Butch by proxy
Conservative pundit Routine 12: Referred Ressentiment
After a brief career as a rightwing cause célèbre on account of his acquisition and quick ejection by The Atlantic, Kevin D. Williamson has returned to National Review, and I do perceive his work there is heavier on sneers and snarls than it was before his ordeal. Check out, for example, this rage-thrash against “craven, abject, brain-dead partisan” Democrats who were, in his imagining, trying to steal the midterms; keyslurs include “nobody really believes that Hillary Rodham Clinton is just some dotty old bat who doesn’t know how email works” and “even if Brenda Snipes were simply a wildly incompetent dope…” Also Williamson, whom The Atlantic canned for insisting that women who have abortions should be executed, suggests Snipes be criminally prosecuted because “it is time to make an example.”
In recent days Williamson has been working what I call the “Referred Ressentiment” beat, in which the author asserts the moral superiority of simple, hard-handed citizens, then ascribes said citizens’ noble tuffness to conservatism, leaving liberalism to be associated with things that are not tuff and therefore weak and insipid. It’s dumb but it works, and Williamson is not above it, famously intellectual though he may be.
In Williamson’s story about the oilmen of Midland, Texas, for example, there is plenty of purpling prose about “roustabouts” and Lone Star football rituals (“Cupcake, you’d better believe that all hats come off of all heads when the high-school ROTC honor guard comes out to present Old Glory”), from which the author emerges stripped to the waist, grimed and sweaty, and lights up a Camel and sneers,
There’s all sorts of Two Americas cultural distinctiveness on display here, the sort of thing that gives the willies to your familiar irony-dipped secular-urban Brooklyn-dwelling MFA types...
I doubt the readership of National Review includes many roustabouts, nor stevedores, roughnecks, or sons of the soil (no, Victor Davis Hanson doesn't count); but when Williamson lauds the Common Clay, you can bet those readers feel vicariously flattered. In the play-world of punditry, even pencil-necks like Sean Davis believe that for the price of an F-150 they too can be part of machoworld, and though they probably can’t move a bookcase or scrub a toilet with having a dizzy spell, all the homey virtues of Good Ol’ Boyhood accrue to them by ideology.
Williamson goes a step further in his bizarre “Friends of Elmer” story, in which he suggests American hunters are both manlymen whose toughness is to be celebrated, and helpless victims of sissy libtards who say mean things about them on Twitter:
We live in an antiseptic world, and there is no cure for that quite like gutting a Texas feral hog or roasting a pheasant you shot yourself.
[Cut to a National Review desk jockey furtively stabbing an imaginary boar with a letter opener.]
And there probably is no single activity that measures the width of the cultural chasm between coastal, urban, progressive America and interior, rural, traditional America. Hunting means guns and blood and non-ironically worn camouflage pants — often worn by the church-going, heterosexual white men who give the willies to the likes of Joan Walsh, author of What’s the Matter with White People?
Haw haw but wait, how’d Joan Walsh wind up in this mess? Williamson doesn’t provide a link — or maybe he did and a kindly editor took it out; the only relevant public statement I can find from Walsh on the subject is her criticism of the Trump boys and their widely-reviled big game hunting, famously represented by their gross photos from rich-guy safaris of themselves grinning over dead exotic animals.
I wonder whether your average kill-and-grill sportsman really relates so strongly to these millionaire wastrels — who go to Africa, get themselves pointed in the direction of big game, blast away at it till it dies and then pose with their exotic kills like they’re Frank Buck — that he would side with Eric, Don Junior, and Williamson on this.
Williamson reports that hunting magazines have cautioned readers to go easy on the social media corpse-shots — a sensitivity he laments as a product of SJW prejudice and persecution: “Rural white guys are out of fashion just now... It’s easy to caricature hunters as bloody-minded Elmer Fudds, and there are those who want to drive them underground…” But it seems obvious the magazines are not succumbing to social justice witch-hunts so much as trying to protect market share.
Take Sports Afield, for example, a magazine Williamson describes as issuing an abject “plea to its readers: If, by chance, one of them should have the chance to act on one of the handful of brown-bear licenses that had been issued, and if that hunter should be successful — then, for the sake of the hunting community, please don’t say anything about it on social media, and please, please don’t post any pictures.”
Dunno what story Williamson is talking about (no link) but in a recent editorial, Sports Afield’s Diana Rupp talks about “a series of well-written pieces examining hunters’ image, ethics, and the history and meaning of fair chase,” and explains why
this effort is particularly timely in light of the preliminary results of the 2016 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which have just been released. Hunter numbers are not getting any stronger. The survey showed that a mere 5 percent of the U.S. adult population went hunting in 2016. Hunting participation actually decreased 16 percent between 2011 and 2016, a number the survey stresses is “not statistically significant,” but it’s certainly not good news, either.
So it would appear these hunting journalists aren’t as concerned about Bill Buckshot celebrating his new, hard-won supply of venison (something I don’t usually see liberals or anyone else bitching about) as they are about wealthy thrill-killers showing off their dead giraffes and whatnot possibly turning off potential readers and buyers of their advertisers’ merchandise.
Also, as anyone who followed the saga of Cecil the Lion will know, it’s not just liberals who find big-game assholes disgusting; it’s the much larger and more diverse group of people who like animals and want to pet them and love them instead of blowing them away with an elephant gun. If Williamson thinks the millions of people who moon over cute-critter sites like The Dodo are all Democrats, he should prepare to be voted into oblivion in 2020.
Williamson ends by urging Bill Buckshot and his brethren to stand up with the Erics and Don Juniors of the nation to develop “the moral confidence to say plainly and directly — even on Twitter — that they have no reason to apologize for what they do or for who they are. In that, they are not alone.” That’s the Referred Ressentiment come-on in a nutshell: Don’t worry, we're not just the rump of a disgraced movement barely holding onto power with voter disenfranchisement and Big Lies — we are one with icons of America, like Harley riders and wildcatters and hunters! Okay, maybe not the Harley riders anymore but surely all these other icons are with us — how could they not be? Liberals eat quiche!
I look forward to the day when guys like Williamson look around and wonder where all their assumed iconic backup went. But then, that would require that they look around.