OPINION: Traditional Conservatism Too Often Excused In Age Of Trump

Graphic by Sophie Reingold

I have loved magazines ever since I was a little kid. I love reading longform stories about subjects of which I know very little because they provide so much insight into an unexplored world.

The Atlantic has always been one of my favorites, that is, until their recent decision to hire Kevin Williamson, a renowned conservative writer who has espoused racist, misogynistic, and transphobic beliefs, to name a few, on the justification of ideological diversity and the inclusion of more conservative voices in a liberal writing space.

Since the beginning of the Trump administration, The Atlantic has published many articles that have provided new insight into the administration’s key figures and decision makers, and has been critical of Trump’s decisions.

Many of my favorite writers, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, McKay Coppins, Julia Ioffe, and Vann Newkirk II, work at The Atlantic, writing about alleviating racial justice in public health policy, the Russian intervention in the 2016 election, and the overwhelming systemic racial inequities in America that white people know exist but actively reinforce. March 22, 2018, The Atlantic did something I found to be antithetical to its mission of being inextricably tied to the advancement of civil rights when they hired Kevin Williamson.

Williamson used to be a correspondent for the National Review and has tweeted that all women who have abortions deserve to be hanged, has compared an African American child to a primate and traveling through the Midwest to Marlow’s journey in Heart of Darkness in the same paragraph, and has referred to transgender actress Laverne Cox as “an effigy of a woman.” What separates Williamson from a writer at “Breitbart” or “Infowars” is that he is an avowed #NeverTrump conservative, which has a lot of cultural caché at the moment, as the Republican party searches for a unified identity.

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, justified his decision to hire Williamson on the basis of ideological diversity and said to his staff in a memo: “It is also my job to make sure that we are ideologically diverse. Diversity in all its forms makes us better journalists; it also opens us up to new audiences.”

Goldberg also said that “conservatives made ideologically homeless by the rise of Trump are some of the most interesting people in America, and I want to read them whenever I can.” In this statement, Goldberg argues that Williamson’s personal views do not detract from his political opinions, but in the age of social media, it is impossible to separate the two.

Goldberg’s statement asserts that Williamson should be given a pass for all of his controversial comments and beliefs because of his critique on the president from the perspective of a conservative. Fox News has fully played into Donald Trump’s more hardline views in their news coverage, and more traditional conservatives like Nicolle Wallace who has shows on MSNBC.

The feminist writer Jessica Valenti, who has had two abortions, wrote in response to Williamson’s hiring in a Medium post: “The Atlantic is sending a clear message: that the worst kind of harassment and intimidation women face  —  extremism that has been directly linked to real life violence  —  is acceptable.”

Last October, a spreadsheet called “Shitty Men in Media” circulated as a whisper network in the post-Weinstein era for women to identify harassers and abusers for other women to avoid. This list was only online for 14 hours, but it had over 70 entries by the time it was taken down. Moira Donegan, the creator of the list, came forward three months after the list was put up when rumors surfaced that she was going to be outed by the polarizing female journalist Katie Roiphe in an article in “Harper’s.”  

After the list was released, Donegan’s relationship ended, and she lost friends and her job. She watched a list created to protect her fellow women in media blow up and impact global internet culture more than she ever thought possible.

Donegan was not given credit for her efforts to create a unifying force in a time when sexual assault stories about formerly respected people come out every day. Womanhood and female autonomy, the identities that she sought to defend, ended up hurting her in the end.

The media classifies people in categories according to ideology and creates hierarchies from the respective ideologies based on whatever is the most culturally valuable. Right now, being a high profile conservative pundit in an age of extremism is put on a pedestal of moral rectitude. People are willing to overlook Williamson’s glaringly horrible beliefs because he criticizes Donald Trump, but it is possible to recognize Trump’s dangerous behavior, impulsive personality, and hold racist and misogynist views.

I could easily avoid reading Williamson’s forthcoming columns because they do not have a direct effect on my life and there are so many articles from which to choose that cater to my values and interests. But, a man who says these hateful, violent statements should not be given a platform by a liberal publication to spread his views any more than they already exist.

I am sick of the media profiling and fetishizing #NeverTrump-ers as if they are a group of people who need deciphering and treating traditional conservatives as inherently good people because Trump is vastly surpassed the mainstream media’s initial thoughts of how bad of a president he would be.

Williamson’s articles continue to perpetuate problematic stereotypes. Reading them to generate productive discourse around issues of social justice is counterproductive because these articles only reinforce racism and misogyny instead of seeking to change them. They should not get any more exposure than they already do through mainstream media.

Women in media are exhausted from trying to prove their worth to a world that constantly questions the validity of their identity, and this list demonstrates “that it is still explosive, radical, and productively dangerous for women to say what we mean.” Hate speech disguised as diversity of opinion should not trump the experience of being a woman, and women should not have to lose everything to prove that to the magazine-reading public.

Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She enjoys Sam Hunt, flavored seltzer water, and reading memoirs written by women.