On Friday, “Never Trump” columnist and former Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens published an article in The New York Times, warning Democrats that if they follow the trajectory of the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate this past week, whichever one of them takes the nomination will lose to Donald Trump in November. He warned that big government radicalism, pandering by speaking in Spanish, and the catering to illegal immigrants will alienate Americans from Democrats.
Liberals, perhaps seeking to prove his point, attacked the messenger, accusing him of outing himself as a “white nationalist.”
“Holy Moly. Bret Stephens jumps out of the white nationalist closet here with all his ‘they’ are not ‘us’ bulls**t. Wowzers,” tweeted bestselling author Reza Aslan.
Holy Moly. Bret Stephens jumps out of the white nationalist closet here with all his “they” are not “us” bullshit. Wowzers. https://t.co/UWHxkVVJxy
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 29, 2019
Others remarked on the supposed injustice of the alleged “white nationalist” Stephens taking a job at The New York Times that women instead should have.
“So many talented and incisive women looking for work, and yet the Times continues to deliver fat checks to Bret Stephens, a mediocre writer at best who also happens to be a white nationalist ghoul simply appalled that Democrats aren’t pandering to rich white capitalists,” The New Republic‘s Rachel Vorona Cote tweeted.
So many talented and incisive women looking for work, and yet the Times continues to deliver fat checks to Bret Stephens, a mediocre writer at best who also happens to be a white nationalist ghoul simply appalled that Democrats aren’t pandering to rich white capitalists.
— Rachel Vorona Cote (@RVoronaCote) June 29, 2019
“Honestly, this isn’t even covert. It’s clear and intentional ‘us versus them’ white nationalism from Bret Stephens, and even in an opinion piece, it is unacceptable to publish this racist, divisive, white supremacist viewpoint in The NY Times. Shameful,” abortion advocate and freelance writer Lauren Rankin tweeted.
Honestly, this isn’t even covert. It’s clear and intentional “us versus them” white nationalism from Bret Stephens, and even in an opinion piece, it is unacceptable to publish this racist, divisive, white supremacist viewpoint in The NY Times. Shameful. https://t.co/eZ6zuTIWlF
— Lauren Rankin (@laurenarankin) June 29, 2019
“Bret Stephens laundering white nationalism for the New York Times op-ed page. Next he’ll write a column on birthrates,” quipped David M. Perry, a former history professor and contributor at the liberal Pacific Standard magazine.
"Americans feel like strangers in their own country."
"They speak Spanish. We don't."
Bret Stephens laundering white nationalism for the New York Times op-ed page. Next he'll write a column on birthrates. https://t.co/KsDei10DPZ
— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) June 29, 2019
So what horrific white nationalist screed did Bret Stephens write?
Fittingly, he began in Spanish, and translated “for the linguistically benighted”: “Democratic friends, if you go on like this, you’re going to lose the elections. And you’ll deserve it.”
“What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?” Stephens asked. “Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.”
Stephens was not speaking of himself but of many Americans when he wrote this passage:
They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.
Stephens was arguing that many Americans who are already alienated by the Democratic Party will only be further distanced from it, if the loudest and most prominent voices in the first Democratic debates prevail in the party.
He defended this contention by delving into specifics. He noted that every candidate at Thursday’s debate raised their hand to support “promising access to health insurance for north of 11 million undocumented immigrants at a time when there’s a migration crisis at the southern border.” At Wednesday’s debate, most candidates called for “decriminalization of border crossings.”
These positions underlined “the Republican contention that Democrats are a party of open borders, limitless amnesty and, in time, the Third World-ization of America.”
As for speaking Spanish, Stephens went on to warn former Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), “If you can’t speak the language without a heavy American accent, don’t bother. It just reminds those of us who can that the only thing worse than an obnoxious gringo is a pandering one.”
If Stephens knows how to speak Spanish, why did he refer to “us” as people who do not speak the language? He was explaining how many Americans would respond to the Democrats’ pandering of speaking Spanish during debates. This would leave a sour taste in the mouths of many voters.
Stephens also mentioned the fact that three of the major contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination support “eliminating private health insurance, an industry that employs more than 500,000 workers and insures 150 million.”
“Since Democrats are already committed to destroying the coal industry and seem inclined to turn Silicon Valley into a regulated utility, it’s worth asking: Just how much of the private economy are they even willing to keep?” he asked, pointedly.
Then he tallied up the costs for the proposals advanced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): “universal child care (estimated cost, $70 billion a year), Medicare-For-All ($2.8 trillion to $3.2 trillion annually), student-debt cancellation and universal free college ($125 billion annually), and a comprehensive climate action plan ($2 trillion, including $100 billion in aid to poor countries), along with a raft of smaller giveaways, like debt relief for Puerto Rico.”
Few if any candidates spoke “to Americans beyond the Democratic base.”
Importantly, Stephens drew a distinction between former President Barack Obama’s political rhetoric of what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt dubbed “common-humanity identity politics” and the style of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). While Obama “made you feel comfortable no matter the color of your skin,” Harris uses “common-enemy identity politics,” by “making white Americans feel racially on trial for views they may have held in the past on crime, busing and similar subjects.”
The Democratic Party is increasingly being swallowed by intersectionality, an identity politics on steroids. This ideology seeks to redress the grievances of historically oppressed groups, but in doing so it demonizes “whiteness” as oppression, traditional views of sexuality as bigoted, and Americans who support the rule of law as morally suspect. Rewarding immigrants who cross the border illegally with government-funded health care is no way to address the immigration crisis.
As for the “white nationalist” accusation, Stephens responded to it on Twitter. He called Aslan’s accusation “shameful if it weren’t so stupid.”
Aslan shot back, “Simple question Bret. Who is this ‘ordinary American’ whom the dems don’t represent? I assume it is not ‘they’ who speak Spanish, who pays no taxes, who willingly go into debt, who don’t start enterprises, as opposed to ‘we’ who do? This is not a dog whistle. This is a blow horn!”
Simple question Bret. Who is this “ordinary American” whom the dems don’t represent? I assume it is not “they” who speak Spanish, who pays no taxes, who willingly go into debt, who don’t start enterprises, as opposed to “we” who do? This is not a dog whistle. This is a blow horn! pic.twitter.com/mVabBgSR7h
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 29, 2019
Yet Aslan was proving Stephens’ point. Liberals have increasingly lost the ability to understand anyone who doesn’t agree with their intersectional consensus. It is not “white nationalism” to advocate for a limited amount of immigration, screened and processed legally. Stephens was not calling for a race-focused immigration system, but rather critiquing the idea of throwing out limits on immigration.
Even his warning about the “Third World-ization of America,” despite his use of hyperbolic rhetoric, is not a warning against the race of the immigrants, but the cultural problems they might bring with them. That assumption may be wrong — after all, Cuban immigrants have contributed a great deal to America — but fear about excessive immigration changing the character of a country is not inherently racist. Demonizing it as inherently “white nationalist” doubles down on the alienation Stephens is warning against.
Stephens is not championing the cause of the racists who support white supremacy, neo-Nazis, or the Ku Klux Klan. Such people are on the fringes of American society. Rather, Stephens is warning about Democrats alienating the “forgotten man and woman” who voted for Trump in the Rust Belt in 2016. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) warned Democrats not to support former Vice President Joe Biden because “if you pick the perfect candidate like Joe Biden to win that guy in the diner, the cost will make you lose because you will depress turnout as well.”
Yet advocating increasingly radical intersectional and big government positions will alienate middle America, and driving up votes among the most liberal voters on the coasts may not compensate for it.
Stephens was warning Democrats against alienating middle America. By choosing to shoot the messenger, liberals showed just how far gone their party really is.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.