It’s destined to be one of the most significant mea culpas in the first quarter of the 21st century. The reference is to the column in The New York Times on July 26 by Bret Stephens.

Stephens began by confessing to readers about “the worst line” he ever wrote “as a pundit”. It was this first sentence in his Wall Street Journal column on August 31, 2015: “If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.” Stephens does not resile from the description of “the man and his close minions”. But he regrets that in 2015 he “caricatured” Trump’s supporters by describing them as appalling and more besides.

BT, as in Before Trump, Stephens enjoyed a long career at the conservative The Wall Street Journal and had been editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. Not long after Trump became US president, Stephens joined the ­liberal The New York Times.

In the first decade of this century, it is not uncommon for US liberals (in the American sense of the term) to look down on voters who support conservative Republicans. At a San Francisco fundraiser in April 2008, Barack Obama (who was seeking to run as a Democrat in the presidential election that year) commented on Americans in “small towns in Pennsylvania and … in the midwest”.

Obama said it was understandable why the residents of these areas were bitter about the economic decline they were experiencing. He added: “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.”

At the time, Hillary Clinton, who was contesting the Democratic primary against Obama, described the soon-to-be president as elitist. However, speaking at a Democrat fundraiser in New York City in September 2016, she declared that half of Trump’s supporters belonged to a “basket of deplorables”.

Clinton classified the deplorables as being guilty of “racist, ­sexist, homophobic, xenophobic (and) Islamophobic” attitudes. With a little help from the “deplorables” in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Trump prevailed over Clinton at the November 2016 presidential election.

Between Obama’s sneer at Americans in economic distress who clung to guns and religion and Clinton’s dismissal of “deplorables”, Stephens weighed in with his put-down of Trump’s supporters as “appalling”.

As far as I am aware, neither Obama nor Clinton completely walked from their comments of 2008 and 2016 respectively.

Stephens, however, has done the full mea culpa. Obama and Clinton demonstrated their contempt for what is perhaps best ­referred to as the white male American working class and the small business operators when ­addressing the well-heeled and highly educated liberals.

Stephens now has acknowledged his narrow focus when he condemned Trump’s supporters as “appalling”.

In his New York Times piece, Stephens wrote: “I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called ‘the protected’. My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighbourhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges.”

What Stephens failed to understand in 2015, but now concedes, is that Trump’s supporters saw “a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo”. In short, Stephens has acknowledged his “dripping condescension” with respect to Trump’s supporters.

The next US presidential election will take place in November 2024 and the midterms will be held in November this year. Some of what Stephens called the failing status quo could be experienced again in just over two years. Trump may or may not lead the Republicans to the polls. If he does not, there are a number of Trump-lite possible candidates such as Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo.

The condescension, and consequential ignorance, Stephens felt until recently towards the less well-off and less educated is evident in Australia today in those who consider themselves as the best and brightest and who look down on those they (privately) regard as having deplorable views on social and economic issues.

Anthony Albanese led Labor to a strong victory in May during an election in which the Liberal Party was devastated in some of its safest seats in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. The Liberals lost seats to the so-called teal independents, Labor and Greens alike. The road back to success seems inordinately difficult, but not impossible.

When Bob Hawke led Labor to victory in March 1983, he and his senior colleagues were determined to ensure that the flawed hubris of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of December 1972 to November 1975 was not repeated.

The early evidence suggests that the Albanese Labor government has learnt from the inability of the Labor governments led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to take the nation with them on key policy issues.

When Rudd defeated John Howard in March 2007, many commentators expected that Labor would achieve three terms in office. It managed just two before Tony Abbott’s victory over Rudd in 2013. Abbott was never personally popular but in 2013 he exhibited an understanding that Australians were doing it tough in the suburbs and regional areas.

Labor’s primary vote was a low 32.6 per cent – as was the Coalition’s at 35.7 per cent. The Albanese government was essentially elected on Greens preferences and the Coalition’s vote was cut by the success of the teal independents whose position on climate policy is closer to the Greens than Labor.

The great mistake of the Gillard government in 2010 was to do a deal with the Greens. The Albanese government has not proceeded down this path. If Labor stays away from the green left, its chances of re-election are good.

For the most part, the well-off and highly educated can adapt to economic challenges along with criticisms of their lifestyles and religious beliefs. However, as Stephens now recognises, there are many in Western democracies who struggle to pay their bills for the basics of life and who resent ­attacks on their beliefs.

To the extent that Albanese can handle this phenomenon, he should be able to ward off any challenger who raises a middle ­finger at the powers-that-be on ­behalf of our very own so-called “appalling deplorables”.