Updated: Mar 7
(Original article from the New York Times, July 21, 2022)
It's the rare occasion when I am complimentary about the New York Times, but this is one of those occasions. Eight of their opinion writers were invited (or commanded?) to write a column describing a time when they may have misjudged a situation; a time when their biases may have blinded them to a truth that with time, perhaps, made them look a little silly.
Of the eight writers who took part, three of them I rarely read, three I occasionally read, and two I regularly read, and one of those two, Bret Stephens, made my day with an admission that reaffirmed my belief in humankind, at least a little bit. It has to do with his characterization of the supporters of candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign. Let me give some background.
In August of 2015, I had been incarcerated for over a year. A few of us in the prison camp were closely watching the emerging Presidential primary season. In my book, In God We Trust, I wrote the following:
In my view, the best thing about Donald Trump's candidacy is that he has successfully changed the narrative of our political discussions. Immigration would not be front and center as it is today if not for Donald Trump. And Donald Trump's early supporters are a mixed array of working-class Americans who don't like the direction the country has taken over the last 15 years. So, one article/commentary that really caught my eyes was by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. It illustrates a theme I've been positing all year about the ruling class. Bret Stephens is a member of the ruling class, as a respected member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial board. His opening line in this article is:
"If by now you don't find Donald Trump appalling, you're appalling."
And the name calling only goes downhill from there. I believe the denigration of ordinary Americans by the ruling class is going to come back and haunt them. You can only call people stupid so many times before they completely turn you off and follow another path. Stephens goes on to explain his views on how these degenerates aren't the conservative America loving patriots they claim to be. In speaking about the ascendancy of Trump:
"It says that we may soon have a conservative movement in which the American creed of give me your tired, your poor could yield to the Trumpian creed that America must not become a dumping ground to poor immigrants from Latin America, as if these millions of hard working and God-fearing people are a piece of garbage."
This one sentence is the perfect illustration of how the ruling class worldview has no clue how the average law-abiding American thinks nor how Donald Trump thinks...So, I would say to Mr. Stephens and those in the ruling class, those who are attracted to Trump are really trying to send a message to you. Those of you in power (Washington and the media) are destroying our country by allowing too many illegal immigrants into our country at a time when these working-class citizens are struggling economically. Trump and his followers don't think that the illegals are a piece of garbage, but they know that the best way to help them is helping improve the economies of their own countries, not allowing them into this country. Trump's approach may be politically incorrect, and his language at times vulgar, but he is honest, clear and straightforward about what ails this country, and to many Americans he is the first 'breath of fresh air' they have heard from a politician in a long time. He represents their views, those of conservative America loving patriots.
Mr. Stephens mea culpa opens with this:
"The worst line I ever wrote as a pundit - yes, I know it is a crowded field - was the first line I ever wrote about the man who would become the 45th president:
If by now you don't find Donald Trump appalling, you're appalling.
This opening salvo, from August 2015, was the first in what would become dozens of columns denouncing Trump as a unique threat to American life, democratic ideals and the world itself. I regret almost nothing of what I said about the man and his close minions. But the broad swipe at his voters caricatured them and blinkered me.
I also probably did more to help than hinder Trump's candidacy. Telling voters they are moral ignoramuses is a bad way of getting them to change their minds.
What were they seeing that I wasn't?
Bret Stephens is confessing he made a mistake. He answers his question above by borrowing the concept of the 'protected' and the 'unprotected' from Peggy Noonan, another 'conservative pundit' like Stephens. The protected are the elite social class, the ruling class, who are not affected by the progressive, socialist, godless culture being pushed by Washington, the media, Hollywood and the Academy on the great unwashed, unprotected class. He admits that he and Peggy are members of the protected class and that he was blind to this dichotomy.
Bret admits in more detail what economic and cultural changes this progressive, socialist, Godless class was pushing. The economic recovery after the 2008 financial crash was the slowest on record for American workers. They were told good jobs were not coming back. They were told that "traditional practices and beliefs - regarding same-sex marriage, sex-segregated bathrooms, personal pronouns, meritocratic ideals, race-blind rules, reverence for patriotic symbols, the rules of romance, the presumption of innocence and the distinction between equality of opportunity and outcome," were rapidly disappearing. Or, as I like to phrase it, Judeo-Christian principles and the ideals enshrined in our Constitution were being shredded to pieces.
He goes on to accept personal responsibility:
"I could have thought a little harder about the fact that, in my dripping condescension toward his supporters, I was also confirming their suspicions about people like me - people who talked a good game about the virtues of empathy but practice it only selectively; people unscathed by the country's problems yet unembarrassed to propound solutions."
And then the admission in his piece that caught me by surprise more than anything else he wrote:
"Nor were they [Trump supporters] impressed by Trump critics who had their own penchant for hypocrisy and outright slander. To this day, precious few anti-Trumpers have been honest with themselves about the elaborate hoax - there's just no other word for it - that was the Steele dossier and all the bogus allegations, credulously parroted in the mainstream media, that flowed from it."
There are so many responses to this that have flooded my heart and mind that I'm struggling with how to respond without writing a book.
Stephens states that the attitudes and actions of the 'protected class' usually ignores the well-being of the 'unprotected class,' and that this is not a good thing. Along comes the unconventional Donald Trump, a vulgar man who nevertheless shows compassion and love for the American 'unprotected' lot, and it takes Trump winning the Presidency for Stephens to ask the question, "What were they seeing that I wasn't?"
What they were seeing is the de facto cold civil war that has been percolating since the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994. Gingrich's 'Contract with America' was another breath of fresh air for the 'unprotected class,' but much of it fizzled as 'business as usual' in Washington took hold. When the Obama administration greatly expanded the federal government with its Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a grass roots 'tea party' grew in power and swept the Republicans back into power in the House. But the Obama administration, mainly through executive orders, created the progressive, socialist, Godless environment that Stephans outlined above. And many of the Republicans that the 'unprotected class' were electing became part of the cultural elite and therefore part of the problem.
Bret fairly accurately lists the economic and cultural changes that upset the Trump supporters. And he acknowledges that his 'dripping condescension' made him look like a total hypocrite. Additionally, he's the first 'Never Trumper' to unequivocally admit that the Democrat and mainstream media attacks on then President Trump, known as the great Russian hoax, was totally bogus.
But is Bret Stephens apologizing to Trump's supporters? Does he feel any regret for his wrongdoing, any remorse? Is he overcome by any sense of guilt? Is he showing any signs of sincere contrition? Is he asking for forgiveness? I think the answer is 'no' to each of these.
One must then ask the question, why does Bret think he made such a bad mistake by painting Trump supporters with such a broad brush? Is it because he wishes he were intelligent enough to see their point of view sooner than he did? Was it because he should have known that someone in the 'persuasion business', like himself, should use honey rather than vinegar when attempting to persuade?
Too often, it seems, our secular culture has lost its capability to show sincere remorse. And the Christian idea of forgiveness is a totally foreign concept.
I'm reminded of a concept well-articulated by C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece Mere Christianity. He describes the Law of Human Nature as follows:
[There] are two points I want to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
Stated another way, we all (with a few exceptions) know the difference between right and wrong, and we all realize that we have a tendency to not behave correctly (do what is right) much of the time.
Bret closes his commentary with this question:
Would I be wrong to lambaste Trump's current supporters, the ones who want him back in the White House despite his refusal to accept electoral defeat and the historic outrage of Jan 6? Morally speaking, no. It's one thing to take a gamble on a candidate who promises a break with business as usual. It's another to do that with an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.
Bret is appealing to our sense of right and wrong. Well, OK, maybe. The last time it might have been alright to support Trump, but now that we know that he tried to overthrow the government, I must continue to call you names if you still support him.
Let's pull this all together.
Too many conservatives, like Bret Stephens, are blind to the fact that half of all America has reached their tipping point. The threat to their liberty and individual freedoms is so great that they are fighting back. And yes, Donald Trump is still the principal resource they have to thwart this onslaught. And the outright war against Donald Trump by the left has been ongoing since the day he walked down the escalator and into American politics.
Why does this cold civil war exist? For what are people fighting?
In my worldview, the simplest way to explain it is a fight between the globalists and nationalists. The left in this country and most of the power elite worldwide believe we are evolving into one global state, and national constitutions get in the way of progress. They are shredding the United States Constitution on a daily basis as they move more power to the federal bureaucratic state and away from the states and the people. The Constitutional principle that American citizens are the Sovereign, and not the government itself, is now foreign to them. These power elites only care about their own power, and regular people are pawns in their power game.
The nationalists are those who understand what the American founders created was a government model far superior to any other ever conceived. Is it perfect? Of course not, but they don't want to lose it. They believe global government is purely utopian, and just like the principles embedded in the U. S. Constitution, separating power (in this case among nation states) is the only logical solution to Lewis' description of the 'Laws of Human Nature.' People know the difference between right and wrong, and they in fact will do wrong.
The majority of biblical Christians belong to this nationalist group. They understand that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and their religious freedom comes from this governing model. They don't put nation above God (most of them, that is), but they realize their ability to freely live a Christian life is tied to this earthly form of government.
So, Mr. Bret Stephens, you twice used the word 'moral' in your piece. You called Trump supporters 'moral ignoramuses' and you said, "Morally speaking, no, [I would not be] wrong to lambaste Trump's current supporters.' The definition of morality depends upon one's moral foundation, whether it be organized religion, or Lewis' Laws of Human Nature, or something else. It's not clear what your foundation is. Donald Trump doesn't always exhibit moral behavior, but then again, neither do you or I.