JOHN DERBYSHIRE: NYT Token Conservative Bret Stephens Rethinks Immigration Enthusiasm—Sort Of
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Last Sunday, September 18th, was the birthday of Samuel Johnson, the great 18th-century man of letters, one of my literary heroes. In a blog post here at I urged readers to commemorate the event by reading Johnson’s fine pessimistic long poem The Vanity of Human Wishes, an annotated version of which can be found on my personal website.

Just ten lines into the poem, speaking in a general way about human folly, Johnson gives us this couplet:

How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,

Those words came to mind the following morning when, in my New York Post, I read Mark Krikorian’s excellent opinion piece headlined How the gospel of open borders took over the Democratic Party. Mark argues that Democrats are not driven by a rational albeit treasonous determination to Elect A New People, but by moralistic anti-borders fervor. ( Editor Peter Brimelow scathingly disagrees, saying that Democrats are obviously motivated by both and that Mark is just responding prudently to the reality that mention of the Great Replacement fact has been anathematized inside the Beltway, where he operates.)

But let me just give you the next couplet, following the one I started with:

How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppress’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.

Yes, there is definitely Vengeance in the mix there somewhere. I’ve said repeatedly that our Ruling Elites dislike a great mass of their fellow citizens, especially the white working and middle classes—the Bitter Clingers, the Deplorables. If you want a poster child for that dislike, you couldn’t do better than New York Times Token Conservative columnist Bret Stephens.

To say that Bret Stephens dislikes a great mass of his fellow citizens is not based on anything subjective or impressionistic; the guy has said so, in cold print.

Here he was in a New York Times op-ed five years ago: ”Only Mass Deportation Can Save America,” June 16, 2017.

From that title you might think Mr. Stephens wants mass deportation of illegal aliens, which would put him firmly on our side. No—listen:

The United States has too many people who don’t work hard, don’t believe in God, don’t contribute much to society and don’t appreciate the greatness of the American system.

They need to return whence they came. I speak of Americans whose families have been in this country for a few generations. Complacent, entitled and often shockingly ignorant on basic points of American law and history, they are the stagnant pool in which our national prospects risk drowning.

See, Bret Stephens wanted to deport American citizens—the Deplorable ones. They commit too much crime; their educational attainment is lackluster; they’re not pious, not entrepreneurial, not fertile. Immigrants are better!

There’s no doubt that Bret Stephens’ dislike of his fellow citizens returns an echo from the bosoms of the Leftist elites who dominate our culture, as incarnated in the Biden Administration; although not many of them would be so bold as to air their feelings in a New York Times op-ed.

Stephens allowed towards the end of his column that the mass deportation of U.S. citizens he’d been arguing for wasn’t actually feasible:

O.K., so I’m jesting about deporting ”real Americans” en masse. (Who would take them in, anyway?)

That op-ed was published in June of 2017. Has Bret Stephens had any second thoughts this past five years?

Well, sort of.

Tuesday last week here was Stephens again opining in the New York Times: The Border Crisis Could Still Be Biden’s Opportunity September 20, 2022.

The first three-quarters of the piece would not be altogether out of place on Stephens deplores Ron DeSantis’ ploy of shipping illegals to elite enclaves, but allows that ”it succeeded politically” by showing up the Biden Administration’s ineptness.

Then Stephens tosses and gores Kamala Harris and her declarations that the border is secure. He quotes the outrageous numbers of illegals being admitted.

He scoffs at the Administration’s claims that disorder in Latin American countries explains the surging numbers of border-jumpers. No, says Stephens, those numbers result from the administration’s annulling of Donald Trump’s policies, and openly welcoming an invasion:

This is political malpractice on multiple levels

There was the turn of thought. Stephens isn’t objecting to administration policy on any kind of national, economic, or social cost-benefit analysis. Nor—and for this relief, much thanks—nor is he arguing against it on moral grounds. His objection is purely political:

The crisis is an invitation to nativist demagogy. It was Trump’s ticket to the White House and might be DeSantis’s, too.

That is, the Administration’s blithe, brazen Open Borders policy plays into the hands of those people—the Deplorables.

Yes, Stephens is telling the Administration, immigration is indeed an unqualified good, but you’re not managing it right:

There’s a solution to this. It requires us to be much more hardheaded at our borders—like by finishing the wall—so we can be more softhearted toward those trying to cross them.

So the guy who, five years ago, was calling for mass deportation of worthless American citizens and replacing them with smarter, more law-abiding, more entrepreneurial and fertile immigrants is now calling on the Administration to, ahem, ”Build the Wall!”

Well, Scripture tells us that

joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Still I have a lurking feeling that if I were to try engaging with Bret Stephens on, say, Birthright Citizenship, or Chain Migration, or universal E-Verify, or—worst of all—an Immigration Moratorium, he would stomp out of the room in disgust.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire’s writings at can do so here.

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