Bret Stephens, casting himself as one of conservatism’s most conscientious guardians, warned that Donald Trump would blow up the “conservative movement.” He didn’t mention the sticks of dynamite in his own pocket. This week he tossed one out in a column calling for a re-write of the Constitution. “I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment,” he declared, sounding almost like a parody of a smug cosmopolitan. You see, from his seat in the tony salons of Manhattan, Stephens just can’t fathom why the rubes in middle America would obsess over something as silly as self-protection.
The column is a classic of the pox-on-both-your-houses preening that keeps phony conservatives employed by liberals. In it, Stephens at once sings for his supper — boldly supporting a conclusion very pleasing to his liberal bosses at the New York Times — while affecting a stance of brave independence by criticizing Democrats for a lying timidity. Why, he is speaking truth to both sides! Except he is not; he is just showing off and reinforcing the liberal side where it counts. The column is full of the kind of breezy dishonesty and cavalier proposals even a cocky high school debater would find immature. Stephens writes:
Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.
There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.
Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones.
This is the same columnist who says Trump’s punditry is cartoonish and oversimplified. Pundit, heal thyself. And notice that Stephens takes hope in the hasty destruction of one tradition from the destruction of another. That is what Never Trump conservatism amounts to: conserving nothing while joining the liberal mob as it rips up marriage, monuments, the military, the Constitution, and so on. They detest Trump not for defying stable traditions but for upholding them. Since the beginning of his presidency they have consistently attacked him from the left, not the right, accusing him of everything from Islamophobia and nativism to insufficient respect for atheists and the transgendered.
That Stephens would glibly call the destruction of the Second Amendment a “great cause,” right up there with discarding the traditional definition of marriage, is more fitting than he realizes. Gun violence feeds off the destruction of the family. It almost always turns out (as it does in the case of the Las Vegas shooter) that mass-murdering shooters grew up fatherless or emerged from broken homes. The ideology behind gay marriage, which Bret Stephens considers a noble advance for mankind, holds that children don’t need a mother and a father. Stephens is too shallow to see how such blows to the family weaken civil society, which in turn contributes to the rise of criminal pathology.
Stephens reduces gun ownership to a trifling, easily dispensed with liberty that the founding fathers didn’t really mean to protect:
Some conservatives will insist that the Second Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty. They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” America was supposed to be different, and better.
I wonder what Madison would have to say about that today, when more than twice as many Americans perished last year at the hands of their fellows as died in battle during the entire Revolutionary War. My guess: Take the guns — or at least the presumptive right to them — away. The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction.
Well, one thing Madison would say is that that’s a stupid comparison in a country that now has over 300 million people. He would also resent the words of a totalitarian fiat being placed in his mouth, not to mention the blithe equation of self-defense with self-destruction.
Take the guns away — that’s as fitting a rallying cry as any for the Never Trump conservatives, whose pompous mutterings about the “conservative movement” concealed a statist elitism that only pretends to oppose the left’s Leviathans but in the end always serves them. Does anyone still wonder why they preferred Hillary to Trump?