The Cult of Ann Coulter
Young white female conservative commentators have become a major force in neutralizing opposition to dangerous right-wing public figures
Note: This piece, originally published on December 12, 2016, has been re-posted from my former blog site at Wordpress.
I wanted to follow up on a tweetstorm I made last week about white women and the news media industry that only seems to value their ability to be alibis to powerful men.
I’ve been struck by the number of young, white, conventionally attractive women who’ve become famous over the past few years for their provocative criticisms of President Obama, the Democratic Party, feminists, racial justice activists, and pro-LGBT policies. Many of them, including Tomi Lahren, Scottie Nell Hughes, Kayleigh McEnany, and Katrina Pierson rose to fame as big-time supporters of the Trump campaign. Some of them remain advisers to his transition team.
In effect, these women elevated their media careers by routinely defending a man who had made his hatred for women apparent for years and attacked those that dared to call him out on it. Every time Trump said or did something revealing his misogyny, these women were there, blond and bellicose, to push back on his (often female) critics.
Hillary Clinton may have had bigger names behind her, but I always felt her surrogates were weak when it came to the level of enthusiasm they displayed for her versus that of the young, attractive women the Trump campaign routinely deployed to defend him in the media. Given his past woman-bashing, perhaps Trump knew all along that his defense — not to mention the appeal of his emotional, optics-driven campaign to traditional Republicans — depended on the display of constant, full-throated support from young women.
The use of white women as props to peddle hateful rhetoric or to whip up support for violent and oppressive acts is by no means novel. White supremacist patriarchal socialization tells us that white women — particularly those who are young and conventionally attractive — are the bastions of virtue; they are innocuous and reflect ‘our (men’s) better halves’. But this also means that white women are not taken very seriously by men, and can be quickly discarded if they step out of line or are no longer useful to a man’s agenda.
That said, for all the privilege young white women have in getting to the next level of media stardom, they are also easy targets for a news media industry that isn’t really interested in developing journalists, but cheerleaders for powerful men. As other writers have pointed out, progressive news media outlets aren’t much better towards young women as they extract tawdry sex pieces from them with little regard for the impact those pieces (which often go viral) will have on their publishing careers. Ultimately however, right-wing news media is far more damaging in its promotion of anti-black, misogynistic, and xenophobic attitudes; and its use of white women to neutralize — and at times destabilize — opposition to those attitudes. In his praise of Tomi Lahren’s social media platform, for instance, radio host Charlamagne Tha God not only erases the black female writers and activists who’ve been using social media to educate and organize people for years; he flattens out the differences in the aims of their work. White women are defending white men. Black women are defending their personhood.
It will never be in the interest of Tomi Lahren or any white female conservative commentator to come around to progressive ideas. Their personal brand is their business — and ultimately they are running a business. A veteran in the conservative commentator world, Ann Coulter has not ever once apologized for or reformed any hateful viewpoint she has expressed about women or minorities. Nearly 20 years after her debut, she continues to write bestsellers, deliver speeches at major Republican events, and make the rounds on cable news shows as the voice of the extreme right. Her commercial success has tilted the news media landscape toward polemics, and there are dozens of young white women out there like Lahren who are eager to get in on the spoils.