then I remembered “The Flight 93 Election”
I didn’t want to write about Kevin Williamson. I even emailed Kemberlee and Mary earlier this evening and told them I “don’t feel like writing about Kevin Williamson.”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you must not be on Twitter. Consider yourself lucky. Twitter is a pus pocket.
The short version of the story is that The Atlantic hired Williamson away from National Review to provide diversity of opinion to The Atlantic’s liberal audience. The reaction was pretty much like the reaction to the NY Times hiring Bret Stephens — an avalanche of recriminations and threats to cancel subscriptions.
Williamson was a particularly sharp instrument pushing against the liberal bubble because he’s anti-abortion. Very anti-abortion. So anti-abortion that he considers it murder, and that the perpetrators should be treated as murderers are treated in the judicial system.
While he’s not a big capital punishment fan, in a Ricochet podcast dug up by Media Matters, he reiterated that the same punishments applicable to murderers should be applied to those who kill the unborn, including the death penalty. He half-joked that he’s a fan of hanging. (It’s worth noting that punishing a woman who has an abortion is NOT the view of the pro-life movement, which considers women who have abortions also to be victims.)
Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor in Chief of The Atlantic hired Williamson knowing, at least in a general way, of his views on abortion. But the outcry was so sustained, that Goldberg capitulated to the social media mob, and fired Williamson.
It’s absolutely true that the firing was, as David French writes at National Review, cowardly. It’s also true that Ta-Nehisi Coates And Jessica Valenti ProveThe Atlantic’sHypocrisy On Kevin Williamson, as Warren Henry writes at The Federalist. And there are many other good takes out there.
My feeling as I watched this unfold on Twitter was that while The Atlantic certainly has the right to hire and fire people based on their views, the people seeking to get Williamson fired are the type of people who cannot be reasoned with. They need to be defeated.
But still, I wasn’t going to write about Kevin Williamson. My take was just not hot enough.
Then I saw a tweet that changed my mind.
On the Williamson firing. Read this from 2016.
You remember The Flight 93 Election post at The Claremont Review of Books. It published on September 5, 2016, and seemed to be a call to action for the presidential election:
2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.
To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024! …
We’ve established that most “conservative” anti-Trumpites are in the Orwellian sense objectively pro-Hillary. What about the rest of you? If you recognize the threat she poses, but somehow can’t stomach him, have you thought about the longer term? The possibilities would seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie liberalism as far as the eye can see … which, since nothing human lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three. Oh, and, I suppose, for those who like to pour a tall one and dream big, a second American Revolution that restores Constitutionalism, limited government, and a 28% top marginal rate.
But for those of you who are sober: can you sketch a more plausible long-term future than the prior four following a Trump defeat? I can’t either.
The election of 2016 is a test—in my view, the final test—of whether there is any virtù left in what used to be the core of the American nation. If they cannot rouse themselves simply to vote for the first candidate in a generation who pledges to advance their interests, and to vote against the one who openly boasts that she will do the opposite (a million more Syrians, anyone?), then they are doomed. They may not deserve the fate that will befall them, but they will suffer it regardless.
Williamson was Never Trump. In his first and only column at The Atlantic, Williamson also was Never Trump.
Victor Davis Hanson at National Review took exception to a swipe at him by Williamson in that first and only column at The Atlantic. Hanson wrote (emphasis added):
In the past, I have often enjoyed Kevin Williamson’s essays. Even when I found them occasionally incoherent and cruel, I thought it hardly my business to object to a colleague’s writing. But I gather, under changed circumstances, such deference no longer applies, given that in Williamson’s very first column at The Atlantic he attacks both me, and in a backhanded way, his former employer National Review for publishing a recent article I wrote.
Certainly, Kevin has expressed himself freely both in print and in interviews in ways that many thought were antithetical to the values of many conservatives — whether his idea that failing communities of the white working class “deserved to die,” or that those having or facilitating abortions should face execution. I assume that the attitude of the editors of National Review was that in the many millions of words that Williamson has written and spoken, his sometime use of profanity or over the top sensationalism was atypical, although certainly controversial, as he has now discovered at The Atlantic in our age of selective pull quotes that are used to stigmatize a writer’s entire body of work.
Sadly, I think Kevin Williamson will soon find that National Review was far more tolerant of his controversial views than will be true at The Atlantic. As I noted in the essay in question concerning progressives’ situational regulation, so too the Left also embraces situational free speech. Indeed, well before Williamson had even written his inaugural column, Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic, had defended his hiring of Williamson on grounds that he preferred “all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change,” and he further seemed delighted about Williamson’s promise to cease tweeting given that it would be interpreted as “a positive development and a sign of growth.”
That highlighted sentence was prophetic.
I take it that Williamson didn’t view the 2016 election as The Flight 93 Election. But it was.
So is the next one.DONATE
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