American conservatives often act the bully while playing the victim. On one hand, they believe their creed is the only true American one — often referring to themselves as “center-right” rather than “conservative” to make it seem more so — and dismiss any liberal principles as absurd, adding the ominous refrain, “This is why Trump won.”
There have been many fine examples of the conservative victimhood reflex, but none more absurd than the Kevin D. Williamson affair. On March 22, the Atlantic hired the ultra-right columnist, but then canned him last week after he continued insisting that women who have abortions should be executed by hanging. After the firing, every conservative in America fell to the pitch holding their dignity.
As mentioned in last week’s column, when liberals reacted negatively to Williamson’s hiring, conservatives affected not to know what the big deal was — they often hid from their readers Williamson’s actual radical position while portraying him as a normal “pro-life” dude.
Very few conservatives — outside American Thinker columnists and Idaho state senators — believe, or admit to believing, that women who have abortions should be executed. Most prefer the subterfuge of convicting and possibly executing the abortion doctor on grounds they seldom explain, but which presumably have to do with the desire to win elections outside the Deep South. (Or, as Ross Douthat put it, “pregnancy is unique in ways that mitigate culpability and make it unwise to treat abortion like a normal homicide, that the government can only go so far in restriction without becoming a reproductive police state,” which is basically the same thing translated into Pedant.)
In response to the controversy, the Atlantic’s editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg admitted awareness of a single “horrible tweet” in which Williamson called for abortion recipients’ deaths, but said, “I expect that Kevin will explain this tweet himself when he gets here.” Apparently Williamson did explain himself, and it didn’t go well; also, Goldberg apparently listened to a tape of Williamson repeating his execution sentiments in a podcast. Goldberg fired him on April 5.
You might expect conservatives to have a few laughs at Goldberg’s expense (as I did!) and then get back to destroying the country. After all, the Atlantic only has slightly more than a half a million subscribers, and it is fair to assume that few Trump voters have read or even seen it. But conservatives reacted as if Williamson had been prevented from publishing anywhere, rather than just in a liberal magazine that was within its legal right not to employ him.
“Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views,” tweeted Noah Rothman of Commentary. “This is chilling.” “This is not about a bad tweet or a bad view,” tweeted CNN commentator Erick Erickson. “It is about the left wanting a monopoly on the public square so none can be exposed to competing ideas.” Once again, a conservative had been denied the right to a column in a liberal magazine. Had these editors not read the Constitution?
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit reckoned “Jeffrey Goldberg couldn’t stand up to the triggered social-justice warriors among his staff.”
Some conservatives continued, despite the publicity, to mask Williamson’s actual beliefs. National Review’s David French — who did this when Williamson was hired, and kept it up when he was fired — alluded to Williamson’s view by comparing it with his own: “I’m a moderate, you see. If abortion is ever criminalized in this nation, I think only the abortionist (and not the mother) should face murder charges for poisoning, crushing, or dismembering a living child.” In the words of Curly from the Three Stooges, Nggyahahahah.
Matthew Continetti, in a National Review sputterfest comparing young New York Times journalists “concerned that the paper is not as progressive and socially conscious as it could or should be” to “the ‘No Platform’ movement,” said Williamson was “hired by The Atlantic only to be terminated a week later over his views on abortion. (Needless to say, those views are pro-life.) Indeed, even the language of the announcement of Williamson’s firing, which accused him of ‘violent’ speech, echoed the denunciations of student activists.” What’s violent about the legal authority of the hangman, snowflakes?
Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the Daily Wire, said — literally! — “This Is How You Got Trump.” You see, “the Left” has been “unleashing a war” on the “very existence” of conservatives, Shapiro said, which is “why so many on the Right were relatively unperturbed by President Trump winking at the alt-right.… Right-wingers were willing (wrongly) to make common cause with truly bad human beings in order to fight back in that war.… That shouldn’t happen. But it does. And the Left causes such reactionary politics with its censorship and slander.” This message was brought to you by the Party of Personal Responsibility.
Given the ostensibly intellectual cast of the discussion, it may seem weird that down-market rightwing Twitter aggregator Twitchy was all over the story with no fewer than ten posts on the subject, including, “NAILED IT: Guy Benson sums up Kevin Williamson’s firing in just THREE words”; “‘You’re SICK’! Blue-checked feminist capitalizes on Kevin Williamson’s firing in ‘truly disgusting’ way”; and “Narrative BUSTED: Here’s proof Kevin Williamson is ‘NOT the monster the Left wants him to be.’ ” (If you’re wondering what that last one can possibly mean, it’s a reiteration of Williamson’s call to only kill future abortion-having women, not past ones. Remember, he’s not the monster the left wants him to be!)
But really, the subject is more suitable to an outrage generator like Twitchy than the fancy-pants pundits I’ve mostly quoted. These arguments don’t have to make any sense — they just have to make someone mad. Williamson’s oppression by blue-checked feminists and the no-platform crowd is now part of the conservative hit list, which they can reference whenever their faith falters in their terrible candidates and unpopular policies. What the hell, inchoate rage got ’em this far, and it’s not like they can write a decent protest song.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 9, 2018