Kevin Williamson’s cold dose of reality

As everyone is aware by now, Kevin Williamson was hired and then subsequently fired from The Atlantic. Making matters worse, he quit his lucrative gig at NRO, so he’s now worse-off than before unless NRO re-hires him.

As I wrote many months ago, Kevin Williamson is pretty extreme, as his comments about abortion (but also other issues) show. But by extreme, I don’t just mean shock-worthy, but rather by pushing people’s buttons in just the right way that unlocks the reader’s rage in a way no other writer is capable of. Megan Mcardle also has a knack for doing that, by taking positions on issues in a way that annoys/aggravates everyone but a small subset of readers, in the process generating a lot of discussion and pageviews. If I wanted to offend as many people as possible and had to choose between sharing Holocaust denial material, Moldbug, or Kevin Williamson, Mr. Williamson would take the cake.

But he’s right though on many issues, and the truth hurts. We want to be told lies that make us feel good, but Mr. Williamson does not indulge in fantasies, preferring cold, hard reality instead.

Form a March 11th, 2018, NRO article, There Will Be No Civil War Today, he writes:

It may end up being the case that, a generation hence, historians look back on our era the way my friend does: safe and boring. The great conflict of the 20th century — the conflict between liberal democracy and totalitarian nationalism in its German and Russian expressions — came to a close, the new millennium arrived, and . . . not much happened. There was a horrifying terrorist attack in the United States, a country that had not known such violence on its own soil, and a financial crisis a few years later. As a result, airport security got a little crazy and certain economic trends, not all of them broadly celebrated, were deepened or accelerated. But life remained, for the most part, safe and boring. The American people perceived that there was so little at stake in the political realm that they began selecting presidents as cultural totems: Barack Obama, the first black president, and then, in reaction, Donald Trump, the complicatedly blond game-show host and sneering nationalist who was, on the issues, not terribly different from George W. Bush (who was into steel tariffs before they were cool) or Barack Obama, who spent some time trying to channel Theodore Roosevelt and gave dopey speeches about economic nationalism. Perhaps they will marvel that we seemed so excited by it all, that some of the leaders of our discourse — not just conspiracy-theory trolls such as Q but mainstream figures such as Sean Hannity and Jamelle Bouie — were convinced that we were on the verge of civil war, widespread unrest, a Nazi-style police state, or worse. But back when Grover Cleveland was taking on James Blaine, everybody thought that was a pretty big deal, too. But who today remembers the Mulligan letters? The Mugwumps? “Rum, Romanism, and rebellion?” Only the nerds.

I completely agree with this statement, which echoes my earlier posts about how there won’t be crisis, civil unrest, economic collapse, or revolt in America despite all the premonitions by pundits of how America is supposedly in a uniquely perilous position in its history–it’s not, and by a wide variety of metrics America is in pretty good shape and is demonstrably outperforming much of the rest of the world, such as in terms of economic growth, stock market gains, low inflation, demographics, STEM research output, technology & innovation, and so on. But such optimism is, in and of itself, a controversial statement, because both sides–the left and the right–don’t want to be told that the status quo will continue. They seek crisis to reset a system that they perceive (and with good justification) as being rigged or conspiring against them, and telling them it won’t happen is not what they want to hear, which is what Mr. Williamson does.

That’s why Steven Pinker’s books Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature are so controversial–not because he’s discussing issues that readily lend themselves to controversy (such as abortion or gun rights)–but because he’s merely telling us that things are not so bad relative to how they were hundreds or thousands of years ago. The implication , however, and why this is controversial, is because individuals have to take personal responsibility, than blame a corrupted system or other external factors. The burden is shifted from the external to the internal–be it IQ, work ethic, or other factors intrinsic to the individual, not societal things like institutional racism. Failure to thrive in a society that, which according to Pinker, is at the apex of its development reflects the failing of the individual, not society.

My favorite example is, American pundits still talk about Watergate and the Tea Pot Dome scandal, to get an idea of how uncommon and petty corruption is America is, compared to countries like Brazil or Italy, where corruption is a daily occurrence and actually has a substantive economic impact.

I don’t agree with Mr. Williamson’s inimical dislike of Trump (although I think he will eventually warm up to him, and intellectually they share similar ‘extreme’ ways of seeing the world, so I think they could be friends in real life if they were able to meet and resolve their differences), but he raises some valid points, such as how policy-wise Trump is not that much different from George W. Bush, but with some token nationalism thrown in and Twitter. For all of the media hype in late 2016 and early 2017 about how Trump would doom the economy and America, nothing even close that has happened (in fact, the opposite has happened), and that even fits with Mr. Williamson’s thesis, and is another reason for him to at least reevaluate if Trump is really so bad, as Trump has failed to live up to everyone’s worst expectations of him.