Ethics Quote Of The Month: Times Columnist Bret Stephens

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been…” Wait, WHAT?

“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.

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?

That’s the question I keep hearing from old friends on the right who voted with misgiving for Donald Trump last year and now find reasons to like him. I admit it gives me pause. I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above. But I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.”

—-New York Times Bret Stephens, in a column titled “Why I’m Still a NeverTrumper”

Stephens, since joining the Times left-heavy columnist stable as its token wishy-washy cnservative, has been occasionally perceptive, often incoherent, and obviously conflicted. In this case, he is ethically confused.

I wrote the equivalent of this column in the post called Roger Simon Says The NeverTrumpers Owe The President An Apology. Well, He’s Not Getting One From Me…(Mine was also better, and I wasn’t paid for it.)

Like Stephens, I do not regard Trump’s largely successful first year (by his own standards, and certainly by the standards of those who predicted a national catastrophe) sufficient to bring me to retract my original objections to Trump. I wrote,

“Competent and responsible leadership is not only made up of what a leader does, but how he does it. How Donald Trump operates as President is divisive, obnoxious, politically self-destructive, undignified, chaotic and scary, just as I expected. This conduct, which is entirely a product of his character deficits and near complete lack of interest in ethical values, does harm far beyond the benefits any policies he may advance that I agree with, or that are improvements over the mess left by Barack Obama. He is, day by day, week be week, diminishing that strength and credibility of the Presidency by lowering it to his thuggish, crude, juvenile level. He is also provoking his opposition and the news media to lower themselves to his level or lower, doing further damage to our democracy.”

This essentially what The Times columnist is saying when he writes,

“And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

This is the fatal mistake of conservatives who’ve decided the best way to deal with Trump’s personality — the lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness — is to pretend it doesn’t matter. “Character Doesn’t Count” has become a de facto G.O.P. motto. “Virtue Doesn’t Matter” might be another.

But character does count, and virtue does matter, and Trump’s shortcomings prove it daily.”

Nonetheless, we properly judge leaders on both their accomplishments and their effect on our culture, the office, and the institutions. How anyone could write that last paragraph and still say “I still wish Hillary Clinton were President” without giggling hysterically and hurling himself out the window is a mystery for the ages. Her career was built on the man for whom “It’s the economy, stupid!” was invented, to drive in the position that character didn’t matter. I join Stephens in wishing that we had a different President, one who could lead strongly (unlike, say, the previous President),  with dignity (unlike Bill Clinton), competently (unlike the Republican President in between), and honestly without making Lincoln, Washington and Ike roll over in their graves with his petty, boorish and presidential conduct every day. Hillary Clinton, however, is obviously not different enough to be a net improvement, especially with the corrupt, anti-free speech, anti-male, anti-white, divisive and cynical nascent totalitarians that now dominate her party, with its complicit 90% of the news media.

Stephens is willing to trust the party that has been trying to undermine our institutions since the 2016 campaign (has he missed the entire Donna Brazile story?)  with preserving those institutions? Meanwhile, Clinton’s character is better than Trump’s like being ripped to pieces by a jaguar is more pleasant than being eaten by a shark.

What Stephens is saying is that he will accept untrustworthiness, dishonesty and corrupt character AND is willing to forfeit what he regards as positive developments. That makes no sense. That is just blind Trump hate.

If he really wishes she were President, Stephens is not only not  a conservative, he’s not competent.

24 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership

24 responses to “Ethics Quote Of The Month: Times Columnist Bret Stephens

  1. “Mine was also better, and I wasn’t paid for it.”

    The soldiers are paid to fight, the rebels aren’t.

  2. Wayne

    He doesn’t matter! I reluctantly voted for Trump, and despite his stupid tweets, buffoonery, and so on things have worked out reasonably well. Btw, Happy New Year to those who are still up. 🎇🎆

  3. Yeah, no.

    In summary, I’ll say it again: The entire Left has demonstrated that it has NO care for rule of law, due process, the constitution, or liberty. The times it *seems* like it does are only to advance it’s own power with an eye to close the door it *seemed* to use to get there. They will NEVER get my vote for several decades if not the remainder of my natural life.

    Only the Republicans (and they are working on a temporary vote ban at the national level for certain offices for a few election cycles) and the clumsy Libertarians seem to be the heirs to the Founders at this point….and even those 2 groups only seem to be the heirs of the Founders on about 2/3s of their respective platforms.

    Where are the Whigs?

  4. “Stephens is willing to trust the party that has been trying to undermine our institutions since the 2016 campaign.”

    They also tried as early as April 1861…

    • Chris

      Not in any meaningful sense the same party, as you know.

      • And yet, still the party that is fundamentally trying to undermine the American Republic…

        So whether or not the modern Democrat party claims any affinity to the Democrat party of the 1860s, it certainly still insists its founders were Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

        Whether or not Theseus’ Ship Paradox means that the 1860s Democrats cannot be related to the modern Party doesn’t make it any better that the modern Democrats are ALSO acting in direct opposition to the foundational values of the nation.

        • THIS.

          Because all of the racists suddenly switched parties for some unknown reason within the last century… or something…

          • It’s asinine. The Democrat narrative of the great “racist flip flop” relies on reducing to simplicity the very nuanced and intricate shifting of political party platforms spanning diverse regions and diverse eras. A nod by Republicans in the direction of Southern Democrats that the National Democrat Party was becoming less appealing to for a dozen reasons more than just racial bigotry to the State Democrats does not constitute a Race-based Southern Strategy.

            It also completely ignores that most of the obvious racial bigots were on their way out and not a substantive part of the Republican party going ahead, and that quite a few ended up going right on back to the Democrat party anyway.

            But hey, nuance and intricacy has never gotten in the way of Democrats accusing their opposition of racism before, why stop now?

            The fact remains, the Democrat party NOW is actively and treacherously undermining the foundations of this Republic, so there is nothing errant in seeing parallels to the existential crisis the Democrats put the nation through in the 1860s during their last bid to secure slavery for their states.

  5. JRH

    Bill,Clinton is really the original model for a “character doesn’t count” President” and the Left was OK with it as long as he did the things they liked. But perhaps more interesting to me is that during my 50+ years in business I encountered any number of business leaders with all the character flaws of Trump, most of whom were wildly successful because they, for the most part, hired people who could get the job done. But then these folks, for the most part, didn’t have a public presence so no one really saw it. Now we have one of them, Trump, who publically exhibits all those traits and it’s unsettling to the Political Class who are not used to a scorched earth path to achieving goals. They like the “statesman model” because, of course, they’ve been so successful – not – in creating insular institutions that mostly protect their power and influence. So, as long as Trump hires quality people, with some mistakes, who can ram through the complete reorganization of the Great Bureaucracy that’s OK with me as well. Just get the Government out of my life and pocketbook.

    • E2

      Was Clinton really the original model for “character doesn’t count?”

      What about JFK? He may have been a war hero, but I knew the Georgetown professor who wrote “Profiles in Courage,” and JFK’s adultery with mob molls and Russian spies are well know.

      Or FDR? A narcissist who carried on an almost lifetime affair with his children’s nanny, and who committed impeachable offenses prior to Pearl Harbor: without those acts kept in secret he certainly would have been impeached. (Only difference here is that he was right, and his subterfuge helped save the UK and the rest of the world from Hitler.) Nevertheless, his ‘character’ was always in question, while perhaps his courage was not. An important difference.

      Let’s ask Jack about the presidential ‘character’ issue, and if he thinks Clinton was really the first to display the lack of same.

  6. Glenn Logan

    If he really wishes she were President, Stephens is not only not a conservative, he’s not competent.

    Stephens is yet another example of the cognitive rot that takes place when a conservative tries to write for the far left media.

    If he didn’t hold this view, he would probably be fired. Not because the Times would wish it so, necessarily — after all, they hired him to write from the conservative perspective, at least as they understand it, just like David Brooks and Jenifer Rubin were hired to do by the Times and Washington Post respectively.

    But what happens when you are submerged in an echo chamber of abject hate for everything you stand for is that you go into a defensive crouch, and spend your career writing from that perspective. If Ted Cruz rather than Trump had won the nomination and the general, he’d be writing virtually the same article. Ditto Marco Rubio, if Rubio were able to accomplish as much as Trump, although he’d find a different set of reasons to reach the same conclusion.

    Stephens has compromised his intellectual credibility in return for his job as a writer at the Times. You can’t have both — the rest of the writers would have him run out of town on a rail, eventually. So what we have is a crippled wreck of a cognitive fail, just like Rubin and Brooks. Predictable.

  7. Chris Marschner

    Jack:
    It is hard to rebut the following but the statement below creates a belief that Trump is leading us down the undesirable path you eloquently make.

    “Competent and responsible leadership is not only made up of what a leader does, but how he does it. How Donald Trump operates as President is divisive, obnoxious, politically self-destructive, undignified, chaotic and scary, just as I expected. This conduct, which is entirely a product of his character deficits and near complete lack of interest in ethical values, does harm far beyond the benefits any policies he may advance that I agree with, or that are improvements over the mess left by Barack Obama. He is, day by day, week be week, diminishing that strength and credibility of the Presidency by lowering it to his thuggish, crude, juvenile level. He is also provoking his opposition and the news media to lower themselves to his level or lower, doing further damage to our democracy.”

    I submit he, and his behavior is the product a coarsening of American society that began decades ago. Being edgy is considered cool and trendsetting. Being kindly, magnanimous, and helpful is considered naïve and boring. Mitt Romney found this out the hard way. Being quick of sharp wit signifies you are able to take command of the group because others fear the rapier of your tongue. I believe that when we view Trump’s behaviors we are seeing a manifestation of our own behaviors that we unconsciously exhibit on a daily basis.

    In a society that is bombarded with the incessant clatter of talking heads, pitchmen, bloggers and their followers, and myriad other behavior modifying cultural norms, it should not be expected that those seeking the ability to control outcomes will be immune from the virus of self-importance that is infecting our culture; one that validates Hobbesian theories on political economics. Maybe, just maybe Trump is an in your face exposition of the very behaviors we claim to loathe but engage in daily.

    Until the Machiavellian tactics used in political discourse is rejected by society and we reward those seeking high office who truly choose the high road our leadership will willingly traverse the road to hell we pave for them, for it is lined with gold. There is a reason it is called “retail politics”.

    • When Paula Jones first came out with her accusations, the Democratic leadership understandably and justifiably did not concur with her.

      But when James Carville made that comment about “Drag a 100 dollar bill through a trailer park and who knows what you’ll find?”, this should have ended Carville’s career as a political consultant with the Democratic Party. He should have become a pariah. Democratic leaders should have demanded that Clinton fire Carville.

      That did not happen.

      When Bill Clinton was investigated for perjury in relation to that same case, the Democratic leadership should have, at a minimum, merely said wait and see.Once the evidence became clear, they should have demanded his resignation.

      instead, they attacked the investigation itself. They said it was only about sex. They attacked the character of Ken Starr. They said everybody does it. they said gentlemen are expected to lie about sex. They attacked the Republicans as being obsessed with sex and wanting to destroy women’s right merely because they opposed perjury.

      This should have done Clinton in.

      Instead, Clinton finished his term with over 60% approval rating.

      James Carville was right when he said character did not matter in the context of presidential popularity among voters.

    • E2

      I totally agree that Trump is representative of the “coarsening of society.”

      Just look at the reality shows on television: Americans just eat up the ugly, hateful programs from wives in Atlanta and growing up hip hop and marriage boot camp. Why??? Decent drama and intelligent comedy are losing the TV battle.

      As is literature, the performing arts, and the graphic arts. (I decided we were on a real downswing 25 years ago when Jackson Pollock’s spatter painting (which a 5 year old could reproduce with enough paint and a big canvas) sold for millions of dollars as ‘art.’ Who knows and loves Vermeer?)

      I could go on…

      But I will say this: The Hillary-ites also support a coarse, greed- and power-infested culture. So either candidate would fit your “coarsening” concept, I’m sorry to say.

  8. Her career was built on the man for whom “It’s the economy, stupid!” was invented, to drive in the position that character didn’t matter.

    If i remember correctly, this blog was founded due to the unethical rationalizations that emerged in 1998.

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