Well, that didn’t take very long: Kevin Williamson has been fired from The Atlantic after just one column, but not for what he wrote in that column. Rather, he was cashiered for arguing that abortion should be treated like homicide, possibly including the death penalty — views he expressed before the magazine hired him.
Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg rationalized the firing this way:
Full memo from Atlantic editor Jeff Goldberg to staff on Kevin Williamson pic.twitter.com/8R7rtEoS5L
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) April 5, 2018
As the kids would say, “NARRATOR: It was entirely about Kevin’s views on abortion.” In fact, the memo itself explains that Williamson was being fired because of his considered, but harsh position on the issue. Goldberg’s claim to the contrary is as clumsy and insulting to people’s intelligence as it is Orwellian.
I personally disagree with Williamson for a variety of reasons ranging from the practical to the philosophical, but that is hardly the point. Nor is it the point that his opinion rests outside what is deemed acceptable in electoral politics, as then-candidate Donald Trump discovered when he suggested women who participate in abortions should be punished.
Rather, the unpopularity of Williamson’s view underscores that the Left’s terrible fury over his hiring has far more to do with his position focusing on abortion as the mass taking of human lives and an unwillingness to deny women their share of agency in this morally fraught act (as both pro-life and pro-choice activists often do). Goldberg indicts Williamson’s speech as “callous and violent.” Yet it is a near-certainty that The Atlantic will continue to publish and promote the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Is Coates callous and violent? He has written that he can see no difference between a police officer who shot a Howard University student and the first responders to the 9/11 terror attacks: “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.”
Coates is also not above making inflammatory claims in a podcast, as he did with Ezra Klein:
I asked him to describe the world in which justice had been done, in which equality had been achieved, in which hope was merited. ‘We have a 20-to-1 wealth gap,’ Coates replied. ‘Every nickel of wealth the average black family has, the average white family has a dollar. What is the world in which that wealth gap is closed? What happens? What makes that possible? What does that look like? What is the process?’
Even imagining that world, Coates makes ample space for tragedy. When he tries to describe the events that would erase America’s wealth gap, that would see the end of white supremacy, his thoughts flicker to the French Revolution, to the executions and the terror. ‘It’s very easy for me to see myself being contemporary with processes that might make for an equal world, more equality, and maybe the complete abolition of race as a construct, and being horrified by the process, maybe even attacking the process. I think these things don’t tend to happen peacefully.’
More bluntly, after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, he wrote about what he thinks polite political conversation does not allow: “What clearly cannot be said is that violence and nonviolence are tools, and that violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works.” That was not an intemperate tweet, either; it was printed, even pull-quoted, by The Atlantic.
Coates writes this way in a mode of thinking not dissimilar to that of alt-rightists like Richard Spencer, and The Atlantic celebrates its righteous anger. But Goldberg, and the spoon-banging activists to whom he has cravenly surrendered, apparently find similar anger from Williamson (who was adopted shortly before the Roe v. Wade decision) over the snuffing out of innocent human life beyond the bounds of acceptable public discourse.
Incidentally, Coates himself is a fan of Williamson’s writing. In yet another podcast, he remarked: “If you can write, I will always look at what you’re doing, because at the very least I can study some sh-t and figure out, maybe there’s something for me, in this. Even if I hate what you’re saying, or I think you’re dead wrong.”
There is no real irony in Coates’s admiration for Williamson, for he seems to understand something that Goldberg and his intellectually stunted fellow travelers do not. Compelling writers become so by their willingness to break with stale orthodoxies. As a result, they are almost certainly more likely to hold one or more deeply unpopular views. Christopher Hitchens is remembered precisely for being the sort of writer who would author a book ripping Mother Theresa in prose equally ripping.
“Of no party or clique” was The Atlantic’s founding motto. But this now clearly a lie. Williamson is not welcome there, while it publishes not only Coates, but also writer (and Williamson scalp-hunter) Jessica Valenti, who argues there should be no legal limits on abortion. Williamson’s view is extreme, but so is Valenti’s — and she gets to write for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian US. She is not relegated to the ghetto of ideological opinion journals.
For these reasons, Williamson’s firing would be troubling enough. But they are part of a much larger pattern in stories about the media, both in non-fiction and fiction. Progressives unleash a tsunami of invective and activism wherever non-progressives gain any sort of perch within, let alone control over, the means of cultural production.
In this sense, the Williamson story is similar to the hyperbolic fury over Sinclair Broadcasting expanding its stable of local television news stations and its imposition of editorial content. It is similar to the ABC staffers freaking out over the pluralistic portrayal of politics in the reboot of the “Roseanne” sitcom. It is the same basic story as the war of the woke waged within The New York Times. The only difference is that this time, the forces of intellectual intolerance won.