The Atlantic’s former editor, James Bennet, has been busy in the past year turning the New York Times opinion page into an even bigger source of frustration for its newsroom. His old place of employment is apparently looking to top those efforts.
On Thursday, the magazine — which is now led by Iraq War cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg — announced a new opinion and commentary section, “Ideas.” The staff of this new section includes two current Atlantic writers, economics writer Annie Lowrey and former MSNBC host and contributor Alex Wagner, and two new hires: the writer and academic Ibram X. Kendi and National Review columnist Kevin D. Williamson.
If it seems like Williamson sticks out like a sore thumb in this list, it’s because he does. Williamson himself acknowledged as much today in his farewell column for the National Review:
When asked why he sometimes wrote for Playboy, Bill Buckley said that he wanted to be sure that at least some of his work was seen by his son. I can’t say I know Christopher Buckley very well, but he never has struck me as the kind of pervert who reads Playboy for the articles. Still, I get the sentiment. And even though The Atlantic was founded by a bunch of sometime Republicans (Ralph Waldo Emerson et al., from whom our modern Republicans could learn a thing or two of value) it isn’t exactly what you’d call conservative. So like St. Paul, who also benefited from the services of a good editor, I will be an apostle to the Gentiles. I am very much looking forward to raising a brand new kind of hell.
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. In 2014, Williamson declared on Twitter that “the the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.” When asked if the punishment should be life without parole, Williamson responded: “I have hangings more in mind.”
Also in 2014, Williamson penned a column called “Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman,” in which he misgendered Cox throughout the entire piece and referred to gender affirmation surgery as “genital mutilation.” And three months later, Williamson started out a feature on the mostly poor and black St. Louis suburb of East St. Louis, IL by comparing a black child’s mannerisms to those of a monkey:
‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka! White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?”
Would the Atlantic have published this, or the Cox piece, or a longer argument for hanging women who get abortions? Is the Atlantic going to start publishing point/counterpoints on the humanity of trans people, or whether or not racism is real? Does the Atlantic’s largely middle-aged liberal readership want this?
There was no reason for the Atlantic to hire Williamson. Fans of either the writer or intellectual diversity might disagree and call that censorship or “illiberal,” but Williamson wrote for the publication that is the liberal Atlantic’s conservative mirror image for ten years. Who are the National Review’s progressive (or even socialist) writers debating and challenging not just the neoconservatism of editor Rich Lowry or populism of Trump, but the premises on which the entire conservative movement are based on?
There are none. That’s because the National Review — unlike the leadership of the Atlantic or the Times opinion page — understands what it is, as well as who it’s for.
Correction: This post originally referred to East St. Louis as a Chicago suburb. It’s a suburb of St. Louis, MO.