Jarrett Stepman, Lincoln Fellow 2018
What is your current position?
I’m currently a columnist for The Daily Signal, the multimedia wing of The Heritage Foundation.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
It was my love of country and gratitude for the things it has given me and generations of Americans who have been privileged to live in the greatest country on earth. I grew up in the Bay Area, where people who think like me exist in vanishingly small numbers. In my mind, California serves as a warning of things to come for the country if the increasingly dominant ethos of the left becomes universal.
What are you currently working on?
Since I’m a columnist, I write about a diverse array of issues, which I almost always tie to deeper history and first principles. I’m currently writing extensively on the attacks on foundational American institutions, like the Electoral College. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of misinformation perpetuated by the media about why it exists (which surely isn’t helped by the collapse of civics knowledge in general).
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I first learned about the Claremont Institute when I was in college. It was a time when I was really being inundated with left-wing thought and I was trying to deepen what I believe. It led me to the works of Harry Jaffa, whose books on Abraham Lincoln became foundational for how I look at American history and political philosophy.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
The Lincoln Fellowship was a wonderful experience. The other fellows were deeply accomplished and thoughtful people who I still have a lot of contact with. More than that, I appreciated the conversations I had with Claremont scholars, who are among the most learned people I’ve ever had the honor of speaking to. I really don’t think there are many places in American life where you can range in rich conversation between discussing the ideas of Aristotle and Abraham Lincoln in one instance, then Hollywood Westerns in the next.
There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
Claremont is unique because of its focus on foundational ideas and how they relate to modern politics. It’s an in-depth and ground-up training in conservative political philosophy from some of the brightest minds in the country. In addition, the interconnected network of fellows that exists after the program concludes is incredible.
If you could have a fireside chat and drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order and discuss?
This is tough question! I suppose Thomas Jefferson would be the man I’d want to have a chat with as he was notably among the greatest conversationalists among the Founders. Of course, I’d discuss politics with him and undoubtedly have some disagreements, but what would liven up the conversation would be his polymath nature. I’d love to tell him of the marvels in science and technology his “Empire of Liberty,” produced, and thank him for the gift of injecting into our Declaration of Independence the abstract truth of human equality and natural rights that will always prove a stumbling block to tyranny in America.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Another difficult question. It’s hard to compare their accomplishments as on one hand there is the indispensable man of America’s creation and on the other, the indispensable man of America’s salvation from destruction. But if I had to choose, it would probably be Washington. The beau ideal of a republican statesman and a, remarkably, underrated military commander and politician. He was the very symbol of American greatness, a man who, in character and in stature, towered over the kings and despots—both great and petty—of the Old World.
Looking back on the early founding of this country, in which one of the original 13 colonies would you have wanted to live and why?
I’m tempted to say Georgia or one of the less prominent colonies given that it would be easier to stand out in a place not dominated by the most prominent of prominent Founders. However, no slight to Massachusetts, but being associated with Virginia of the Founding era, is to me, like playing for the 1927 Yankees. You may not compare to the Lou Gehrigs and Babe Ruths, but you can take pride in being surrounded by a pool of talent rarely, if ever, duplicated in our nation’s or perhaps even the world’s history.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
Difficult choice, but I’d probably pick a draft of the Constitution. It would be incredible just to sit down and hold the greatest founding document written by man.
What qualities do you believe are needed to achieve great statesmanship in this century and why?
If we are talking American statesman, then I think it’s important for a statesman to be of the American people, not above them, but also someone who Americans can aspire to. Obviously that standard has evolved as America has evolved, but I think this was true in 1860 as it’s true today.
The ability to connect and communicate with fellow Americans on a gut level, even if very different in lifestyle and background, is indispensable to leadership.
What’s also necessary, and perhaps sadly needs to be said, is a deep and instinctual love for America as it is. Not just the ideas—which are certainly critical to who we are—but the people who comprise this country. A great statesman should not look down but up to the inspiration that their countrymen provide, and always, relentlessly, commit themselves to handing the country off to the next generation better than it was before.
What would the argument be if you were to write an essay certain to reach a large percentage of left-leaning college students convincing them the nation’s founding principles are still unique, relevant, and worthy of being preserved?
I would focus the piece around gratitude, a message completely absent from the left-wing worldview of envy and grievance that dominates on college campuses.
We are all, truly, privileged to live in America, a country not perfect, but great by any measure. Explain that the very desire for perfection often makes one miss what is good. The prosperity and success America has achieved is simply unprecedented in world history, and without question that success derives for the foundation of American ideas and culture that made it possible.
It is not by accident that America came to be where it is in just a few centuries, a historical blink of an eye.
Instead of looking for ways to tear up and drag down that accomplishment, keep in mind that there are many things that make us unexceptional—prejudice, injustice, violence, and hypocrisy exist in every civilization that ever existed—but a few critical attributes that make us exceptional, and they are worth saving for as long as there is an America.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The utter collapse of community and of the driving narrative of e pluribus unum. As America becomes more ethnically diverse, our elite institutions preach multiculturism and noxious identity politics that defines us by those ethnicities rather than as Americans first. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen if we are to continue getting this experiment in liberty to work. There is no single issue that poses a greater challenge to America than this one. It’s a fight that has to be won.
What would the mission and topics of conversation be, if you were to host a daily half-hour podcast?
I already have a monthly podcast on history, called (somewhat tongue and cheek), “The Right Side of History.” But I’d love to do a daily podcast about politics with the analysis I typically bring to my articles. News of the day, but with a connection to larger themes in American history.
What have you found to be the biggest challenge in writing your soon to be released book?
Finding time to write. I worked a full-time job while doing research for and writing it. It was a little rough spending my evenings and weekends working relentlessly to finish my book by the deadline. Overall though, it was a joy to work on. I’m honored to even have the opportunity to write a book. The least I can do is put all of my effort into it.
What regimen do you follow when writing a book?
I set a chapter by chapter schedule ahead of time that I at least tried to follow. My regimen consisted of using any free time available and away from my computer to read and do research, then spend an hour or two a day writing. It wasn’t always easy, but I got it done.
What books are you currently reading?
Quite a few. I just finished “President McKinley: Architect of the American Century,” by Robert Merry. Merry is an excellent writer and biographer, and as usual did a great job of bringing the era of McKinley alive. My final assessment is that McKinley was a highly successful president, but will never captivate the American imagination like his successor, Theodore Roosevelt.
I’m now reading Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by James Reston, Jr. It’s an interesting look at Spain during the era in which Christopher Columbus made his famous voyage to America. The world was in flux and about to enter a new age of enlightenment, but I think few would have expected it from the tumultuous events of that era.
What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Ronald Reagan’s farewell address. He called for Americans to reinvigorate an informed patriotism in this country. In some ways, I think we’ve failed in that endeavor, but that message needs to be on the minds of all Americans who fear that future generations will not have the great and free country that we’ve enjoyed.
Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
I have many, but one I love is from Daniel Webster’s famous Second Reply to Robert Hayne in a debate over union and succession.
The speech is a masterfully eloquent expression of high principle and patriotism, which ends with the famed quote: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseperable!”
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
Modern problems aside, I think California has been, at times, the greatest state in the union. It became the American Dream within the American Dream. I’m deeply proud of the many generations of my family who came to the state long ago and helped make it a jewel of the republic.
It was, for many Americans, the final destination of people who’d crossed the country looking for opportunity. It deeply saddens me that it’s becoming just the opposite for citizens looking to build a middle class life for themselves and their families.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
I love baseball and the Oakland A’s, who I think should be America’s team (in my dreams). I also love to play tennis, visit the great outdoors, and, of course, read lots of books about history.