Ann Coulter: less popular than an airline. / Gage Skidmore
Ben Schwartz,  July 17

Sméagol in the Sky

Ann Coulter gets high and mighty

Ann Coulter: less popular than an airline. / Gage Skidmore
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Yesterday, for one brief shining moment, Ann Coulter appeared to be something close to human. For decades, Coulter has been one of the more abominable clowns in modern politics, demanding liberals be boiled in oil and staking out a Trumpist position on the invading brown immigrant hordes well before our great leader’s escalator ride into glory.

On Sunday, though, she tweeted about getting cheated. And she did get cheated—as anyone following her social-media outbursts could readily acknowledge. No, not just her anti-Muslim, anti–anyone of color base, not just those who love seeing her taunt the most easily tauntable of chump liberals—and not just her liberal enablers, who invite her on their talk shows and cover her every bigoted bon mot to click-magnetize their blogs and boost anemic cable ratings while tut-tutting her. This was that rarest of media sightings: Ann Coulter as relatable.

As I say, it only lasted a moment, a bit of Sméagol pathos before baring her Gollum teeth. But, yesterday, as per her 1.61 million follower Twitter account, Coulter live-tweeted her ousting from an “extra room” seat on a Delta Airlines flight that she had paid for, and reserved well in advance of her flight. Coulter is a tall person—and to use the liberal-HR argot she professes to despise, this makes her a special needs air passenger. And anyone not of the right body size to help the airlines maximize their dollars-to-person seating knows what a relief that extra room can be. And then, Delta’s bookers decided they’d give Coulter’s seat away to someone else, and so they did. 

America hates airlines more than it does drunk drivers.

“Suck-ass Delta” Coulter fumed on Twitter, calling Delta’s gate people and flight attendants “Nurse Ratchets.” Because I’m a snowflake who thinks people deserve better from corporate America, I felt for her. But, according to Coulter’s own deregulatory ideology, the one she’d impose on any of her fellow white Americans after deporting everyone else, she should put her platinum victim card away and suck it up. She is, after all, an elite Ivy League–educated law-school graduate who has no excuse for not knowing her ticket agreement. To airlines, seat reservations fall under the heading “optional service.” As the Department of Transportation web site states clearly, under “Fee Charged for Unused Optional Services,” “Airlines must refund you the fees charged for optional services such as in-flight wifi or seat assignment fees that the passenger was unable to use due to an oversale situation or flight cancellation.”

A refund—that’s it. Airlines cover themselves extremely well when it comes to what they are and are not responsible for once you hand over your money. What airlines are actually accountable for is very little, as it turns out—and that’s exactly what Coulter got from Delta: very little.

What happened next turned into one of the more epic self-owns in Twitter history. Coulter wanted to drag Delta. America hates airlines more than it does drunk drivers. And Delta chose to fuck with one of the more prominent, nastier public voices in modern celebrity journalism. The ball was teed up. How hard could this be?

Well, if you’re a sociopath, really hard. True, Coulter threw a fistful of justified insults at Delta—such as “Why is @delta worse than @united? A: United drags customers off planes, but soon Delta will have to drag them ON.” But things soon got personal, as they always do in Coulter’s world. First, the outrage-purveyor posted a picture of the flight attendant who asked her to move (who Coulter claims offered only a feeble “I don’t know” when asked why). And then, Coulter escalated her social media outburst into Coulterist overdrive: She went back to get a photo of the woman who got her seat. The upward-looking face of the passenger—appalled—spoke for millions more of us, as one imagines the towering, gangly Coulter looming over her like the Bride of Slenderman to get her Weegee crime scene photo documenting that someone else was sitting in Ann Coulter’s big girl seat.

Creating ugly conflict is what Coulter does.

Because this is a story about Ann Coulter, it’s necessary to point out that the flight attendant and the passenger photographed are both women of color. Why is that necessary? Because Coulter has made race a major theme of her work, most recently in books like Adios, America! and In Trump We Trust. Her dread that white western civilization has its back against the wall is always on her mind. In fact, during this Delta epic rant, Coulter—jonesing for a dose of uncut racial vitriol—actually stopped her Delta tirade to retweet one @JBurtonXP’s comment about the acid attacks in London. The comment: “Letting Muslims into your country is what led to a rise in acid attacks. Removing Muslims from your country is how to stop the acid attacks.” She also huffed that “Immigrants take American jobs (& seats on @Delta).” Always be closing, when you’re out to Make America Great Again!

Powerless in the face of the corporate culture she extolls, Coulter vindictively used her media clout to attack two women who can’t possibly respond in kind. Of all those Delta “Nurse Ratchets”—of course, Coulter fixated only on Delta’s female employees—Coulter chose to focus on just one. And the other was the passenger who got her seat, and who has no more say over what Delta does than Coulter. Coulter’s Twitter tsunami went on for hours. Then Delta’s Twitter account responded, and Ann Coulter entered into the National Archives of the owned with: “We’re sorry you did not receive the preferred seat you paid for and will refund your $30.”

All this for $30? A meager sum for a seat she immodestly estimated cost some $10,000 of her valuable time to procure. And in pursuit of that paltry payback, Coulter’s misdirected rage put another passenger on blast. Given the troll to human ratio of Coulter’s audience, we all know where that can go. Not long ago, Coulter was blocked from speaking in Berkeley, California because the police could not guarantee the safety of the community should her hate-fueled tirades drive her anti-PC following into more than just rhetorical assaults on “social justice warriors.” Berkeley has had several violent altercations in the past year between Trump supporters and antifa activists, and it was all too plausible to imagine that Coulter’s presence might spark another. Free speech advocates insisted—rightly—that no matter her views, she has a right to speak. But another truism of free speech debates is that none of us has the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Booking Coulter in that environment was cashing in on the specter of fraught Kulturkampf in order to sell books. 

This is the hostile, self-promoting marketing strategem that Coulter has cynically exploited for decades. There’s a reason she has to appear at public events with bodyguards—and there’s a reason other venues besides Berkeley have cancelled her appearances. Creating ugly conflict is what she does. It’s what her fans love about her and what appalls everyone else. And we all got a look at it in real time on her Twitter feed this weekend in the disgusted faces of the women Coulter chose to introduce to her fans.

Ben Schwartz is currently working on a history of American humor between the two world wars and can be followed on Twitter at @benschwartzy.

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