Pulitzer-prize winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens launched an uncharacteristically vicious attack against Donald Trump and the voters who support him on Tuesday, calling Trump a “demagogue” who appeals to the “vulgarians” among us.
In a faint echo of Bertolt Brecht (“To dissolve the people./And elect another?”), Stephens adds an elitist twist: “The leader isn’t the problem. The people are. It takes the demos to make the demagogue.”
Stephens’s attitude reminded me of a children’s story that is one of my three-year-old’s favorites: The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch.
In it, a princess is attacked by a dragon who scorches her clothes and kidnaps her prince. When she rescues her beau from the dragon’s lair, wearing only a paper bag, the ungrateful prince greets her by criticizing her appearance, saying she looks nothing like a princess. She dumps him and lives happily ever after.
Next Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. EDT, Trump will address a rally against the Iran deal (of which Stephens has been one of the most vehement and insightful opponents).
The rally is not being organized by GOP, but by the Tea Party Patriots. It will also feature Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) among a variety of speakers whose core audience is the conservative base–the “vulgarians,” in other words, and those the Journal‘s editorial page occasionally disparages as “Hobbits.”
Who is not organizing popular opposition to the Iran deal? Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused thus far to submit the Iran deal to the Senate as a treaty, where it would fail to achieve a two-thirds majority, showing all that it is not legally binding on the United States.
Also absent is Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), whose bill attempted, but failed, to achieve a modicum of congressional review of the Iran deal, and who has now all but given up the fight.
As one Democrat after another comes forward to support the Iran deal, even after revelations about confidential side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency that destroy whatever credibility the Vienna agreement had, it is clear that Obama’s looming political victory is not just a matter of Democrats’ party discipline, but also of Republicans’ gutless opposition in Washington. (State leaders have shown considerably greater courage.)
Trump has problems that may eventually catch up to him. But to compare him to Hugo Chávez–a hateful man who attempted a coup before turning to the ballot box–is worse than a stretch.
The Donald is no demagogue, at least on the Iran deal, where he avoided cheap promises of repeal in favor of a serious and pragmatic policy.
For now, Trump–and Cruz, who has championed state-based efforts to resist the Iran deal–are the only real resistance in town.
In reviewing Stephens’s excellent 2014 book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, I noted that he “overestimates the strength of isolationism among grass roots conservatives….While Stephens’s colleagues at the Wall Street Journal editorial page disparage the ‘Hobbits‘ and ‘yahoos‘ of the hinterland, that periphery, ironically, is the most reliable constituency for Stephens’s internationalism.”
Now a politician has surged to the forefront who promises to “Make America Great Again,” partly by taking the fight to America’s enemies. Love him or hate him, Trump’s rise, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s decline, have demonstrated beyond doubt that conservative voters want a stronger military and a more assertive foreign policy.
Trump is the paper bag princess, and his “vulgarians” may be all that stand between western civilization and the abyss.