The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The ‘Controversial’ Kevin Williamson

Posted on | March 24, 2018 | Comments Off on The ‘Controversial’ Kevin Williamson


If you want to know what excellent journalism looks like, go read “The White Ghetto,” Kevin D. Williamson’s 2014 travelogue of Appalachia:

There used to be two movie theaters here — a regular cinema and a drive-in. Both are long gone. The nearest Walmart is nearly an hour away. There’s no bookstore, the nearest Barnes & Noble being 55 miles away and the main source of reading matter being the horrifying/hilarious crime blotter in the local weekly newspaper. Within living memory, this town had three grocery stores, a Western Auto and a Napa Auto Parts, a feed store, a lumber store, a clothing shop, a Chrysler dealership, a used-car dealership, a skating rink — even a discotheque, back in the 1970s. Today there is one grocery store, and the rest is as dead as disco. . . .

Read the whole thing. It’s both highly informative and highly readable, because Williamson is an elegant writer. Instead of clobbering readers over the head with political talking-points, he just tells the story and lets readers draw their own conclusions. It’s what used to be called New Journalism, the stuff that Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson started doing in the 1960s. An unsuspecting reader might not realize that the purpose of Williamson’s expedition to Booneville, Kentucky, was to illustrate a point made 20 years earlier by a Harvard University psychology professor and a famous political scientist.

On pp. 520-521 of The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray briefly explore the topic of “The Emerging White Underclass.” Because their 1994 book was denounced as “racist” (facts are the new “hate”), no journalists at that time bothered searching for anecdotal evidence to illustrate their thesis about the correlation between intelligence and various socioeconomic problems. Williamson never invoked Herrnstein and Murray’s work in his 2014 article about the hopeless poverty of Owsley County, Kentucky, but anyone familiar with The Bell Curve could see that “The Emerging White Underclass” has now definitely emerged — and this is an important political fact.

The election of Donald Trump shocked our nation’s decadent elite, and Williamson’s work for National Review qualified him to explain the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon of Trumpism to the elite, most of whom have never set foot in a place like Owsley County, Kentucky. It is interesting to note that Trump got 84% of the vote in Owsley County, a bellwether of the Fear and Loathing in post-Obama America.

Kevin D. Williamson was announced Thursday as one of two new columnists for The Atlantic, a publication read by our decadent elite, and Williamson’s hiring immediately provoked howls of outrage:

It’s obvious why The Atlantic hired Williamson, however. First, more than most other imitators, Williamson has really nailed the Buckleyite tradition of espousing virulent racism while convincing some liberals that he’s got something important to say. Second, Williamson is an anti-Trumper, which fits in nicely with the trend of hiring the kind of conservatives who are completely irrelevant within their own movement anymore.
For Goldberg, hiring Williamson and a radical black thinker like Kendi at the same time seems like a coup that proves The Atlantic is a publication that fosters debate between people who subscribe to opposite ideological views. (From the Atlantic’s advertising materials: “We reach thinking people — and make them think harder.”)
But much of Williamson’s writing is just a better articulated version of thoughts that MAGA types say on a regular basis.

Well, what shall we say to this? Isn’t everybody to the right of Bernie Sanders now subject to denunciation as a “virulent racist”? And isn’t this a basic reason why Trump was elected in 2016? After eight years of Obama, a lot of white people in America are sick and tired of being called “racist” merely for disagreeing with Democrats. Voting for Trump was a symbolic middle finger waved in the faces of all those snooty Ivy League liberals — Obama with his Harvard Law degree, Hillary with her Yale Law degree — who have prospered while presiding over the decline of their nation. Is Williamson, despite being an “anti-Trumper,” merely offering “a better articulated version” of the “thoughts” behind Trumpism? Or is it rather that Williamson is interested in the facts which (a) explain Trumpism, but which (b) liberals prefer to ignore?

We are living through a Buffalo Springfield “For What It’s Worth” moment in our history. There’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear. Williamson’s reporting helps us make sense of why there’s a man with a gun over there telling us we’ve got to beware.

The quality of his reporting, however, means nothing to liberals, who consider Williamson unacceptable because of his opinions. During a 2014 Twitter quarrel with Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, Williamson tossed out the suggestion that, because abortion is homicide, it ought to be criminalized as such and, because he supports the death penalty, Williamson proposed death by hanging as the penalty.

When arguing moot points — because obviously, the Roe v. Wade ruling relegates such a debate to the realm of hypothetical speculation — the participants cannot be presumed to be advocating policy in a serious manner. It’s not as if any state legislature is likely to defy federal authority, enact the policy Williamson described, and begin hanging women who get abortions. Therefore, intelligent people must regard Williamson’s Twitter remarks as provocative sarcasm.

It’s like debating what the age of consent should be for the daughters of future settlers of a proposed colony on Mars. Unless and until Elon Musk actually manages to get his space colony project going, speculations about laws to govern human life on Mars have no practical effect. If an eminent space lawyer like Professor Glenn Reynolds were to declare that, in the interest of rapid growth of the colonial population, it should be legal for Martian girls to marry at age 12, no intelligent person would accuse him of being an advocate of child molestation. Similarly, if I were to propose that child molesters should be exiled to Mars, no one could accuse me of advocating a breach of the Eighth Amendment, because such a punishment is not (yet) possible. Some imaginative science-fiction writer might be inspired to write a novel exploring these ideas (“Pedophiles in Space! Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture!”) but in the meantime it’s all moot — a hypothetical debate, in the same way Williamson’s idea of hanging women for abortion is hypothetical.

On the other hand, Williamson has more recently argued, abortion is definitely wrong, and is related to other social problems:

You mustn’t kill your children.
Many Christians believe that in separating sex from its procreative function contraception has deformed the family, fatherhood and motherhood, and sex itself. There is something to that, I think.

Insofar as Williamson’s Twitter remarks were an error, it was because he made the mistake of arguing with a fool. No wise person would bother arguing with Charles Johnson about anything, as I’m sure Williamson must now realize. He’s no longer on Twitter anyway, so unless anyone fears that his editors at The Atlantic would hit the “publish” button on some such egregious opinion piece, advocates of abortion can relax.

Americans have more important problems to worry about, like how to keep our daughters away from science-fiction fans . . .




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