A wretched piece of counter-journalism reveals a monstrous mindset

Brett Stephens, hands-down the most reactionary opinion columnist at the New York Times, thinks the first two Democratic debates were A Wretched Start for Democrats.

To mock the candidates who tried to signal their solidarity with Latinos by speaking in Spanish—risking the ridicule of the Brett Stephens’ of this world—Stephens begins his column in that language:

Amigos demócratas,

Si ustedes siguen así, van a perder las elecciones. Y lo merecerán.”

Stephens then goes on helpfully:

Translation for the linguistically benighted: “Democratic friends, if you go on like this, you’re going to lose the elections. And you’ll deserve it.”

With friends like these…

While Stephens is a flyweight among a roster of New York Times columnists that includes the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, and Nicholas Kristoff, a globe-trotting journalist and crusader for human rights globally, deconstructing Stephens’s argument is nevertheless a useful exercise in understanding the kind of tribal, egoistic mentality that underlies a good deal of the support for Trump.

What is wrong with the Democratic candidates, according to Stephens? Simply put, they express solidarity with the wrong people, the outgroups, the children of a lesser God.

The Democrats’ cardinal sin?

“The party seems interested in helping everyone except the voters it needs.”

This is as clear a testimonial to opportunism as a political philosophy as it gets; principle be damned, pander to the voters you need.

Stephens’s bill of particulars against the Democratic contenders is so brazenly ethnocentric and xenophobic that, despite being a total distortion of what happened last week in Miami, it is worth quoting at length.

“In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?

“Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.

“They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare.

“They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.”

This rant is so replete with misinformation and untrue statements that it belongs in a right-wing web site instead of The New York Times. The obvious malice that underlays Stephens’s rhetoric is revealed when he writes that Democrats deserve to lose for having a sense of human solidarity and decency. But I won’t dwell on this and instead concentrate on Stephen’s facts that are not facts.

Immigrants start businesses in numbers that exceed their proportion in the population. These businesses include highly innovative high-tech enterprises that create many jobs as well as corner markets, bodegas, that have helped revitalize many blighted urban neighborhoods.

Looking at Stephens’s garbage, you get the sense that he has no respect for truth and, especially no sense of irony.

“They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t,” he writes. No, you just stole the whole country from the Native Americans and the Mexicans, lock, stock and barrel.

Then there are the lies.

“They pay few or no taxes.”

A blatant lie. Immigrants pay taxes like everyone else. Undocumented immigrants pay social security taxes but never get to receive the benefits because of their status.

“We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.”

Immigrants are astonishingly entrepreneurial. And no Democratic contender at the debate demonized job creators, or proposed to break up their businesses. The rich have benefitted hugely from decades of tax cuts. Raising taxes moderately on the wealthy, who have monopolized the fruits of economic growth, hardly qualifies as taxing them to the hilt.

Stephens’s column is filled with all manner of lies, damned lies, and zero data. Journalism is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. This piece is the opposite of journalism.

Each day brings confirmation of the horrors the administration is inflicting on immigrants and promises of yet one more turn of the screw. Amid a humanitarian disaster created by the cruelty of this president, who does Brett Stephens take to task? Democratic political leaders who refuse to jettison their humanity to please those who see the world as us versus them.

I sometimes wonder what kind of member of the human species could vote for someone as vile as Donald Trump. Reading Brett Stephens suggests the answer.