Trashing Kevin Williamson

 

This post is to criticize Kevin Williamson for a recent column at National Review.

There was a previous post that was undertaken by another Ricochet member, in which he criticized Kevin Williamson for the same column. That post became to heated with emotional responses and unhelpful rhetoric.  Factiousness emerged.  Hopefully we can do better and consider the column on its merits at this post.  The column is deserving of criticism.

 Kevin Williamson

Kevin Williamson is a columnist for National Review and he is a Podcaster of Ricochet.  I will state up front that I am not a fan of Mr. Williamson, and I am not a regular reader of his work, nor do I listen to his podcasts.  He does have his fans, including some who are members of Ricochet.  As near as I can tell, he has more former fans than current fans among the membership.

Jet Blue Incident

The recent column by Kevin Williamson was written on the occasion of a recent incident. A gay couple got to shouting at Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner about Ivanka’s father.  Jet Blue security bounced them off the flight.  Their behavior was pretty ugly.

I had heard a thumbnail version of the incident. I searched the Christian Science Monitor but could not find any coverage.  The Washington Post article was extremely thin on information.  An internet search got me the sort of information that I had expected to find.  Here is the New York Daily News:

Before Lasner, Goldstein and their son ever boarded the plane, the teacher tweeted that his spouse had Ivanka and her hubby in his cross hairs.

“Ivanka and Jared at JFK T5, flying commercial,” tweeted Lasner. “My husband chasing them down to harass them. #banalityofevil.”

They portrayed themselves as victims afterward.

“JetBlue kicked us off our flight when a (flight) attendant overheard my husband expressing displeasure about flying w/Trumps,” read the new version.

JetBlue released a statement confirming the incident and explaining its rationale for bumping Lasner and Goldstein — making it clear they were in the wrong.

Kevin Williamson Column

Mr. Williamson wrote a column for National Review in which he observed on the coarsening of our culture, as evidenced by the bad behavior of Goldstein and Lasner. I only read the column because it became the cause of a stir at Ricochet.  I think it is a very poor column.  Some of the points are blunt and over-the-top, while other points are so subtly presented that they went sailing right by several of our Ricochet members.

Uday and Qusay

Williamson’s column is titled “Manners, Even in the Age of Trump.” Most of you will already know that Kevin Williamson has a strong dislike for Donald J. Trump, and has written extensively and caustically to denigrate Mr. Trump, repeatedly, for well over a year. The column begins with a prelude that invokes our kinship with the animals:

But about 99 percent of our DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees — which are intensely social and fierce. The genetic difference between orangutan and chimpanzee is relatively small, and the genetic difference between chimpanzee and H. sap. is tiny indeed. (“My brother, Esau, is a hairy man.”) Every day presents a struggle between the better angels of our nature and the inner chimp.

Williamson then pivoted to the incident at Jet Blue:

The inner chimp shows up in unexpected places….

Then follows a very brief review of the incident. Next is the part that bugged an intrepid member of Ricochet:

I suppose that by now regular readers of National Review will have figured out that my sympathy for the Trumps is . . . limited. My own view is that Donald and Ivanka and Uday and Qusay are genuinely bad human beings and that the American public has made a grave error in entrusting its highest office to this cast of American Psycho extras. That a major political party was captured by these cretins suggests that its members are not worthy of the blessings of this republic. But here we are.

You really should read the entire column if you are at all interested in this dust-up. I will place a link in the first comment.  Williamson continued:

It would be far better and far more human (and we Christians should be thinking this time of year about what it means to be human, in the flesh) to do the opposite, to pull past that coveted parking space and let him have it rather than let him have it. … We are called to be something more than our emotions and appetites and allegiances. But that is also the approach consistent with enlightened self-interest. Manners are a misunderstood thing: They are not, at heart, about aesthetics, about making yourself a more pleasant dining companion. It does not matter, in itself and in the greater analysis, which fork you use for your salad. The point of manners is to make other people feel valued, respected, and considered. Which is to say, the point of manners is to keep the peace.

Following additional remarks about manners, K. Williamson brought it back to politics, and then his conclusion:

Politics always brings out tribalism — politics is tribalism for most people — and this year’s election has been more tribalistic than most….

You don’t have to be a saint. All you really have to do is to mind your manners and you can pass for human most of the time.

Ricochet discussion

It was clear in the comments that those inclined to like and defend K. Williamson saw his remark about “inner chimp” to be a reference to the fallen state of humanity, and it is clear from the column that Williamson thinks he shares the problem of an “inner chimp” with everyone else. That theme is woven through this column from beginning to end.  Near the bottom, he included this:

But we are called to be more, to be human, to be morally and spiritually larger than what’s within our own skins.

If you are inclined to put the very best construction on K. Williamson’s writing, then you might see this in a positive light.

However, it is clear that there is a Ricochet contingent that is not willing to be generous when reading K. Williamson. Some readers of K. Williamson were turned off recently by K. Williamson due to his bitter and caustic writing against Donald Trump.  Others of us had dropped K. Williamson in previous years because of things he wrote long ago.

The key sentence that drew the ire of some readers was this one:

My own view is that Donald and Ivanka and Uday and Qusay are genuinely bad human beings and that the American public has made a grave error in entrusting its highest office to this cast of American Psycho extras.

Does this deserve criticism? If a Ricochet member had written it in a post, would it be considered a violation of the Code of Conduct?  Would this, if aimed at Peter Robinson or Pat Sajak or Mona Charen, earn an Editor’s redaction?

We have had many long discussions about the awfulness of D.J. Trump. It has been common to see Podcasters, Contributors, Editors, and members all say things like “genuinely bad human being.”  Does likening Donald and Ivanka to Uday and Qusay cross the line?  Does “American Psycho” cross the line?

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  1. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    The Jet Blue incident account from the New York Daily News:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/jetblue-passengers-kicked-flight-ivanka-trump-complaints-article-1.2920134

    Kevin Williamson’s column:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443303/

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443303/donald-trump-manners-cultural-necessity

    The offending post at Ricochet

    http://ricochet.com/398583/merry-christmas-mr-williamson/

     

    • #1
  2. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    I took Uday and Qusay to refer to Donald Jr. and Eric.  Comparing them to two murderous rapists is probably over the top at this point.  KDW could at least wait until they buy an industrial plastic shredder.

    • #2
  3. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Yes. The offending comment was out of bounds of decency. Here it would have been flagged and redacted immediately. I don’t know if Williamson used it as a literary way to fly his own chimp flag high to make the point that even he should be constrained by manners…and here’s why. That is a very, very generous reading. I think it more likely that it simply was his chimp flag being flown high because it exists and was unconstrained. Were I his personal friend I would have told him what bad form was that sentence. It was unworthy of him, the NR organization, and of conservatism.

    My question is this: if that one idiotic sentence is excised from the article what remains? Does he have a valid point? Is it written in a manner worth reading and considering? I’ve probably taken on the tactic of reading past his uncouth outbursts because I find the rest of what he says worthwhile. Not everyone can or should do this. My summary of his article is this: even if you vehemently disagree with someone politically, there’s no excuse to be a douche. That one sentence made him a douche, so he violated his own principle in the article laying out the principle. Bad Kevin, no cookie.

    • #3
  4. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Good post MJ.  I would say I’m typically a Kevin defender, I like his stuff usually including his wry sarcasm that I feel people take too seriously sometimes.  I can definitely see people here having a problem with the Uda/Qusay comment and his style not being for everyone.  I do find it……ironic…..that Trump supporters dare to get their dander up over “name calling” when Trump’s habitual name calling was easily excused as being “anti-pc”.  I only accept someone’s outrage as genuine it was equally applied to both Trump and his critics in the past.  Several people here can claim that position but not all those who have shorts in a bunch now.

    • #4
  5. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    What else would one expect from National Ricochet or is it Ricochet Review?

    • #5
  6. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Concretevol: Good post MJ

    View comment in context.

    Seconded. Well written. It takes skill to tackle such disagreements agreeably.

    • #6
  7. NCforSCFC Member
    NCforSCFC
    @NCforSCFC

    I enjoyed the essay overall but Lowry needs to pull him aside.  He could’ve easily written the offending line using their actual names to clearly state his position on the Trump family.  The use of Uday and Qusay is absurd, just bomb-throwing and serving no good purpose other than signaling that KDW hates the Trumps more than everyone.  Pretty sure we all know he doesn’t take a backseat to anyone for Trump revulsion.

    The essay works just as well without the Uday/Qusay jab, probably better without since it would not distract from the larger point he was making.

    No writer is beyond editing.

    • #7
  8. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    NCforSCFC: No writer is beyond editing.

    View comment in context.

    I love this line.

    • #8
  9. Wolverine Inactive
    Wolverine
    @Wolverine

    It is one thing to compare Donald Jr to the Hussein brothers, but Ivanka? In my own reading of his column, it does seem like he had a serious point to make, but he allows his column to get hijacked but his over the top comparison. He is too smart not to know this would happen, which makes me think the comparison was the real point more than the putative point, an opportunity to dump on the Trumps that he could not pass up. He was channeling his inner Ann Coulter:)

    • #9
  10. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Just two more people on that plane who have lost their minds. KW is not someone I read regularly, although I have admired some of his work in the past. I tried to get to the article here, but failed. I think no one needed to know the specific comparison he made that represents his view. That particular comparison is sufficient to drop my sense of respect for KW’s opinion close to zero.

    • #10
  11. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Wolverine: an opportunity to dump on the Trumps that he could not pass up

    View comment in context.

    As Will Rogers put it, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” He missed it by a mile with that sentence.

    • #11
  12. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judge Mental: I took Uday and Qusay to refer to Donald Jr. and Eric.

    Same here.

    • #12
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Wolverine: it does seem like he had a serious point to make, but he allows his column to get hijacked by his over the top comparison.

    View comment in context.

    This is close to where I come down.  I don’t feel particularly outraged, but he makes it tough to take him seriously.

    • #13
  14. Skarv Inactive
    Skarv
    @Skarv

    The King Prawn: My question is this: if that one idiotic sentence is excised from the article what remains? Does he have a valid point? Is it written in a manner worth reading and considering? I’ve probably taken on the tactic of reading past his uncouth outbursts because I find the rest of what he says worthwhile. Not everyone can or should do this. My summary of his article is this: even if you vehemently disagree with someone politically, there’s no excuse to be a douche. That one sentence made him a douche, so he violated his own principle in the article laying out the principle. Bad Kevin, no cookie.

    View comment in context.

    Exactly. Well articulated as usual  KP

    • #14
  15. She Member
    She
    @She

    MJBubba:The key sentence that drew the ire of some readers was this one:

    My own view is that Donald and Ivanka and Uday and Qusay are genuinely bad human beings and that the American public has made a grave error in entrusting its highest office to this cast of American Psycho extras.

    Does this deserve criticism? If a Ricochet member had written it in a post, would it be considered a violation of the Code of Conduct? Would this, if aimed at Peter Robinson or Pat Sajak or Mona Charen, earn an Editor’s redaction?

     

    Of course this sentence deserves criticism.  And it was roundly criticized by many, including me, on the post you refer to.  And many, including me, made the point that the rest of Williamson’s article is rather unexceptional, and ought to be something that most of us can agree on.

    The analogy of The Curate’s Egg comes to mind for me with both Trump and Williamson (and with most people, actually), and I think those who understand both of them in those terms can have a productive conversation across thought boundaries.  Those who insist that the egg is wholly good, or completely rotten, will have a more difficult time with it, because only their intellectual soulmates will respond in kind.

    As for whether or not the comment Williamson made would have been redacted on a Ricochet post, I believe that’s asked and answered, if you read through the comments on the other post.

    So I don’t think there’s much more to it than that.  Again, my position is that Williamson was utterly wrong to make the comparison.  I don’t agree with those who talk about his ‘inner chimp’ or who propose some sort of subtle rhetorical purpose for his remark, if for no other reason than, to quote the great Ronald Reagan, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”  And there’s far too much explanation required, in my book, to make even the faintest dent in the impropriety of that remark.  Still, there is a somewhat redemptive point of view in the rest of his article, I think.

     

    • #15
  16. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Kevin Williamson is opining on the importance of manners in public places? From the Huffington Post, May 16, 2013:

    Ever had the urge at a movie theater to grab someone’s phone and throw it across the room? Seeing that bright screen in a dark room can be really distracting, right?

    Well, National Review reporter Kevin Williamson had that urge at a play on Wednesday night in New York — and he acted on it.

    In a defiant blog post on the Review’s website, Williamson describes how he was watching a musical when he became annoyed by two groups of women “with too much makeup and too-high heels” who were looking at their phones during the production. (This happened, he says, in spite of a pre-show announcement telling audience members to turn off all mobile devices.)

    After Williamson’s date notified management of the issue, a woman he was sitting next to continued to use her phone.

    But after the woman refused to accommodate Williamson’s request to turn off the device, he responded in a way many of us have been too ashamed to: He grabbed her phone and threw it across the room.

    Management eventually brought Williamson to the lobby and tried to keep him there, explaining that the woman was thinking about pressing charges, Gothamist reports, but Williamson left the theater.

    I’ll take my instructions in how to act in public places from Ivanka Trump.

    • #16
  17. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    That particular line in the context of the piece was illustrative of the chimp side of humanity although I think it undercuts his overall point.

    Then again the people most predisposed to be offended by an off-hand joke are the people most likely to excuse the rude behavior of Trump himself.

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    Jamie Lockett:That particular line in the context of the piece was illustrative of the chimp side of humanity although I think it undercuts his overall point.

    Then again the people most predisposed to be offended by an off-hand joke are the people most likely to excuse the rude behavior of Trump himself.

    View comment in context.

    I don’t think his column in National Review is the place for “off-hand jokes.”  I’ve always had the (perhaps overly optimistic, on hindsight) view that he puts some thought into them before turning them loose on an unsuspecting public.

    • #18
  19. She Member
    She
    @She

    Freesmith:Kevin Williamson is opining on the importance of manners in public places? From the Huffington Post, May 16, 2013:

    Ever had the urge at a movie theater to grab someone’s phone and throw it across the room? Seeing that bright screen in a dark room can be really distracting, right?

    Well, National Review reporter Kevin Williamson had that urge at a play on Wednesday night in New York — and he acted on it.

    In a defiant blog post on the Review’s website, Williamson describes how he was watching a musical when he became annoyed by two groups of women “with too much makeup and too-high heels” who were looking at their phones during the production. (This happened, he says, in spite of a pre-show announcement telling audience members to turn off all mobile devices.)

    After Williamson’s date notified management of the issue, a woman he was sitting next to continued to use her phone.

    But after the woman refused to accommodate Williamson’s request to turn off the device, he responded in a way many of us have been too ashamed to: He grabbed her phone and threw it across the room.

    Management eventually brought Williamson to the lobby and tried to keep him there, explaining that the woman was thinking about pressing charges, Gothamist reports, but Williamson left the theater.

    I’ll take my instructions in how to act in public places from Ivanka Trump.

    View comment in context.

    Agreed.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen the three-year old in the produce section in Giant Eagle, sitting on the floor, with a face like a beet, screaming its head off and drumming its heels on the floor, and wanted to join in.

    But I don’t.

    Kevin Williamson sometimes acts like a lout.  I get it.  So does Donald Trump.  So do most of the rest of us.

    All we can do is try to sort it out and do the best we can with the information we have.

     

    • #19
  20. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Judge Mental: I took Uday and Qusay to refer to Donald Jr. and Eric.

    Same here.

    View comment in context.

    In looking at it again, I agree with you.   K. Williamson is using “Uday and Qusay” as nicknames for Trump’s sons.

    Which is even worse than the way I read it initially.

    • #20
  21. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    By the way, if people want to know why the other thread was marked for not promotion just read this one. @mjbubba wrote a  fine piece that I disagree with and yet managed to do so in a way that was respectful both to the author of the piece he is criticizing and to his fellow members. I’m proud to recommend such a piece for the main feed.

    • #21
  22. Lazy_Millennial Inactive
    Lazy_Millennial
    @LazyMillennial

    I’m a KDW fan, in that I read almost all of his columns, and check his twitter feed daily (gotta see those midnight clowns). Referring to Eric and Donald Jr. as Uday and Qusay is a running joke of his, which I find hilarious. It’s also a throwaway joke- he hasn’t (to my knowledge) gone into detail expanding upon similarities between the two sets of brothers. I’d guess the similarity is that their fathers share the same preferences in interior decorating, but that’s only a guess.

    I find KDW hilarious generally. I don’t think its out-of-place for an author whose style (but not underlying message) is deeply misanthropic to be deeply misanthropic towards “the right” as well as towards everyone else. Those who don’t like him should probably keep avoiding him, though they’ll miss the occasional pieces that even his biggest critics occasionally concede are “good content.”

    • #22
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    MJBubba: There was a previous post that was undertaken by another Ricochet member, in which he criticized Kevin Williamson for the same column. That post became to heated with emotional responses and unhelpful rhetoric. Factiousness emerged.

    @mjbubba – I think you’re incorrect here. That previous post became fractious because of the way it was written in the first place. The name calling and dismissiveness off the OP resulted in the comments that followed. Your post on the same subject is much more in depth and a font for better discussion.

    • #23
  24. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Jamie Lockett:By the way, if people want to know why the other thread was marked for not promotion just read this on. @mjbubba wrote a fine piece that I disagree with and yet managed to do so in a way that was respectful both to the author of the piece he is criticizing and to his fellow members. I’m proud to recommend such a piece for the main feed.

    View comment in context.

    Who are you?

    • #24
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Freesmith:

    Jamie Lockett:By the way, if people want to know why the other thread was marked for not promotion just read this on. @mjbubba wrote a fine piece that I disagree with and yet managed to do so in a way that was respectful both to the author of the piece he is criticizing and to his fellow members. I’m proud to recommend such a piece for the main feed.

    Who are you?

    Any member can recommend MJ’s post for the Main Feed – and several have already.

    • #25
  26. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Bob Thompson:Just two more people on that plane who have lost their minds. KW is not someone I read regularly, although I have admired some of his work in the past. I tried to get to the article here, but failed. I think no one needed to know the specific comparison he made that represents his view. That particular comparison is sufficient to drop my sense of respect for KW’s opinion close to zero.

    View comment in context.

    Thanks.  I fixed the link, and here it is again:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443303/donald-trump-manners-cultural-necessity

     

    • #26
  27. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Good post, @mjbubba.

    As yesterday demonstrated all-too-well, Williamson shot himself in the foot with the Uday & Qusay line.

    • #27
  28. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

     

    As C.S. Lewis wrote in a Letter in 1956,

    Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

    Strangely, Kevin’s buddy, Charlie Cook accurately wrote about in an article about how the Left always depicts Republicans as wanting to, as Biden would put it, put black people back in chains.

    In the latest online issue of National Review he continues to dig in at Trump rather than making a more substantive case. His final paragraph could have been something like, “Though it might accrue less political benefits, the country would be better served if the upcoming administration made the general climate of regulation and taxation more favorable to employers than seeking out special deals for the politically well connected.” Instead he wastes writing on what are fairly fruitless invectives.

    • #28
  29. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I used to be a KW fan, but I’ve avoided reading him since listening to a few of his podcasts and learning of his (malicious) anti-Trumpism. I get enough sneering condescension from lefties, I don’t need to tune-in to NTers for that.

    “We all do it” is never a good argument, if you ask me. Can you imagine a conservative Republican accosting Chelsea Clinton and her children on an airplane full of holiday travelers? Yeah, me neither. This incident is reflective of the deeply narcissistic Left. This jackass didn’t just upset Ivanka and her kids, he distressed the crew and an entire airplane full of people who just wanted to get to their destination. Let’s not pretend there’s a moral equivalence here with Donald Trump in a hotly contested political race.

    Williamson (a Catholic convert, I believe) is also wrong from a Christian standpoint to say, “You don’t have to be a saint. All you really have to do is to mind your manners and you can pass for human most of the time.” As the host at Catholic Answers says when closing the show: “Be a saint. What else is there?

    No one can make you a saint but God. But it should definitely be everyone’s aspiration. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate. And, from an earth-bound perspective, the world would definitely be a better place.

     

    • #29
  30. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Jamie Lockett:By the way, if people want to know why the other thread was marked for not promotion just read this on. @mjbubba wrote a fine piece that I disagree with and yet managed to do so in a way that was respectful both to the author of the piece he is criticizing and to his fellow members. I’m proud to recommend such a piece for the main feed.

    View comment in context.

    Jamie, thanks for the recommendation.  We have disagreed on much, and I have no doubt we will continue to disagree.

    Perhaps I took Kevin Williamson’s comment differently from the way TKC1101 read it.   Kevin Williamson had turned me off several years ago, and so I do not expect much from him.

    TKC1101 and I, along with most of Ricochet, are all rooting for National Review to recover and become relevant again.   This column by K. Williamson does not help that effort.

    I get the point that manners helps civil society, but I thought the whole column was ill conceived.  Manners have been revealed to be a conservative virtue.  The two guys who got bounced from that flight are not conservatives.  I thought they made a poor hook for the main point of K. Williamson’s column, which just leaves it to be K. Williamson’s meandering thoughts that tie Evolution to manners to politics.  With the lightweight value I put on the entire column, the caustic insults at the Trump family stand out more.

     

    • #30
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