Bret Stephens left the Wall Street Journal for the greener (or bluer, as the case may be) pastures of the New York Times last year, only to run headlong into liberal hate for one of his first columns – a very mild lecture against climate change hysteria. Whether Stephens learned his lesson from that episode or simply wanted to fit in a little better with his new Democrat pals at the office, he rarely treaded that far into conservative territory again. While maintaining his “conservative” image nominally (and, to be fair, doing a better job of it than fellow NYT writer David Brooks), Stephens was only too glad to spend much of the year trashing the president in order to maintain a much more important membership: The keys to Club NeverTrump.
In his final column of 2017, Stephens decided it was time to answer a question no one asked and explain why, despite all of the president’s conservative accomplishments, he could never consider himself anything but an enemy of Donald Trump.
“Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high,” Stephens recites. “And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?”
To sum up Stephens’ column, which is more or less exactly what you could read in any liberal rag at any time, he believes that “character and culture count,” and that Trump has deteriorated both in his short year as president. And as far as he’s concerned, well…it’s best to hear him admit it straight out in plan English: “I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.”
“Conservatives may suppose that they can pocket policy gains from a Trump administration while the stain of his person will eventually wash away,” he writes. “But as a (pro-Trump) friend wrote me the other day, ‘presidents empower cultures.’ Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of ‘elitism,’ a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.
You can’t really argue with any of this without taking exception with the general premise, which is that Trump has empowered these things. And we do take great exception to that premise. Trump is certainly not a conventional conservative or a president cut from the usual mold, but if you believe that we are in a dire, no-holds-barred fight for the future of our country, than you can see that he’s exactly what we needed at exactly the right time.
But if you’re a conservative who would rather lose the country than sacrifice some notion of “manners,” then yeah, Trump has been a disaster and we would have been better off with Hillary. But what conservative could possibly think this way?
The kind that write for The New York Times, that’s who.