Poor Atlantic Monthly. They just hired Kevin Williamson. He’s their worst prose writer since David Frum, and their worst idea since they advertised for Scientology.
Strangely enough, I have a connection with Williamson. I’m from Lubbock, Texas. So is Williamson. We’ve never met, but we went down similar paths: he worked at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the same paper I wrote for when I was a gentle teen. He grew a questionable beard, I grew to laugh at men with questionable beards. After hearing of his elevation to the Atlantic, I dared to hope we had some kind of furtive soul-bond, like DeNiro and the other guy in Heat. Unfortunately, after minutes of the most intensive meditation, I could not summon him. So I decided to do old-fashioned “research,” and I asked around. Near as I could tell, in his West Texas days, Williamson was a non-entity.
I can guess why. Williamson is an elitist—that’s the scientific term for a crossword-puzzle fan with illusions. I love Lubbock. Williamson, on the other hand, only uses our mutual hometown for rhetorical points:
You wouldn’t think that I’d be steeped in liberalism growing up in Lubbock, Texas … But you would be wrong. Even in those few happy places where conservatives can prevail politically, the Left owns the culture.
I can speak with twenty years of Lubbock experience: Williamson has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. In retrospect, Williamson’s lack of presence is prophetic: he had a similar obscurity before the Atlantic Monthly decided to elevate him. Indeed, it was this rootless appeal that made the Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg fall for him. In a memo to staff, Goldberg wrote:
The larger question is this: What am I trying to accomplish by having Kevin write for us? The first answer is this: He’s an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively. I happen to think that conservatives made ideologically homeless by the rise of Trump are some of the most interesting people in America, and I want to read them whenever I can.
Here’s how The Cut, a bit more objective, put it:
Williamson, who had previously worked at the National Review, is just the latest in a string of conservative writers hired by center-left publications in some sort of frantic quest for ideological diversity in the wake of Trump’s election.
After mentioning his terrible takes, they added:
... Otherwise, it appears as if he’s managed to get this gig by positioning himself as a “Never Trump” conservative — you know, those guys who agree with Trump on 95 percent of his platform but clutch their pearls when it comes to how he presents himself.
For most pundits, you have to dig. But Williamson’s beauties are so abundant, it’s like searching for regret in New Orleans.
Here’s Williamson writing about Laverne Cox, a transgender woman:
The world is abuzz with news that actor Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. ... As I wrote at the time of the Manning announcement, Bradley Manning is not a woman. Neither is Laverne Cox.
Here is Williamson referring to a nine-year-old as a primate:
‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?”
Here is Williamson arguing that women who have abortions should be hanged—one in four American women.
In a September 28, 2014 conversation with centrist blogger Charles Johnson, Williamson made his position on the issue of abortion clear. Johnson asked Williamson if he thought women who obtain abortions should be charged with murder. To which Williamson replied, “Yes, I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.”
When asked to clarify how this might play out in real life, Williamson said: I have hanging more in mind.
Here he is unironically comparing Cliven Bundy to Gandhi:
Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition.
Williamson is a specialist in clumsy analogies. Here is he discussing the appeal of Bernie:
He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.
Here’s Williamson showing respect for Gabby Giffords:
While Ms. Giffords certainly has my sympathy for the violence she suffered, it should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions, nor does it give one moral license to call people “cowards” for holding public-policy views at variance with one’s own. Her childish display in the New York Times is an embarrassment.
Here is Williamson at his most honest, telling us what poor working people should do:
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.
Williamson refers to blue-collar families in “my own native West Texas” as “the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog.” It’s an old shtick. Here’s the sage discussing the “White Ghetto”:
The lesson of the Big White Ghetto is the same as the lessons we learned about the urban housing projects in the late 20th century: The best public-policy treatment we have for poverty is dilution. But like the old project towers, the Appalachian draw culture produces concentration, a socioeconomic Salton Sea that becomes more toxic every year.
You get the idea. But, in truth, it is a mistake to focus on Williamson the person. He’s a symptom, not a cause. The only interesting thing about Williamson, and this entire shabby affair, is that this dreadful bore has been hired by the Atlantic, of all places. Why?
Williamson has horrible beliefs, but he’s hardly the only adder in the basement. Breitbart is available from any laptop. If Williamson was rendered aphasic by the inexplicable whim of our all-loving God, there would be a dozen bearded weirdos lining up to take his place. The system that raised Williamson up would find a new ranter to big-league. And that’s the mystery: why?
In an article for AlterNet titled “Why are major newspapers and magazines hiring so many right-wing cranks?” Jacob Bacharach considers the strange addiction of Establishment platforms toward two-note reactionary hacks:
Many of the most loudly contested recent hires have been of so-called Never Trump conservatives, a cohort of exactly four-dozen people in three zip codes. Fortunately for them, they do have a natural constituency, which consists entirely of the editors of prestige publications.
These editors, Bacharach writes, have chosen to treat Trump as something new in American politics. Bacharach points out that “racist savagery” has always been endemic to American politics. Trump just made it explicit. “But a lot of tedious cranks seem to be popping up in the upper echelons of opinion journalism these days, and it does well to ask why.”
The editors and publishers will tell you that it is so that their overwhelmingly liberal audiences may be exposed to new ideas … In their fantasy, there remain two broadly similar and functional political parties whose respective ideologies meet in a nebulous but desirable middle, wherein reasonable men and their reasonable institutions can yet function as they ever have. ... This genteel fiction permits the mandarins of respectable media to indulge the most preposterous fiction of them all, which is that the modern conservative movement in America isn’t absolutely and irredeemably deranged.
See, Establishment publications swear by “diversity.” But what is their so-called diversity worth? A tough question, but I’ll take a swing at it. Judging by their hires, diversity means the following: No socialists, anarchists, communists, Christian anti-imperialists. Oh, and no monarchists, no transhumanists, no conservative Muslims or nationalist Hindus or bioconservatives. And, what’s this? No anti-capitalist libertarians, no radical environmentalists, no dominionists. Tough luck for anarcho-naturists or illegalists, for Catholic mutualists and Maoists. No autarchists, indigenists, or agrarianists. No room in the inn for Black Conservatives or Carlists, Chicana Feminists, or agorists. What is left? I think we know.
Media diversity sounds great in theory, but in practice this always amounts to a warmed-over collection of spineless Dems, and the most reactionary NeverTrumpers they can shanghai from the fever swamp.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that Establishment Diversity is always the same coalition of mega-brains that argued for our invasion of Iraq. And that’s the point: the reasonable people have to watch each other’s backs. After Donald Trump was inaugurated, the range of Acceptable Opinion was officially extended to the anti-Trump right … regardless of their horrible beliefs. All was forgiven. The recent right-wing hiring jubilee is simply the institutional recognition of this fact.
The diversity of the Atlantic is the diversity of every major American publication. A knock-kneed, cowardly, cringing, fearful, fretful, mannered, hair’s-breadth selection of the political continuum. It’s a spectrum about a millimeter wide, and most of us aren’t in it. If you hate Trump, love drone strikes, and are scared of Bernie, you’ve got a job for life in New York.
The goal of these magazines is not to court ideological diversity. That’s plain. Their mission is to make the Establishment’s positions palatable to the periodical-reading population. Outside of the billionaire class, these readers are the most fiercely-courted class of Americans. The “liberal” and “conservative” writers for respectable publications are not there to represent our interests; they are there to sell the Establishment’s views to their respective audiences.
These days, establishment liberals are as gullible as ever to conservative grifters. Yet the nature of liberal willingness has changed. In the old days, the conservative in question had to at least pretend that they cared about the rights of people of color and women. But that pretense isn’t necessary anymore. The Post hired Megan McArdle, who quibbled about the economics of poor people burning to death. The Times hired, then fired, Quinn Norton, who used slurs online. The Times hired and kept Bret Stephens, who thinks science is an optional belief when rich people are on the other side. The only disqualifying mark for right-wingers—I mean, literally the only one—is that they oppose Donald Trump. Williamson wrote a piece literally titled “I Am Cancer.” Why didn’t the Atlantic take him at his word?