Given today’s political environment—in which the left seems unhinged from reality, unable to say that there is one thing that is a man and another thing that is a woman, or to articulate the most basic defense of liberalism and the West—one might imagine that the right is sitting pretty. For the first time in decades, all conservatives like me have to do is be normal.
Over the weekend, a writer and a Twitter personality on the political right unmasked himself, boringly and yet still wretchedly, as an antisemite. He did it casually, as though holding these noxious beliefs should be perfectly obvious.
But it was so repugnant that it cannot be glossed over or ignored. And the fact that, so far as I can tell, it largely has been, at least by conservatives, is all the more reason to expose this noxious little incident.
Pedro L. Gonzalez is a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, an American think tank with a storied past. Claremont is home to many first-rate writers who have helped to ensure that the Republican voter base and its intellectual class are not wholly separate entities. Yet Mr. Gonzalez spent his holiday weekend bringing what many have worked hard to relegate to the gutter into respectable conservative circles.
On the penultimate day of 2021, a left-wing economist named David Rothschild was doing what leftist activists do on social media. On this occasion, he was tweeting that “Republican intellectuals *despise* the Constitution.” Gonzalez responded to this low-grade click-bait by saying “Libs openly flout laws they don’t like—see sanctuary cities and DACA—but will still preach to you about the constitution. These people are as dumb as they are repulsive.” He added a photo of Rothschild.
There is already a certain problem here. For to accuse other people of being physically unattractive one must be either in a playground or in a position of extraordinary Adonis-ism oneself. You can Google Mr. Gonzalez and judge for yourself.
Then he wrote this: “That Rothschild physiognomy is pure nightmare fuel.”
“Rothschild physiognomy.” Even reading those words in the 2020s causes a degree of whiplash. But it turns out that Mr. Gonzalez has a bit of a thing for the phrase. In responding to another tweet—this one from a lawyer coincidentally named Ari Cohn—he returned to the physiognomy question. Tweeting out the most unflattering photo he could find of Cohn, Mr. Gonzalez wrote: “Oh look another cursed goblin physiognomy.”
Surely, he would just say he’s doing it for the lolz. This deliberate dance with the darkest stuff is the embodiment of what Jean-Paul Sartre described when he said:
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.
I think we can safely say that in these recent communiques, Mr. Gonzalez is sincerely enjoying playing with antisemitism. He is treating himself to some of it. Indulging in it. Enjoying it. Specifically thrilled at the opportunity to revive execrable motifs and notions that recall Nazi eugenicists and their obsession with uber and untermenschen. All the while believing that while his foes all happen to have Jewish features, he—Gonzalez!—is in the position of an Aryan.
His odious game-playing—which is now everywhere in our culture—is not violence, but it is a kind of proto-violence. It is playing at violence. It is threatening to go there.
During an interview with Michael Malice some while ago I was introduced to a meme I had previously been unaware of, where people on the right use a picture of a helicopter to reply to left-wing journalists that they don’t like.
The reference is to opponents of General Pinochet who the late Chilean dictator had thrown out of helicopters. As I said to Malice then, I don’t like this kind of talk. And I don’t like this kind of play. For I know that the meme-sters playing with such ideas know almost nothing about what they are referring to. What I am sure of is that they get some kind of naughty thrill from the transgression, from joking about the murder of ideological opponents. Yet just as this is deplorable when it comes from the left—wearing cute shirts with Che Guevara, praising Stalin, joking about gulags—so it should be when it comes from the right. And in our era’s race to not just defeat but to hurt our ideological opponents, not enough people try to dampen this activity on their own ideological side.
This is an uncomfortable subject for anyone who considers themselves on the political right, perhaps especially at this moment. I happen to believe that claims of fascism, racism, and extremism have been wildly overused against the mainstream right in recent years. People who hold normal conservative opinions have been demonized. People who should not have been shut out of the public square have been banned. No surprise: we’ve become inured to words like “racist” and “bigot.” Even the sharpest terms which historical experience has handed down to us—such as accusations of antisemitism—have had their moral force blunted.
One of the consequences of this is similar to the effects of blunt force trauma. You end up not feeling things even—perhaps especially—when you should.
The American right should be broad, and it should be tolerant. It should accept ideological differences as much as any other movement that seeks to gain political influence. But there are places where it cannot allow people to go while remaining within the fold. What happened just before the new year is such a moment.
Though helicoptering should not be a meme, defenestration should be. Rarely has there been an occasion when a dose of it has been more in order.
Douglas Murray is an associate editor at The Spectator and the author of seven books, most recently, “The Madness of the Crowds.”