The Silliest Take of the Week: 4/1/2018

Silliness in Takes, sadly, did not take Holy Week off.

Everybody’s Mad at the Teens

Joe Concha, “David Hogg’s attempt to end Laura Ingraham’s career sets dangerous precedent,” The Hill, 3/30/18.

This actually wasn’t the Silliest Take I saw this week about the David Hogg/Laura Ingraham brouhaha. That honor would have gone to the Washington Times for “David Hogg would’ve made a good brownshirt,” which they published on March 30th, but then they took down the piece at some point in between then and now. They never should have published it in the first place, but I suppose that retracting it should get them a few points. Anyway, I don’t like to mock a Silly Take if I can’t point directly to its original text, so we’ll pass over that one in relative silence for the rest of this post. (A “brownshirt,” by the way, differs from a “browncoat.” A “browncoat” is somebody who likes the short-lived 2002 television show Firefly, whereas a “brownshirt” was a member of the militant wing of the Nazi Party before it came to power. It was pointed out to me that this might not be as commonly known as I thought it was after it led to an amusing miscommunication over a beer the other day.)

So, what happened that made a Washington Times writer so agitated as to bring out the Big Guns and call a teenage boy a Nazi? Well.

David Hogg is one of the teenagers who survived the Parkland shooting in February, and he has spent much of the last month and a half appearing at marches and TV stations to argue for gun control reform. Hogg has definitely taken a bombastic tone to his activism, which has turned him into something of a bugaboo for the NRA crowd, and the conservative side of Facebook overfloweth with mean memes about him. So when he revealed that he had been rejected from several schools in the University of California system, conservative radio and television person Laura Ingraham mocked him about it on Twitter. Hogg responded by telling his Twitter followers to call the companies who advertise on her Fox News show. Many of these advertisers left, and so Ingraham apologized and is currently taking a break to decide what to do next.

For Mr. Concha, writing for the Hill, this sets a “dangerous precedent:”

“[W]e’ve entered some dangerous territory here, if boycotts like this one succeed. And not many are speaking out against said danger for two reasons:

1) Fear of reprisal for criticizing Hogg, who has the benefit of being protected from any criticism while being free to level it.

2) Fear of being seen as “the person attacking a mass school shooting survivor,” regardless of whether there’s a basis for such criticism or not. “

One thing you could do, if you’re afraid of being seen as “the person attacking a mass school shooting survivor,” is not tease him for not being admitted to a college he wanted to go to. You could, say, confine your criticisms to his policy proposals. Sure, some people would probably still get mad at you, but I bet your advertisers wouldn’t run away in quite the same way!

“And therein lies the rub: As stated, Hogg should be treated as an adult. It’s the arena he chose to enter and had every right to do so, given his abilities and what he experienced. But if a boycott succeeds here, it sets the kind of precedent that will forever change what the First Amendment is supposed to stand for. “

that’s not what the first amendment does, joe — you don’t have a first amendment right to advertising money from arby’s

“If someone is offended by her program or her as a person, don’t watch or listen and allow the free market eventually to decide if she’s worth keeping on.

But the effort to silence a voice, to essentially end a career, based on something like this sets not only a dangerous but completely un-American precedent. “

I’m not really sure what an advertising boycott is but “allowing the free market to decide.” I’m not aware of any government action forcing Ingraham’s advertisers to leave her show. I think the impetus for the boycott was a bunch of people taking action because they didn’t like what Ingraham said, which is more or less exactly how the marketplace of ideas is supposed to work?

But the funniest part of this whole Take is this one:

“Ingraham had obviously seen this story played out before, almost one year ago, via her friend and former co-worker Bill O’Reilly, a cable news icon who eventually saw too many advertisers flee his program, forcing the network to dispose of the popular prime-time figure who had been with it for decades as the industry’s top-rated host.

You know the drill: Once one advertiser goes, it’s certain another will follow, given recent history.

And another.

And another.

Because once that snowball gets going, there’s no telling where or when it will stop, in the fear of a brand being permanently damaged. “

O’Reilly’s advertisers, you may recall, fled his show after it came out that Fox had settled five separate sexual harassment lawsuits against him. It’s thus more than a bit weird for Concha to link Ingraham (who he is trying to defend, here, I think) to O’Reilly. “Remember when a bunch of advertisers left O’Reilly’s show because it turns out he’s an enormous creep? IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN!” is an odd way to start a Take.

Let’s All Yell About Kevin

Noah Berlatsky, “Bad Ideas Aren’t Worth Debating,” The Huffington Post, 3/29/2018

The Writers of Takes spent a lot of time last week arguing about whether or not it was okay for the Atlantic to hire Kevin D. Williamson away from National Review. Thus, we got about a dozen Takes saying “Williamson is awful” paralleled by a dozen other Takes saying “Williamson is great,” with just a lot of people trying to intuit what Ta-Nehisi Coates would say. (It turns out that a few weeks ago, Coates mentioned on a National Review podcast that he always reads Williamson’s writing, which of course really made the Federalist happy.) Without getting into all the details, Williamson is a fairly aggressive, conservative, writer, and he has said some notably silly things in the past.

Accordingly, most anti-Williamson writers pointed to the tweet he wrote about how women who get abortions should be hanged and said “you shouldn’t have hired this guy.” (Williamson deleted his Twitter account several months ago, so I can’t link you directly to the tweets in question.) But Mr. Berlatsky, writing for the noble HuffPo, went a step further:

“Mainstream magazines in the Donald Trump era have been scrambling to hire more right-leaning columnists to demonstrate their commitment to diversity of thought. These efforts have borne fruit, though not exactly in the manner intended. Instead of showing the value of vibrant debate, they’ve demonstrated that conservative ideas aren’t worth debating.”

Berlatsky’s thesis is this: not only is Williamson a bad writer whom the Atlantic shouldn’t have hired, all of conservative thought is so completely bankrupt that no mainstream publication should ever hire a conservative writer again. In case you think I’m overstating things, here are several quotes:

“Conservative governance is a disaster because conservative thinking is bankrupt. Giving more space to conservative thinkers is not going to make our polity more diverse and vibrant. It’s going to fill our public sphere with prejudice and ignorance.”

And:

“Yes, lots of people believe in conservatism, but lots of people believe in astrology, too. That doesn’t mean that mainstream publications should start running serious op-eds about what the arrangement of the stars says about the major political issues of our day. (Though admittedly astrology is a lot less harmful than conservatism.)”

And:

“If conservatives have thinkers and scholars on the level of Ibram X. Kendi, bring them forward. In the meantime, Kevin D. Williamson, and all the other fourth-rate proponents of his failed ideology, should be shown the door. Our public sphere would be more vibrant, more thoughtful, more productive, and yes, more free, without them.”

That last quote contains the worst part of this Take, which exalts it from a generic “I don’t like conservatives” bromide to true Silliness. Here’s another example of what I’m talking about:

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Julia Serano,  Safiya Umoja Noble, Laura Agustín — the left has an embarrassment of thinkers with unique perspectives and valuable knowledge who could enrich the public discourse. And the right has … Kevin D. Williamson, a longtimer in the right-wing media bubble whose brilliant, provocative ideas include the suggestion that we should name rape accusers.”

For the sake of argument, let’s decide to agree that Williamson is purely awful, with no redeeming qualities. (I’m not sure that’s quite right, to be fair. Williamson annoys me a lot, but I thought this piece he wrote some years ago was very worth reading, and I think it’s notable that most of the outrage against Williamson boils down to exactly two silly things he’s said over a very decade-long career, rather than a broader indictment of his philosophy or style.) But even if the Atlantic shouldn’t have hired Williamson, Kevin D. Williamson is not the sum total of intellectual thought on the right. There are, I promise, other people out there.

See, Berlatsky argues that the right, as a whole, is intellectually bankrupt, but only mentions three right-wing thinkers in his screed: Williamson, Bret Stephens, and Megan McArdle. At no point does he consider any other conservative writers, or even really engage with any of the things these people have written. With regard to McArdle, he points to a silly thing she said six years ago and then moves on, as though that settled the matter. “Bret Stephens wrote some silly columns for the New York Times in the last 8 months, therefore all of conservatism is an intellectual wasteland” seems like a bit of a reach.

I’m not a conservative, and I’m not really a politics junkie, either. I don’t read even a tenth of the punditry out there. But I can name a boatload of conservative or libertarian (Berlatsky seems to conflate the two) writers that I find to be worth reading, whether I agree with what they’re saying or not: Ramesh Ponnuru, Charles C.W. Cooke, Yuval Levin, Jonah Goldberg, Shoshana Weissman, Nicholas Gillespie, Ken White, T. Greg Doucette, etc. I don’t think Stephens, Williamson, and McArdle are an exhaustive list of conservative intellectuals.

I don’t know whether or not the Atlantic should have hired Williamson. That question raises a host of difficult issues I’m not going to try to sort through in the midst of the Silliest Take of the Week Project. But I know that it’s going to take more than three or four bad tweets to convince me that all conservative writers, everywhere, have absolutely nothing to offer a mainstream publication.

The Silliest Take of the Week: 3/25/18-3/31/18

Virginia Heffernan, “If you’re trying to nail Trump, follow the receipts.” LA Times, 3/31/2018.

“Receipts,” in Internet slang, are articles of proof, usually produced to show that somebody did or said the silly thing they’re pretending they didn’t do or say. Screencaps of tweets, audio recordings of conversations, and records of thirsty text messages are all common forms of “receipts.”

For Ms. Heffernan, writing for the LA Times,

“As Trump’s presidency drags on — having blown past tarnished and into deep, dark ignominy — receipts have become vitally important. They’re the key to blowing open the Trump syndicate, which seems committed to making history and truth ‘go away,’ in the words of a Trumpworld lawyer.”

Accordingly, she lists a collection of receipts people have kept that will somehow serve to burn down the Trump presidency.

Some of these are predictable:

“Karen McDougal kept receipts. The former Playboy model’s handwritten notes chronicle an alleged affair [with Trump] in 2006. These non-coy notes —”we got naked + had sex” — were published in the New Yorker. A White House rebuttal —”more fake news”— crashed on the shoals of receipts.”

(“Crashed on the shoals of receipts” is a really weird metaphor, right?)

But some are only loosely connected to Trump:

“Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) kept receipts. When Trump’s waning Chief of Staff John F. Kelly conjured some lies a year ago about Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 dedication of a new FBI building, her allies presented a video of her remarks that made Kelly look like a fabulist.”

And some are largely speculative:

Stormy Daniels kept receipts. The adult-film actress has a copy of the nondisclosure agreement that she signed, and Trump didn’t, requiring her to keep silent about her alleged Trump tryst, on pain of larcenous fines. This week the president’s lawyer’s lawyer finally denied that Trump even knew about the contract. Legal experts, including former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, suggest the denial might void the contract and liberate Daniels to reveal more “material” she has hinted she has. Photos? Videos? In any case, receipts.

It’s really not clear to me how any of these are going to “nail” Trump in any meaningful sense. I have no idea what receipts Stormy Daniels could produce that would tell us anything other than that the President is a lecherous creep, and, listen: we knew that already. “Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star right after his youngest son was born” is one of these things that I somehow already knew, well before the first rumors came into the public eye. Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and Donald Trump being impossibly sleazy.

But it’s my favorite example that really highlights the Silliness of this Take:

“Even Tiffany Trump, the president’s younger daughter, has submitted a receipt. It’s a small one, to be sure, but last week, she “liked” an Instagram image that showed a demonstrator with a sign that read, “Next Massacre Will Be the GOP in the Midterm Elections.” It may be a record in the public square of her dissent from her father’s party. And maybe from her father.”

Sure, it could be a sign of her dissent from her father’s party (and maybe from her father!), but it could also mean that her cat walked across her keyboard, or that her finger slipped while she was scrolling through Instagram, or any of a number of other things. But even if Tiffany Trump is trying to register her disagreement with her father in the most timid way possible, so what? How is that going to change literally anything about the world? How is this particular “receipt” (and I don’t think this fits the usual definition of a “receipt” in Internet parlance anyway, but whatever) going to “blow open the Trump syndicate?” I think Tiffany Trump’s Instagram presence might actually be the least important thing in the entire world.

Insofar as this Take is anything other than the word “RECEIPTS” shouted over and over again into the void, it just boils down to this: “If we’re going to catch Trump in his lies, we have to keep records, and women have some of those records,” which is close to the most banal thing I’ve ever read. It’s thus not wrong, exactly (record-keeping is good!) but it is useless. That’s why this is the Silliest Take of the Week, folks: it takes real effort to spend ~1000 words and not say anything more than just “evidence is good!”

smart casual jacket

That’s it for this week, folks! Please remember to send the Silliest Takes you find to sillytakes@gmail.com, and I’ll see you next week!

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