Twitter has been raging lately about — well, ok, to be more specific: some of Twitter’s raging these days has been about National Review writer Kevin Williamson, recently elevated to the lofty pages of The Atlantic. Liberals predictably came out in force against this hiring of a right-wing firebrand to a left-of-center publication, as they do with their periodic paroxysms re: NY Times conservatives like Bret Stephens. And conservatives, of course, rose to his defense, both within NR and without.
This really touched a nerve for me because Williamson was for many years my go-to writer on the right. Rare was the day when I didn’t check NRO at least once to see if a Williamson article had shown up. His technical skill with turning a sentence is unmatched by virtually any political writer of either side, as even his detractors are forced to agree. And back when I considered myself a liberal, he usually presented arguments in such a way that forced me to consider both the conservative position and my own. Is capitalism really what my Trotskyite undergrad U.S. history prof said it was? Is the plight of your average poor person really entirely the fault of The System or The Man? I’ve written about Williamson or his pieces probably more than any other conservative writer in these oh-so-glamorous pages, precisely because his work is so interesting.
Sure, he engaged in trolling. His infamous column bashing Laverne Cox seemed to me more inflammatory and mean-spirited than it needed to be to get the point across. On the other hand, he (or his editors) could claim it was precisely as inflammatory as it needed to be to generate clicks. Hey, these are the rules of punditry in the age of social media, they could argue — publish, and more importantly, SEO, or perish. Williamson is hardly the first to intentionally rattle a few cages in order to garner a trending topic or two. Also, his ill-advised tweet that he wanted to see women who had abortions hanged had more than a little air of the hyperbole to it — but on the other hand, nobody would have talked about him if he hadn’t said that, right? An Oscar Wilde quote does spring to mind.
And Williamson seemed invulnerable to some of the more nefarious forces fundamentally reshaping conservatism over the last two years. Yes, I’m talking about the yuge you-know-who, and his total and complete domination of the conservative worldview, its major political party, most of its major websites, its TV network; everything. From day one, Williamson was against that “witless ape,” sensing before practically anyone else the mortal threat Trump presented against the conservatism of Goldwater and Buckley. And he was right: Even Williamson’s one-time editor, Rich Lowry, mastermind of NR’s “Against Trump” issue, eventually found it necessary to prostitute himself and WFB’s magazine to the men of #MAGA. Although Williamson shared the NR masthead with a couple of other NeverTrump dead-enders, Jonah Goldberg and David French, it was clear the money behind the magazine knew which way the winds were blowing, and that Williamson’s days in good standing with the magazine were numbered.
With that background, it made perfect sense for Williamson to enthusiastically accept the offer to write for a mainstream publication. I should have been celebrating such a talented, Trump-skeptic righty to reach such an influential and important editorial position, warts and all. And I would have, except for one insurmountable, irreconcilable column, one that goes against and in fact renders utterly irrelevant everything else mentioned so far, one that revealed Williamson’s shtick to be just that, an act, a charade, a dancing-bear routine from the ground up, not just shaped on the edges here and there to step up a few notches in Facebook’s algorithms but built entirely of nothing but sawdust.
This column celebrating Mark Levin — Mark Levin — as a great conservative thinker.
For conservatives, think of a liberal who you mostly disagree with, but one that you nevertheless respect. A liberal that, wrong as he or she may be on abortion and taxes and so forth, writes her arguments so effectively that you really have to consider her point of view. More importantly, she really has you convinced she’s arguing from good faith, as opposed to all those flag-burning, SJW, caucasian-hating lefty crazies you see on social media all the damn time.
Now imagine that as you’re visiting your favorite liberal’s site one morning over coffee, you read her column celebrating the life and works of Louis Farrakhan, or Bill Ayers. With nary a hint of criticism.
That’s how I felt about Williamson after that piece. There is no reconciling what used to seem like his honest observations, with his propping up one of the most insidious, the most negative, the most cynical, the most dastardly voices in all of American politics today, of either side. There is no reconciling this with his much-ballyhooed public feud with Sean Hannity, not when the only material difference between Levin and Hannity is roughly twenty IQ points.
Because just like Hannity, Levin is intentionally and deliberately tearing this country apart. He is daily telling his viewers, not about the goodness of Republican values or the purity of a pro-life stance, but how much they must hate, and yes I mean *HATE*, the other side. Obama, Hillary, Schumer, sure. But not just them. Levin wants you to hate THEM — the amorphous “them,” which clearly means the regular people of blue states or Democratic voters, even your liberal friends and neighbors — just as much as Mao wanted his people to hate bourgeois counter-revolutionaries, and this is not an exaggeration. Just like Hannity, Mark Levin’s work is nothing but almost entirely negative, hostile, and dedicated to pitting American against American. And just like Hannity, Levin includes only the most gossamer of conservative trappings to justify his program of unalloyed rage.
Also not an exaggeration: his vision of literally tearing apart the country. Mark Levin’s end-goal — that is to say, America’s end — is the the Article V Convention, where men such as Levin will succeed where Jefferson Davis and Bill Ayers and Vladmir Putin and countless other enemies of the United States of America failed, and sunder the 50 states apart. And they will do it legally.
Levin does this just for the ratings, one may argue. Sure, that’s part of it. But he’s not somehow making this up. Nobody could put on this kind of act for many decades and not mean it. Mark Levin is Mike Cernovich, he’s Chuck C. Johnson, he’s Seb Gorka, he’s Roger Stone, and the only difference is that Levin’s been doing their schtick for decades before any of the above clawed their ways into wider public knowledge from the septic tank known as “2016.”
Williamson does not laud Levin, and then turn around and slam Hannity, out of any kind of moral, philosophical, or even honest motive. He’s just obviously pals with Levin. And in turn, his little spat with Hannity must certainly have been fueled only by some kind of personal animus or incident, not privy to us, perhaps from some long-ago party or green-room incident, but which has absolutely nothing to do with the grave immorality of Hannity’s, or Levin’s message. Hell, I made an earlier comparison to Cernovich, but at least the latter still clings to pretensions of trying to help the country.
I tried reconciling Williamson’s deep respect for such a malignant anti-American with what I had thought of him. But it was impossible on its face. It was game-breaking. That column was incompatible with Kevin Williamson being a beneficial, or even honest, writer.
He is different than other impolite, Trump-skeptic right-wingers such as Erick Erickson and Ben Shapiro in that there is no doubt that the latter two believe what they say. Even if, especially in case of Shapiro, they dress it up with trappings fit for a modern audience. Hate him and his politics all you want, but Shapiro’s intellectual honesty earned him more anti-Semitic backlash from Trump supporters than anyone else on Twitter; and Erickson’s refusal to kneel before Zod got his ass fired from FoxNews. All three of these guys are equally offensive to liberals, but only one holds up Mark Levin as some kind of hero.
There is no going back from Williamson’s propping up of one of the most odious, most despicable men of talk radio as some kind of leading intellectual. That column is a smoking gun. It is a pee tape. It is a failed drug test right before the Olympics. It is automatically disqualifying, and not a word Williamson ever writes again can be seen as anything but a conspiracy against his readers again.