Many of you loved nick’s post on Kevin Williamson–so I figure it belongs on the front page. Enjoy, everybody!
Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg climbed out on a limb last month to add conservative fire-breather and Never Trumper Kevin D. Williamson of National Review to join his growing staff. On Thursday, Goldberg retreated to a safe place near the trunk and proceeded to saw off the branch, casting Williamson down to the ignominy of unemployment.
After hiring Stephens and Weiss at the Times and McCardle at the Post, hiring Williamson was not “climbing out on a limb” — it was following a trend in which editors at liberal or centrist publications invoke “intellectual diversity” to justify hiring people with abhorrent views. James Bennett wrote his defense of precisely this sort of hiring not two months ago.
The sacking of the barely hired Williamson brought joy to everybody to the writer’s left, which is to say the better part of the universe. Media Matters for America earned an assist in his firing by drawing pointers to his inflammatory back pages, which helped stir up opposition to him. The organization danced on his pink slip when Goldberg let him go, as did NARAL, Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti, Politico Magazine contributing editor Virginia Heffernan, Paste’s Jason Rhode, the American Prospect’s Adele M. Stan and many others.
Hmm. NARAL, Valenti, Heffernan. Maybe he’s going to quote these reactions, or tell us why Williamson was fired, or excerpt those “inflammatory back pages.”
I, however, did not dance. I’ve long admired Williamson’s writing, if not his ideas, for the way he’s internalized Michael Kinsley’s warning that if you’re afraid to go too far, you won’t go far enough. Williamson almost always goes too far, taking his arguments to thought frontiers where there are no roads, no mobile phone service and sometimes barely enough air to breathe. For examples of the Williamson oeuvre, see these National Review pieces arguing against reparations, decrying the mainstreaming of transgender rights, critiquing the “white working class” and dismissing the idea of “white supremacy.”
No, not going to quote any of those women. Just going to sing Williamson’s praises. And of course, his ideas are bad, but let’s all internalize Jack Shafer’s maxim that the quality of your ideas hardly matters when your own prose style asphyxiates you, or causes your readers to lose mobile reception, or something.
Since the rise of Donald Trump, Williamson has emerged as maybe the most eloquent and forceful internal critic of that part of the white working class that went for Trump. He’s a blue-collar Texan who regularly lets his fellow blue-collar white people have it for their moral failures, for their embrace of a strongman, for letting the “American values” they purport to stand for decay into a swamp of self-pity and conspiracy-mongering. He has become the center-left’s favorite righty firebrand, and it’s not hard to see why Goldberg wanted him aboard. But once you get beyond the anti-Trumpism, he also holds a lot of social positions the center-left loathes, and he’s ferociously good at articulating them. He’s the kind of writer comfortable liberals ignore at their peril.
Let’s set aside that he’s not the center left’s favorite righty firebrand. The center left’s favorite “righties” are not writing where Williamson is writing because they don’t want millions of women dead, or at least don’t say so. But let’s just table that.
Every Williamson article contains strong meat, which has led his detractors to dismiss him as a troll. But that’s not who he is. He’s really more of an ogre who loves to take arguments to the breaking point in hopes of shocking readers with his cold, unbound logic. Where other writers might serve 7 percent alcohol in their brew, Williamson likes to up his percentage to 20. Where other writers might stop at mean, Williamson keeps going all the way to cruel.
Shafer’s still winding us up. Williamson is an ogre with “cold, unbound logic.” Williamson likes, um, drinks with 20% ABV. He doesn’t stop at mean, he gets cruel. Cruel — to whom?
In case we didn’t get it already, Williamson’s writing is muscular, logical, high-alcohol, fearless, and therefore, manly. Super, super manly. Only the kind of swaggering manliness you get when you internalize the wisdom of [checks notes] Mike Kinsley. Even though Shafer doesn’t AGREE with ANYTHING he writes, he likes his beefy, thick prose.
I never read Williamson in hopes of seeking agreement. And on that score, he has almost never failed me. He’s not interested in building consensus or in gentle persuasion. He reduces all the grays to their black-and-white components. He pushes boundaries and doesn’t stop until he’s gone too far. In a 2014 piece about transgender actress Laverne Cox, for example, he dropped bombs when a sling-shot would have sufficed: “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.”
I nominate the first three sentences for the worst sex scene written in 2018. And when we finally get a piece of this amazing writing … It is, um, okay. Jack finds this exciting, apparently. Maybe it’s all the talk of hormones and male genitals and subordination.
Williamson’s fearlessness, originality and sense of intellectual adventure obviously appealed to Goldberg, who shares much of the man’s spirit if not his conservative politics. Indeed, in an internal email, Goldberg described Williamson as “an excellent reporter who covers parts of the country, and aspects of American life, that we don’t yet cover comprehensively,” adding that “the Atlantic should be a big tent for ideas and argument.” (Disclosure: Goldberg is a friend; I’ve never met Williamson.)
Telling Laverne Cox she will always be a man is intellectual adventure. Saying men are born with penises, and women have vaginas, and that’s just all there is to it, freaks, is original. And again we can rest assured that Shafer and his friend Goldberg don’t actually like anything Williamson has to say. Jack just has an ogregasm when he reads Williamson’s fearless intellectual adventures.
But wait a second, why was Williamson fired? I’m just grokking that Shafer has managed to totally skip that part.
That Goldberg invested in a feral conservative like Williamson spoke well for the Atlantic. The last thing the magazine needed was another house-broken righty like David Frum who would speak nicely to its largely liberal and centrist readers. But as it turned out, Goldberg’s tent wasn’t big enough to accommodate somebody of Williamson’s swagger. The writer’s proximate undoing was a tweet and then the discovery of a podcast in which he proposed hanging as the proper punishment for women who have abortions—a perfect example of a writer going too far. In the internal email announcing the departure, Goldberg justified the dismissal by writing that Williamson’s “callous and violent” comments run “contrary to the Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace,” and hinting that Williamson may have misrepresented the offending tweet as a momentary lapse rather than a deeply held belief.
David Frum is house-broken, and, good lord, Williamson’s “swagger” could not be “accommodated” — because talking about hanging millions of women is swagger. We finally find out what Williamson said to get himself shitcanned. But no quotes. Which is weird. Surely, his manly, cold, unbound logic deserves to be displayed in full, and Jack would never be such a coward as to not print it because it’s unpleasant.
It was this:
And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging. […] My broader point here is, of course, that I am a — as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general — but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code, sure. […] Yes, [abortion is] something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four year old kid, is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.
Waitasecond. Williamson is “squishy” about capital punishment? What happened to Rock BeefHard the Logic-Bringer? And he apparently thinks abortion is worse than murdering a 21-year old guy?
Let’s unpack that one. Women have abortions, but in the majority of cases, most 21-year-old murder victims are going to be killed by other men, not women. Not only are millions of women murderers who need hanging, they are also worse than millions of people, mostly men, who’ve actually been convicted of murder. Funny, that. It’s almost like he’s especially intent on punishing women. They’ve got to be not just murderers, but worse than your average male murderer.
Anyway, back to Shafer. I’m going to finish it all at once because I can’t keep the bile down anymore.
Without relitigating Williamson’s abortion views—which I don’t share—let’s agree that if he hadn’t been sent packing for his less–than-modern views on abortion, his critics would have griped about something else in his archives to engineer his removal. Let’s be real here: Kevin Williamson wasn’t sent packing for expressing strong language on abortion but for being Kevin Williamson. The very things that made him so appealing to Goldberg were destined to lead to his exit.
The loser here isn’t Williamson. Like other excellent writers who’ve gotten the ax, he’ll find a new job soon enough—and now he’s become the right’s latest free-speech martyr. The real losers are Atlantic writers and Atlantic readers—writers because they’ll become faint-hearted about their work (who wants to be the next Williamson?) and readers because the magazine will be less eager to challenge them.
Jeffrey Goldberg deserves our praise for having gone as far as he did to hire Williamson. Alas, he didn’t go far enough to keep him, and his rapid embrace and rejection make the Atlantic a lesser place.
The problem with this load of shit is, Williamson’s other columns were causing him trouble, but his repeated desire to see millions of women killed by hanging was what got him axed. The grotesque specificity, and the contempt for women it showed, did him in.
And do the Atlantic writers — a relatively small group — actually feel they are the losers here? Is @fivefifths going to become faint-hearted? Is Wesley Lowery? How did we spend the entire column talking about the virile specimen that is Williamson, only to say that the real losers are a group of writers whom Shafer does not name and whose actual opinions he doesn’t solicit?
In sum, fuck this creep and his defenders, who can’t make it through one column without letting us know what their real priorities are.