Bret Stephens’ pell-mell retreat to the nasty fairy tale of January 6 is in fact an outright capitulation.
For five years I have puzzled over why perfectly rational, sensible and generally good-humored people can suddenly turn into babbling and shouting lunatics when the subject of Donald Trump arises.
It is no mystery why some people don’t like him and it is well within the bounds of reasonable opinion for people to feel very strongly that he is simplistic, boastful, boorish, ignorant, prone to snap judgments on inadequate information, ill tempered, and vain.
Mr. Trump is a tough businessman, and it would be possible to argue that his commercial ethics were deficient, especially in the quasi-swindles that he operated, such as Trump University and his health plan, which was billed as an effortless extender of one’s life expectancy, and consisted of vitamin pills and quarterly urinalyses.
That, like his showdown with World Wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, which led to Mr. Trump shearing Mr. McMahon’s hair off in front of 98,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome, after Mr. Trump’s wrestler, Bobby Lashley, defeated Mr. McMahon’s Umaga the Samoan Bulldozer, was, like a significant part of Donald Trump’s shtick, unutterable hucksterism. (He later made Mr. McMahon’s wife Linda head of the Small Business Administration as a consolation.)
Some of us found all this an imaginative and successful way to make money, and it certainly gave Mr. Trump unsuspected insight into the thinking of increasingly discontented lower middle class and working class of America. As a former business associate of Donald Trump’s I had always found his ethics exemplary as were his human qualities of loyalty and solicitude for people in difficulties, and his very affable personality, including his remarkable talents as a raconteur.
These qualities are not always visible in him as a public personality, and that others would respond differently is not exceptionable and that some would find some of Mr. Trump’s pre-presidential conduct completely unsuitable to the presidency is a defensible position.
It remains a mystery, though, why people who can discuss wicked historic personalities like Hitler and Stalin or horrible contemporary criminals who massacre the innocent in intelligently formulated and courteously expressed terms, behave when the name of the former president is mentioned as if a trap door flew open in their foreheads and cuckoo birds are cantilevered out of their brains raving and screeching.
My friend and former colleague at the Jerusalem Post, Bret Stephens, gave some insight into this phenomenon in an excellent piece in the New York Times on July 21. He declared that he has considered for more than six years that Mr. Trump was “a unique threat to American life, democratic ideals and the world itself… A bigoted blowhard making one ignorant argument after another.”
Bret mentally conceded that what Trump supporters saw was a candidate “whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo…. Anger can take dumb or dangerous turns, and with Trump they often took both, but that didn’t mean the anger was unfounded or illegitimate, or that it was aimed at the wrong target.”
Bret manfully reproaches himself for failing to see what attracted so many millions of people to Mr. Trump as a candidate. He now understands how let down they felt by the failure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, by the bail-out of the financial class after the economic crisis of 2008 while so many working people lost their jobs, and how the long era of ultra-low interest rates helped those who could afford to take advantage of them but not those of modest means.
On top of these came the cultural assault on marriage, the distinction of the sexes, the suppression of meritocracy and race-blind rules by arbitrarily defined diversity, and the onslaught against patriotism, religious belief, civilized social conventions, media aspirations to fairness, any presumption of innocence, and the replacement of equality of opportunity with imposed equality of outcome.
Bret also dished it out to the “Trump critics who had their own penchant for hypocrisy and outright slander,” particularly over the Trump Russia collusion fraud. Bret Stephens has personally won half the battle for his own mind.
He now sees Mr. Trump’s allure and effectively emancipates Trump supporters from his previous charge against them of being moronic accomplices to the possible destruction by Mr. Trump of America’s free democratic institutions and unimaginable upheavals in the whole world, yet he gives no hint that he now considers his state of alarm at what Trump might do to the world to be excessive, even though after four full years of Trump, there is no evidence whatever that he is a bigot or a warmonger.
Instead, Bret Stephens scrambles onto the slippery slope of claiming “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.”
Won’t fly, Bret; this is bunk. There is a legitimate question about the election, with millions of unsolicited mail-in ballots sent to voters, raising concerns of ballot harvesting, and where 50,000 flipped votes in Pennsylvania and any two of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin would have given it to Mr. Trump in the Electoral College.
Mr. Trump’s grievance is compounded by the totalitarian effort of the American political class and media to deny that there was any possible question of the validity of the election result, and by the abdication of the entire judiciary from addressing the constitutionality of some of the voting and vote-counting changes adopted by the swing states, ostensibly to promote voting during the pandemic.
If Bret Stephens has abandoned the battlements of elemental Trump-hate, he is effectively conceding that reasonable reservations about Mr. Trump’s bumptious traits do not justify what is almost clinically described as the Trump derangement syndrome.
Bret’s pell-mell retreat to the nasty fairy tale of January 6 is in fact an outright capitulation. Mr. Trump didn’t want violence; it was a last ditch attempt to have the verifiability of millions of unsolicited mail-in ballots and the craven abdication of the entire judiciary seriously examined by the Congress. It went terribly wrong but that is chiefly the responsibility of Speaker Pelosi and Mayor Bowser for ignoring Mr. Trump’s offer and request of National Guard reinforcement.
The leading Democrats saw the possibilities of turning January 6 into a Trump-roast. In all of the circumstances, Mr. Trump has accepted a result of dubious legality with comparative civility. The deranged Trump-haters should seek therapy for their maladjustment. They should also demonstrate some level of repentance for their role in a riveting on the back of the United States and the world the most dangerously incompetent administration in American history.
First published in the NY Sun.