The Nastiness of Conservatives

S. T. Joshi

Some months ago, a conservative firebrand named Kevin Williamson was chosen as a columnist for the venerable magazine The Atlantic. The thinking, evidently, was that the magazine’s generally liberal readership might profit (it was never clarified exactly how) by absorbing a point of view remote from and generally hostile to its customary presuppositions. But then it was learned that Williamson had made the striking assertion that women who have had abortions should be punished by hanging. In the ensuing furor, The Atlantic summarily dismissed Williamson before he had even written a single column.

At this point the well-oiled right-wing resentment machine predictably went into high gear, screaming in tones of high dudgeon about censorship and political correctness run amok. These wingnuts conveniently ignored the plain facts that (a) Williamson had abundant venues for spewing his bile, notably in the National Review and other organs of conservative paranoia; and that (b) as a private entity, The Atlantic was under no obligation to provide a forum to Williamson or anyone else. Some conservatives attempted to defend Williamson by saying that his comment was merely a solitary expression of intemperate bluster in a blog post—but, awkwardly enough, it was quickly revealed that he had uttered numerous other comments of an equally repulsive sort.

As we all ought to know by now, such vile remarks seem to be part and parcel of conservative rhetoric; the idea that they are mere aberrations is becoming increasingly untenable. So we have to ask ourselves: Is there something in the very nature of conservatism that inspires such crudity, vulgarity, and viciousness?

Before I address that point, let’s regale ourselves with some further examples of right-wing scumbaggery. It is difficult to know where to begin, since our conservative friends have provided us with such an embarrassment of riches. Bob Nonini, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Idaho (where else?), channeled Williamson by opining that women who have had abortions should indeed receive the death penalty. Later he tried to walk back the statement, but his mealy-mouthed amendment didn’t quite seem to carry conviction.

Then there is the case of Dinesh D’Souza, one of several Indian Americans who make me ashamed to be an Indian American. This odoriferous fellow, recently pardoned by our “president,” is not content with being an apparent adulterer or campaign-finance cheat; he seems to enjoy being—or trying to be—a provocateur. The only problem is that in so doing he repeatedly makes a blithering idiot of himself. He has written unwittingly self-parodic books defending Christianity and also accusing the “cultural Left” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More recently, he put his foot in his mouth when, after the Florida legislature voted down an assault weapons ban in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, he tweeted, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”

It was to be expected that the recent outrage over the Trump administration’s unmitigatedly cruel separation of the children of undocumented immigrants from their parents has sent the far (and not-so-far) Right into a tizzy of self-justifying offensiveness. No one need be surprised that the queen of right-wing slime, Ann Coulter, deemed these children “child actors”—a canard that is not even original, for it transparently echoes the equally false and contemptible assertion of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that the families of the victims in the Sandy Hook shooting were “crisis actors.” Then there was a “Christian TV host,” Leigh Valentine, who referred to the separated children as “unclean, murderers, treacherous, God-haters.” My, my! My query is: How could this saintly woman possibly know that these hapless children are such limbs of Satan?

At this point, any conservatives reading this column will be shrieking, “But you liberals are nasty too!” Are we? I begin to wonder. There seems to be some latent instinct of decency that prevents the Left from having the full courage of its nasty convictions. In the midst of the family separation furor, Peter Fonda made a tweet wondering how the Trumps would feel if their son Barron were taken away from them—and then immediately apologized. I wish he hadn’t. Fonda’s statement was nothing more than a pungent variation on the time-worn adage “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And yes, Samantha Bee used the c-word in regard to Ivanka Trump—but she too promptly apologized. But before right-wingers work themselves up into a lather of self-righteous outrage by accusing the Left of hypocrisy, let it be remembered that the odious Ted Nugent—who has directed that same c-word against Hillary Clinton, to say nothing of countless other derelictions—remains a welcome guest in the current White House!

But let us come back to the reasons why conservatives are so nasty. Yes, it has something to do with attempting to defend the indefensible, as in the case of family separation or unrestricted access to military-style weapons; more relevantly, the Right has faced so many defeats in the culture wars in the past decades—legalization of same-sex marriage, continuing support for abortion, the increasing belief that health care is a right and not a privilege for the well-off—that its only reaction is a crazed and hysterical lashing-out against its perceived opponents. Let me emphasize that this nastiness is not merely the province of a few enraged talking heads but of a broad cross-section of the conservative rank-and-file, who wallow masochistically in fantasies of resentment and victimization. Well, their moral viciousness is now coming back to bite them. They are, to their surprise and indignation, being drummed out of polite society, as Trump-defender Alan Dershowitz is finding to his dismay in the tony enclaves of Martha’s Vineyard.

But this social ostracism is only a prelude to their legal and political annihilation—a day that will come sooner than they think.

S. T. Joshi

S. T. Joshi is the editor of Atheism: A Reader (2000) and other works on atheism, agnosticism, and freethought.


Some months ago, a conservative firebrand named Kevin Williamson was chosen as a columnist for the venerable magazine The Atlantic. The thinking, evidently, was that the magazine’s generally liberal readership might profit (it was never clarified exactly how) by absorbing a point of view remote from and generally hostile to its customary presuppositions. But then …

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