On this edition of Parallax Views, over the course of this program's history J.G. Michael has been fairly open about his politics leaning to the leftward, sometimes called progressive, end of the political compass. Past guests of Parallax Views, like Noam Chomsky and Bill Ayers, have reflected J.G.'s own orientation. However, J.G. doesn't want himself or his listeners to live in a bubble. As such he recently reached out to the often controversial and stylish conservative commentator Kevin D. Williamson, the roving correspondent for the National Review and author of the new book Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the "Real America", with an invite to appear on Parallax Views. Kevin accepted and this conversation is the result.
Those expecting a debate will likely be disappointed. This is a frank conversation, co-hosted by Nathan Myers of the unfortunately defunct Clash podcast, in which J.G. and Kevin cover a wide range of topics and clarify some of Kevin's views, which, depending on what you've heard about him, may surprise you. Among the subjects we discuss and the lines of inquiry we pursue are:- How Kevin became involved in journalism and his literary influences which include the arch-conservative William F. Buckley as well as, believe it or not, the counterculture gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test fame; J.G. draws a parallel between Thompson's work on the Hell's Angels, specifically in regards to what Thompson called "the ethic of total retaliation, and some of the themes in Kevin's new book Big White Ghetto; the attitude of James Dean-style teenage rebellion in the 60s and its relevance today; social anxiety about masculinity in a world where traditional masculinity (ie: violence, physical labor, etc.) is not as high in value as it used to be and how this ties into both the rebellions of the Hell's Angels and the cultural moment of Trumpism; why Kevin writes the way he does and his dislike for what he sees as "performative empathy"
- Kevin's work covering the alt right which led him to interviewing figures like the white nationalist Richard Spencer; the sense of "disappointment", driven by social and moral entitlement, that Kevin believes drove the alt right and associated movement; the "Cowboys and Indians" nature of Trumpism and Kevin's description of Trumpism as less of an ideology than an enemy's list; what William F. Buckley thought of Trump and speculating as to what Buckley would think of Trumpism
- Why Trumpism has been a tough nut to crack for many commentators and why it appeals to many people that think of themselves as conservative despite it not being, in Kevin's view, conservative in nature; Kevin's thoughts on Tucker Carlson and journalists in the Trump World who are from wealthy backgrounds that have appointed themselves as voices for the white working class, the rustbelt, and the forgotten areas of American society; the disconnect between those who know poverty and those who haven't experienced poverty; Kevin's criticisms of figures like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity within the conservative media
- Politics as aesthetics and social affiliation; Kevin's article entitled "Acting White"; professionals pretending to be rednecks and what Kevin calls the "white minstrel show"; why Kevin included the phrase "The Real America" in the subtitle of his book; Ted Cruz and social posturing/affectation; careerism in conservative media and shifting values within said media; the ascent of the professional conservative; the different worlds that exist within conservative media; how Sean Hannity and others are terrified of there own audiences due to what Kevin calls the right-wing version of "Cancel Culture"; the problem of subservience to political power amongst journalists; Kevin's view of libertarianism; the financial pressures of AM right-wing radio and the freedom Kevin is afforded by working for the National Review rather than working in the radio-sphere.
- Kevin's thoughts on paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan as well as his thoughts on the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard; Rothbard's idea of a pan-radical movement of antiwar activists and figures like David Duke against the Establishment; how conspiracy theories and the conspiratorial mindset of organizations like the John Birch Society rose in relation to the intellectual side of the conservative movement; the content of Rothbard being abandoned in favor of the style and rhetoric; the prevalence of a theater of "Us and Them" elites-betraying-we-the-people story-telling in the right-wing today; is paleoconservatism even conservative in an American context; conservatism in the American context as being tied to liberalism whereas conservatism in Europe is more tied to blood-and-soil, throne-and-altar nationalism; anti-liberal elements that vote for the Republican Party for non-ideological reasons; tribalism as driving current political fights rather than policy
- Cultural politics as a substitute for real politics and policy discussion; the changing of cultural politics in both the Democratic Party and Republican Party since the 1980s; cultural politics as snobbery; the rebranding of Democrats as the party of professionals and the Republicans as the party of the working class and poor; snobbery on both sides of the political spectrum; people wanting to argue and debate with the caricature of what they perceive a person's politics and culture to be rather than the actual person; post-politics and Andy Warhol's idea of fame as hell on earth; celebrity-seeking behavior and social media; life as performance rather than "just living" in an age of being constantly watched through social media; Kevin's lack of presence on social media; the removal of connected and traditional means of social meaning and belonging leading to the current morality plays that occur on social media
- Does Kevin hate poor rural whites or is that a misrepresentation; growing up in a poor family but having an advantage in regards to social capital due to living in the college town of Lubbock, Texas; the great mistake of America's policy discussion and the way in which policy discussions are dominated by the well-heeled, educated classes and reflective of their interests;
- Kevin's infamous debate with Michael Brendan Dougherty and his controversial comments declaring that broken communities in rural America should be allowed to die; Kevin's belief that, on the individual level, should leave those communities to form a better life; policy being erronesouly based on places rather than people; Boonville, Kentucky and other places that Kevin has written about that don't, in the current moment, seem to have much of an economic future
- Kevin's essay "I Am Cancer"; readers ascribing what they want to Kevin's writing regardless of what Kevin actually believes; the story of Kevin's experience evicting a family from a house he inherited; the theme in "I Am Cancer" of a lack of recognition in regards to how bad things don't just happen overnight; the terribly sad and depressing nature of Kevin's experience with eviction court and how he turned the experience into an essay; the subjectless-ness of the stories Kevin heard during his experience in eviction court; how "I Am Cancer" gets to the heart of Kevin's debate with Michael Brendan Doughtery; Kevin's policy suggestion of relocation benefits and other social welfare programs to help people in these communities.
- Nathan asks about Kevin's essay, from which the book gets it's title, "The Big White Ghetto"; the problems of poverty not having obvious solutions due to factors like mental health issues, drug dependency, etc.; how soda was used as a form of currency in that story; the importance of talking to people, from drug dealers to police, in covering these stories and the mistake journalists make by only talking to figures from institutions
- Nathan asks Kevin why there's a refusal to acknowledge the nature of the crisis in forgotten communities and Kevin's response involving the "Two Santa Clauses" theory; the "Get a Job" cartoon version of conservatism and what Kevin sees as the kernel of truth in that advice when it comes to communities that are economically dying; JD Vance's Hillbilly Elegy; Kevin's thoughts on anti-immigrant attitudes; moving out of these communities, or dispersion, as the only way out of the destitution of these communities and why Kevin believes that saying this is the only option needs to be said; "performative empathy" as a disservice to bettering people's lives
- How Kevin's writing on the subject covered in Big White Ghetto are similar to those written about by the true crime author and conservative commentator Theodore Dalrymple; both Dalrymple and Williamson write about what has been described as the situation of an overlooked "permanent underclass"; how Dalrymple's writing deals with people in prisons whereas Kevin deals with populations that are less concentrated; the passive voice in the stories of the poor that both Dalrymple and Willamson
- Ending on a note of levity with a story involving Kevin babysitting, the adult video game Leisure Suit Larry, and Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy