarian Strategy and Psychology

From the start, Putin immediately tries to embarrass Tucker for not understanding history. After checking him, Putin says he’s going to talk for thirty seconds.

He then gives a thirty minute monologue. In fact, the whole first hour and much of the “interview” is a monologue by Putin. When Tucker actually inserts questions, Putin often responds as if he’s merely transitioning to the next point in his lecture.

Putin models authoritarian strategy and psychology 101: intimidate (or ingratiate) your dialogue partner and then dominate what is said with your single story.

  1. Imperial History and Psychology

Putin then gives a bogus history of Russia that no historian would take seriously. He claims that over a thousand years ago, powerful “Rus” men seized even more power over others by force and “absorbed” (i.e., conquered) them. They then baptized this power in Orthodox Christianity. According to Putin, that conquest was the legitimate birth of “Russia.” Hence, Russia is a natural, ancient, real entity.

By contrast, Putin says that any other people who do the same thing and try to assert themselves are anti-Russian, illegitimate, and violent — “terrorists.” In particular, Ukraine and Ukrainians are “artificial,” illegitimate, and violent. He repeatedly labels them as “Nazis.”

Putin present his thesis clearly: he didn’t start the war with Ukraine; Ukraine did, and he’s trying to stop the war. In this imperial history, Putin is the benevolent peacemaker defending the ever-natural Russian “Motherland.”

This is imperial history and psychology 101: “Our violence isn’t violent; it’s legitimate and sacred nationhood. Their resistance isn’t legitimate; it’s violent and they don’t even exist.”

  1. Dictatorial Paternalism

Throughout these two hours, Putin gave a long lecture on Russian innocence and pride — and everyone else’s guilt and shame, with some exceptions like China. Putin presents himself as a law-abiding victim who has been wronged and violated by everyone who questions him and doesn’t want his overlordship.

More particularly, Putin presents himself as a loving father who must prevent his foolish child Ukraine from promoting Nazism and losing its Russian identity. His message is essentially, “Do what I say, and everything will be as it should be.”

This was entirely predictable. Dictators in other contexts follw the same approach. Putin said nothing surprising from the framework of Russian imperial history and authoritarian politics. He presents himself as basically omniscient (except when forgetting is a sign of indifference or not knowing appears humble), objective, commonsensical, unquestionable, imaginative, and ethical.

The Putin that Carlson presents to the world wants what is good for Russia and the world. Again, do what he says and all will be well.

  1. Tucker’s Silence about Russian Oppression and Ukrainian Suffering

Tellingly, as Putin says all of this, Tucker never once asks him about the mass imprisonment of critics of the Russian government or the political assassinations within Russia. He doesn’t say a word about the catastrophic destruction of whole areas of Ukraine and the documented killing and raping of Ukrainian civilians. Tucker’s silence regarding the suffering of actual Ukrainian people was quite telling. The lack of interest in the crushing of political dissent in Russia was noteworthy.

Tucker’s severe face periodically cracks. He begins to smile and is seemingly in awe of Putin the imperial historian, praising his “encyclopedic knowledge.” He seems to fawn over Putin and relish being in his presence. (Recall Tucker’s intro remark that he was taken by Putin’s “sincerity.”) As Putin talks, Tucker’s edited video feed cuts out and shows historical photos and videos illustrating Putin’s points. These props seemingly corroborate Putin’s interpretations and assertions of facts and events. It was hard not to see these edits as subtle ways of saying, “This guy is telling the truth; you can trust him,” even as Putin’s words were full of half-truths and blatant lies.

  1. Tucker Tees Up Putin on the US

When it comes to the US, Putin speaks to the key talking points in the American culture wars: the southern border, immigration, debt, “conservative” vs “liberal” values. He positions himself as an ally of “conservative” America.

Tucker then speaks of a weakening dollar and tees up Putin to fuel American paranoia of a lost grip on global power.

At minute 84, Tucker tees up a second Trump presidency as key for world peace.

At minute 95, Tucker tees up Putin to talk about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as triggered by the US.

At minute 98, he presents President Zelensky as the pawn of foreign powers, though Putin takes this lead in another direction.

  1. Tucker Tees Up Putin the “Christian Leader”

A significant segment of the interview started at minute 101: Tucker presents Putin as a “Christian leader,” and invites Putin to explain how he understands being a “Christian leader.” It seems that Tucker expects his American Christian audience to be surprised and delighted by this gobble — to hear Vladimir Putin speak of his “Christian” faith.

Putin speaks of the Russian imperial overlords getting baptized, then baptizing their military, and then baptizing the entire population, even as he speaks of respecting others. Russia is the Christian “Motherland” – “one big family” with “traditional values” as “the basis of our society.” Putin outlines an imperial yet seemingly friendly Christianity.

Sadly, the friendliness of imperial religion – including imperial Christianity – is always a fiction, past and present. And Tucker seems to understand that some of his American Christian audience might be uncomfortable with Putin “the Christian leader” invading another country. So at minute 105, Tucker tees up Putin to explain how he can be a Christian (with Christianity being nonviolent) and still use military violence.

Putin knows his audience and responds shrewdly. He says that he merely wants to defend his “family” and “homeland” and “would not attack anyone.” He says his religion is “about the heart” and concerned with “the eternal,” claiming that Dostoyevsky described “the Russian soul.”

But it seems Tucker wants Putin to speak more to his American audience in a language that will move them more personally. Talk of “baptism” may come off as dry. So he asks Putin to get more “supernatural” (Tucker’s understanding of American psychology and how it is signaled by specific vocabulary is keen). He asks Putin, “Do you see God at work in the world?” Interestingly, Putin says no and states that human life follows fixed laws.

This was obviously the wrong answer. But Putin had said more than enough: he’s a Christian leader concerned with the heart who merely wants to protect his family and homeland and would never attack anyone.

  1. The American Fascination with Dictators

Dictators are charismatic. They always claim ancientness, authenticity, justice, and faith through their monologuing. They are the “good father” who merely want good for their family.

Tucker claimed to do this interview in the name of “free speech” and learning more about a man “the media” has suppressed. He introduces the interview by saying he was shocked by Putin’s “sincerity.” But what he did was give a global platform for Putin to present his propaganda. After one day, the video had over a hundred million views and over a quarter of a million comments.

That’s fine. Thinking people should be able to listen, think for themselves, and see through this propaganda. But Tucker made a significant decision: he asserted that one of the most powerful dictators in the world, who has unleashed devastating violence on millions of people, should have access to even more power. Tucker’s fascination with and coddling of a war-waging dictator is troubling in itself. It’s even more troubling in a time when more than one in three Americans (38%) believe that the United States is so badly off track that they would support an authoritarian leader to try to fix it.

  1. Three Last Thoughts

First, imperial Christianity is just another political religion and a weapon of power-hungry men. The empire executed Jesus 2000 years ago and continues to do so today. Putin displayed this afresh in his interview, despite his smiles, smooth words, and false assurances. Followers of Jesus must not mistake imperial Christianity for the movement Jesus started and calls us to continue today.

Second, I agree with Putin on this point: the US cannot act like an empire and dominate the world, and attempting to do so is destructive. Law-bound cooperation between societies is essential for basic justice and peace in our interconnected world. If this is true, then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the opposite of this cooperation and an expression of Russian imperialism. Putin baldly contradicts himself.

Last and most importantly, millions of Ukrainians are in extraordinary suffering today as millions in the West listen to Putin lecture about Russian victimhood and innocence. Russian forces have apocalyptically devastated whole areas of Ukraine. They have systematically killed and raped Ukrainian civilians. The war crimes and atrocities are abhorrent.

It is appalling, if not astonishing, that Tucker Carlson never once bothered to ask Putin about this grave evil against real people made in God’s image. Instead, he allowed Putin to conclude by literally erasing Ukrainians, reasserting the innocence of the Russian military, and centralizing the Russian Orthodox Church as the heart of this imperial violence. In fact, Putin invited Tucker to follow up with more questions. But Tucker said, “No, I think that’s great!”

The whole interview was an extraordinary missed opportunity to express even basic compassion, much less justice and accountability, for the suffering of millions of Ukrainians and also millions of Russians under Putin’s violent dictatorship.

Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). It seems we are in a time of rising sympathy for lawless, murderous dictators, especially those who claim to be “Christians,” claim to defend “the church,” and claim to promote “family values.”

Let us not forget: Adolf Hitler made all of these claims and did so with convincing “sincerity.” As he did so, he murdered millions of people and as many as 89% of the pastors in some regions of Germany pledged their loyalty to him.

This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer responded then. His words carry prophetic urgency still now:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power and with its defense for the weak… Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offense, more shock to the world than it is doing. Christianity should […] take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential right of the strong.” (Bonhoeffer’s Complete Works 13:401-402)

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