Even with his signature “fade to vague” move at the end, what Coates is dog-whistling here is not hard to understand. If you were designing rhetoric to inflame people who feed on fever dreams of “white genocide,” you could hardly aim your words more precisely than this. What Coates perhaps unintentionally pursues, and what Spencer eagerly seeks, is to “heighten the contradictions”: delegitimize the center-right and center-left (mainstream conservatives are always the first target), so that nothing remains but the extremes, who share the same philosophy and differ only in who gets the spoils after the bloodletting stops. This process can work only if distinctions between the center and the extremes are either abolished or resolved in favor of the extremists. When you try to marginalize the mainstream, you end up mainstreaming the margins. That’s exactly why I have argued that we should avoid pointlessly inflammatory controversies — over Confederate symbols, for example — that accomplish nothing but to reinforce tribal camps and push the most extreme voices to the fore.

Williams’s column is courageous for telling hard truths to an audience that reveres Coates, and valuable because it seeks a way out of the box of fatalistic racial polarization. By contrast, Jane Coaston’s effort in the same pages at deriding Ben Shapiro is deeply disappointing, coming from a writer who is typically civil and open-minded enough on Twitter that she ought to know better. Coaston’s is one in a long tradition of liberal concern-trolling articles that urge conservatives (and only conservatives) to spend all their time attacking their own side, while offering not a syllable of reciprocation. Her entire thesis is that Shapiro lacks courage because he fails to criticize his own side or tell his conservative audience things they do not want to hear. Coaston, a liberal writer writing for a liberal audience at a liberal publication, proceeds to tell her liberal readers only liberal things they want to hear. In so doing, she makes it harder, not easier, to find common ground, and serves the Coates/Spencer goal of marginalizing the mainstream.