BY CHRIS OSTERNDORF
Almost everyone has a patron saint. Matthew is the patron saint of accountants. Agatha is the patron saint of foundry workers. Benedict is the patron saint of schoolchildren. And Ann Coulter is the patron saint of trolls.
Or at least, of conservative trolls.
To give credit where credit is due, Coulter is among the most accomplished trolls in the world. This is a person who trolled her way onto the cover of TIME Magazine. But when it comes right down to it, Coulter’s tactics are no different than the average Internet agitator, she’s just applying those tactics in “real life.” if anything, she’s perfecting them.
Coulter’s latest troll-tastic endeavour is to declare that liking soccer makes you a bad American. Coulter is hardly the first person to take a shot at the globally inescapable World Cup. Stephen H. Webb’s Politico piece, “Why Soccer is Un-American,” has gotten its fair share of attention by now. But whereas Webb is all snark and eye-rolling in his stance (he’s since clarified that he does have some appreciation for the game), Coulter employs her usual combination of trumped-up moral outrage and intentionally childish bullying.
Basically, Coulter’s latest tirade insists that soccer goes against the idea of American individualism (already a problematic notion, in America or any other country) that it’s not tough enough—which is to say it’s too safe, too girly, it isn’t “manly”—and that its popularity around the world automatically makes it a threat here (like many on the far right, Coulter takes pride in endorsing xenophobia).
None of this actually has anything to do with Americans’ complicated relationship with soccer. The only agenda Ann Coulter is advancing in this case, and in every other, is her own. Coulter is a master at the art of trolling—because she knows that if you are offensive all the time and everytime, it doesn’t matter what you say. All that matters is that you pay attention to who’s saying it. Which, in this case, is her.
Coulter’s history of trolling is long and severe. In 1997, she served as a legal advisor on Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton. Although there are some lingering questions about Clinton’s actions towards women overtime, Coulter’s main contribution to the Jones case was spreading a rumor about what Clinton’s penis looked like.
Jones’ later settled, and Coulter turned on her after she made the decision to pose nude for Penthouse. Coulter said, “I totally believed she was the good Christian girl she made herself out to be. It turns out she’s a fraud, at least to the extent of pretending to be an honorable and moral person. Now, she’s just as gross as Monica.”
After September 11, Coulter made the first in a series of ill-informed, blanket statements about Islam. In Coulter’s defense, her friend Barbara Olson was killed in the 9/11 attacks. Less defendable: her assertion, regarding Muslims, that “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Coulter said, “We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
From there, she went on to pledge that she would only fly airlines with a history of discriminating against “Arabs.” When asked how she proposed people from the middle-east get from place to place, she suggested “flying carpets.” She also told a Muslim university student to “take a camel,” as an alternative to air travel (this in addition to referring to Middle Easterners as “camel jockeys” and “ragheads”).
Coulter’s views on other minority groups are just as lacking in nuance. Lately, her number one target has been undocumented workers. In the same speech where she urged Americans to shame the poor, she casually brought up the idea of forming death squads if Amnesty passes (never mind there are plenty of people who have already taken this sentiment to heart).
Feelings about immigrants and muslims aside, Coulter has famously insisted “we don’t have racism in America” (and to show how not racist she is, she tastefully titled her book from 2012, Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama).
When it comes to LGBT issues, Coulter’s take is similarly conflicting. Her main reason for believing homosexuals should vote Republican? She argues, “As soon as they find the gay gene, guess who the liberal yuppies are gonna start aborting?”
Perhaps she also thought she was welcoming gays into the GOP when she publicly stated, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I’m so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards, so I think I’ll just conclude here and take your questions.” This comment was met with raucous applause from Coulter’s classy supporters.
Her version of an apology for these hateful remarks was to go on TV and let everybody know, “‘Faggot isn’t offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays.” She continued, “It’s a schoolyard taunt meaning ‘wuss,’ and unless you’re telling me that John Edwards is gay, it was not applied to a gay person.”
The only group that Coulter might be more purposefully obtuse about than gay people is women. Her lovely words on conservative hate-generator Sandra Fluke? “That haircut is birth control enough.”
And long before Fluke was a glimmer on the national stage, Coulter was already gearing up for the war on women—recommending that, to start with, we take away their right to vote. She espoused this stance in the New York Observer. “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president,” Coulter argued. “It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women…it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it’s the party of women and ‘We’ll pay for health care and tuition and day care—and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?’”
That’s right, everybody. According to Ann Coulter, if you can’t get men to vote for you, you might as well not have anyone voting for you at all.
Other recent instances where Coulter plied her charm include a tweet from 2012 Presidential election that read, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard,” an insult which she followed up by characterizing the people who called her out as “aggressive victims” (additional irony: her feigned anger over Obama’s “cancer joke”), and her condemnation of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign from earlier this year.
Ann Coulter is not the poster child for every right-wing pundit. Fox News’ own Bill O’Reilly has accused her of being irresponsible. But she is the top right-wing troll, rivaled only occasionally by Rush Limbaugh. To be sure, there are trolls on the left, too. Seth MacFarlane, for instance, is ostensibly a troll for the left (although considering much of his regressive humor, you’d never know it). But on the right, Coulter remains the best at being the worst.
Looking at the extremes Coulter has gone to in her unparalleled level of trolling, it’s hard to believe that even she believes everything she says. Salon’s Chris Sosa, for one, has theorized that she’s basically a right-wing performance artist, satirizing the ugliest elements of modern politics.
But the truth is simpler than that. Slate’s Amanda Marcotte said it best: “Not that Sosa is wrong to think Coulter is pulling a fast one. She is, but not because she’s a satirist. She’s a different kind of animal, a plain old charlatan, willing to say or do anything in order to get you to buy her book. The shoddy research in her books is not proof of some kind of Andy Kaufman-style performance art. It is simply evidence that she’s willing to lie to her audience in order to sell more books.”
Trolls are always charlatans, by their very nature. Through riling people up, screaming about how right they are, and how wrong everyone else is, trolls reveal that they aren’t really interested in anything except themselves. A troll’s main goal is to be noticed, not be taken seriously. Luckily for us, there’s an easy way to make trolls go away (besides dropping their columns, which is also an option in Coulter’s case). Trolls only win if you pay attention to them. If we all stop paying attention to Ann Coulter, right now, she goes away. Simple as that.
So the next time you hear about her, instead of getting outraged, just shake your head and move on. Think about something else, and enjoy not having Ann Coulter be a part of your life.
Let’s all start right now.
Chris Osterndorf is a graduate of DePaul University’s Digital Cinema program. He is a contributor at HeaveMedia.com, where he regularly writes about TV and pop culture.
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)