I once took Andrew Sullivan seriously. He inspired me to blog, may in fact have contributed significantly toward turning “blog” into a verb: an activity viable and necessary. Sometime in the early 2010s the compulsion shorted dendrites in his brain. He hates Donald Trump — so what, get in line. Because he defines himself as a moderate conservative, he writes columns at New York in which his resistance to the trans movement, reduction of substantive liberal theories about systemic racism to white-men-are-awful, and appeals to a fictional conservatism positing that Reagan and Thatcher would have gasped at the deformation of the modern GOP adduce his putative fair-mindedness. The tergiversation in his paragraphs — the ideological careening and habitual defensiveness — is an intenser ride than Space Mountain.
In the latest hodgepodge, Sullivan turns to the case of a woman who took to Twitter for help dealing with a teenaged son whom she suspects of flirting with white supremacist dreck online:
It reminds me of a fundamentalist mother stalking her son’s online porn habit. Doesn’t she realize that it is exactly this kind of pious, preachy indoctrination about “oppressive systems” that are actually turning some white kids into alt-right fanboys? To my mind, it’s a sign of psychological well-being that these boys are skeptical of their authority figures, that they don’t think their maleness is a problem, and that they enjoy taking the piss out of progressive pabulum. This is what healthy teenage boys do.
The problem? This is the tweet he chose to denounce. Guess why. It rhymes with “chiggered.” Yet a string of prefatory tweets present, shall we say, a larger view. The number of “subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes” to which her son is exposed terrify this woman. When shamed by authority figures, the young men’s response is to consume more garbage. Boys who grow up in moderate to progressive families are often the biggest offenders, she notes. “NOBODY seems to notice this happening — except, it seems, moms of teenage girls who see the bizarre harassment their daughters endure,” she writes. “And, of course, moms like me who stalk our sons’ social media.”
These points are lucidly phrased, the fear genuine. Yet for the sake of pillorying one of the right’s most loathed verbs, he brushes aside this mother’s worries, thus turning his case into a rake he steps on, continuously: he ignores her because she’s a woman, because he has no daughters; he ignores her because for Andrew Sullivan young men dabbling in puerile memes evinces their skepticism of authority figures. The anti-Semite and the online fag basher are as essential to shaping a healthy, pulchritudinous male imagination as Orwell and Montaigne. Enjoying quips at the expense of women is as harmless as fart jokes. Confront these teens, Sullivan warns, and risk — get this — further radicalizing them:
Subject young white boys to critical race and gender theory, tell them that women can have penises, that genetics are irrelevant in understanding human behavior, that borders are racist, or that men are inherently toxic, and you will get a bunch of Jordan Peterson fans by their 20s. Actually, scratch that future tense — they’re here and growing in number.
Save your complaints, readers. Piss off embryonic racists and you may turn them into full-bodied ones. We made our racist relatives into Trump voters. These conclusions rebound to the pecuniary interests of Andrew Sullivan: he can accept more cable TV talk show invitations to explain the subtleties of his, ah, unsullied fascination with majoritarian politics, then himself take to Twitter when critics attack him for holding the views he detailed in exquisite precision. We will never be rid of him.