Anti-Trump conservative Stephens upholds the art of disagreement

Anti-Trump conservative Stephens upholds the art of disagreement, by Janet Albrechtsen.

Bret Stephens describes himself as a political orphan. Join the club, I say. Plenty of conservatives find themselves cast adrift in the division of centre-right politics today, including in Australia.

The fierce critic of Donald Trump left The Wall Street Journal earlier this year and joined the bastion of left-liberal orthodoxy, The New York Times. Stephens jokes that he decamped from the WSJ because he was so sick of being hated for his “never Trump” views that he went to the NYT to be hated for all his other views.

And that’s precisely what happened. After his first column, on climate change policy, thousands of NYT readers went berserk. There were campaigns to sack him; subscriptions were cancelled. Little wonder those who bestowed a Pulitzer prize on the New York writer in 2013 said Stephens was a contrarian.

Here’s a sentence from that explosive column: “Claiming total certainty about the science trad­uces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.”

And this: “Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating sceptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.”

Stephens was flayed as a heretic. The NYT even ran what I call a therapy column expressing readers’ anger and asking what they wanted from a newspaper. The Kumbaya column, written by the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, summed up the chorus of reader responses this way: “They welcome opinions they don’t share and resent the suggestion that they prefer an ideological safe house. But many are incensed by what they felt was the gall of Stephens to take on climate change as his first column, and then to obliquely suggest that the data underlying climate science may be flawed, just like the data that ­predicted a Hillary Clinton win in November.”

In other words: sure we’d like to try this new thing called different opinions that the NYT committed to after Trump’s election. But please be gentle with us. As readers of this newspaper, we are ideological virgins. And thrusting a column about climate change on us right upfront was either too soon or just beyond the pale. …

Wait ’til the NYT readers see what I’ve got coming.

Stephens tells Inquirer there is one critical precondition to disagreement: “You don’t really ­disagree until you’ve actually listened to what the other person has to say.” This dying art of disagreement is unfolding in myriad ­places. Across US campuses, speakers are no-platformed, disinvited or chased off campus by students before they have even heard their views. …

In an interview with NPR this month, Clinton said women who voted for Trump were “under tremendous pressure from fathers and husbands and boyfriends and male employers not to vote for ‘the girl’.” It raises another sharp assessment by Stephens about left-liberals: their biggest problem is cultural condescension.

This fits Stephens’s broader thesis that the Trump presidency is an over-reaction to growing illiberalism on the left.