• Sree Sreenivasan

Ross Douthat's White-Guy Confidence

Updated: Feb 14

His "nothing to see here" NYT columns are calming, but wrong, wrong, wrong.

This cartoon by Matt Wuerker (@wuerker) is smarter than any Ross Douthat column.

(This is the opening essay from this week's edition of my Sunday Note, which is brought to you by Armory Square Ventures. See their message in this week's newsletter.)


I LIKE READING CONSERVATIVE NEWSPAPER OPINION PIECES. I don’t drink coffee, so they serve as a morning wake-up shot. The Wall Street Journal’s right-wing opinion page and its mostly-wrong takes on taxes, foreign wars, the role of government, etc., have gotten my day started for years. And there was a time I liked reading Ross Douthat’s conservative takes in the famously liberal NYT editorial pages.

He started as a young buck in 2009, filling the slot that had been occupied by conservatives from previous generations like William Safire and Bill Kristol. As the youngest columnist in the paper’s history, he brought a fresh perspective that was often provocative and wrong, but never boring (in 2009, he was a hit at the convention of SAJA, the South Asian Journalists Association, talking about his career with our mutual friend V.V. Ganeshananthan (@V_V_G).

In recent years, however, he’s turned into a watered-down, religious-conservative version of Jordan Peterson, the deplorable men’s rights and conspiracy-peddling Joe Rogan pal.

A couple of weeks ago, he decided to write about the Jan. 6 insurrection and to raise an alarm. Not about the threat to democracy by Trump and his co-conspiracists, but by the rest of us!

He wrote:

It’s worth asking whether the people who see potential insurrection lurking everywhere are seeing a danger rising entirely on its own — or in their alarm are helping to invent it.

MSNBC anchor Jonathan Capehart (@capehartj) had the right response, as usual, in a 3-min takedown of Douthat:

If there’s one thing I and millions of others have grown tired of, is being told are rooted-in-reality fear for our fragile democracy is “alarmist.” We were told we were being alarmist when we warned folks to take a certain Queens-born builder’s red-hot, racist rhetoric seriously, that he was a threat to the presidency, the Constitution, American values and basic decency, and he proved our fears warranted time and time again.

His “nothing to see here” columns are calming for many and give Republicans cover to continue to do real harm to the US and the world.

Douthat’s white-guy confidence means he learned nothing from his own underestimation of Trump. Despite this column during the 2016 campaign:


Even as he admitted he underestimated Trump, he made a wrong prediction:

Of course, I'm not completely humbled. Indeed, I'm still proud enough to continue predicting, in defiance of national polling, that there's still no way that Trump will actually be the 2016 Republican nominee.

One would think that being so demonstrably wrong so often would, in fact, lead to one being humbled at least a couple of times. But, that’s not Douthhat’s thing at all. He’s become a master of picking and choosing where the scientific method of problem-solving and logic apply, and where they do not, and it appears to be a trend that will continue apace. It’s a thought space that many of the more occasionally-more-palatable conservative writers occupy all the time.

Late last year, Douthat penned a treatise on abortion, and it’s a glowing example of “well, logic deems thus” without actually discussing the topic in a thoughtful way. It follows the Douthat method to perfection — read the whole thing and you won’t find much new. Importantly, there is no deep discussion on the toll of childbearing in America, our utter lack of a social support system, and the real reasons women actually have abortions, how difficult the decision is, and the many factors that lead to that decision.

There you have it: Proof that columnists (and, yes, newsletter writers) should all have expiry dates.

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Some of my Republican friends responded to my recent essay about “the last straw” and I hope to share some of their thoughts in a future newsletter. If you’d like to be included, LMK.

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