You’re Not a Member, Robinson, Beat It

By | 2018-07-07T16:48:29+00:00 July 8th, 2018|
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Conservatives who’ve tried to make it in academia and other cultural circles have heard this many times: “You don’t really belong here.” It doesn’t matter how bright or perceptive or erudite they are. They don’t have the right pedigree, for instance, a renowned professor as a mentor or an internship at a notable periodical or foundation.

“We don’t know you,” they are told. “Sorry, no admission.”

And so Jonah Goldberg’s response to Emerald Robinson’s commentary on NeverTrumpers has a familiar ring. It sounds the “you’re-not-one-of-us” note many times, a sure sign of Establishment defensiveness. Robinson made several biting criticisms of George Will, Bill Kristol, and others, and every point is open to counterpoint and refutation. I’ve met Robinson, who realizes that opinion pieces are always up for debate. Vigorous retorts are part of the game.

But Goldberg relies too much on the very credentialist hurdles that liberals have raised against conservatives in every institution that they have controlled. Who are you?

Here are the shots, starting with the first sentence.

“There’s always a trade-off in calling attention to trollish, attention-seeking writers”—which is to say, Robinson hasn’t gotten any attention yet, and she really, really craves it.

“Now, before I go on, as much as I enjoy reading the musings of someone I’ve never heard of at a cable-news network I’ve never watched . . .”—Yup, never heard of her, she’s nobody, and her network doesn’t merit a look. This is exactly the kind of remark a liberal journalist would say about a young reporter at The Weekly Standard not long after it was founded.

Noting how Robinson lumps together Ramesh Ponnuru and other figures who, in truth, have significant disagreements, Goldberg doesn’t leave it at that. He adds you can’t make that grouping “if you’re a remotely informed or serious person.” Robinson isn’t just flatly mistaken, then. She isn’t remotely in the field of valid discussion.

And note the phrase that follows Goldberg’s reasonable point that NeverTrumpers haven’t lost their audience as much as Robinson claims they have: “While it’s true that the people who take this woman seriously . . .” Seriousness, again, and this time Robinson doesn’t even deserve to be named, she is merely “this woman.”

Soon, the tone turns to disdain: “Robinson, who is supposed to be some kind of reporter in Washington . . . ” The echo of liberals who have spoken of conservatives in just this way is obvious. How many times have liberals, in effect, placed them in scarequotes, as in “a conservative ‘scholar’”?

Finally, another delegitimizing characterization: “Robinson, like so much of this crowd . . .” Goldberg means people who knock NeverTrumpers or anti-Trump commentators, but let’s recall how many times liberals have answered a lone conservative voice by pegging him as just another hack in an army of right-wing noise machinists.

This is a style of rejoinder the Right should not adopt. We get enough of it from the other side. Jonah Goldberg has enough analytical talent to dismantle faulty assertions without having to punctuate his points with you’re-not-worthy jabs.

The presence of them here indicates establishment insecurities at work, a lack of humor, and an unhealthy dose of self-regard. It encourages objective readers to surmise the opposite of what Golderg wants them to surmise, namely, that Robinson is truly onto something.

Perhaps this attempt to discredit a new critical voice is the outcome of too much success. After all, Goldberg notes, his latest book “debuted at No. 5 on the NYT bestseller list.”

About the Author:

Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein is a senior editor at First Things and professor of English at Emory University, where he has taught since earning his Ph.D. in English at UCLA in 1989. For two years (2003-2005) he served as director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include Literary Criticism: An Autopsy, The Pragmatic Mind: Explorations in the Psychology of Belief, and The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Partisan Review, Wilson Quarterly, Commentary, and New Criterion, and his commentaries and reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national periodicals.