In praise of demerits: Ross Douthat

In today’s New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat pecked characters on a keyboard that after hours of cogitation first turned into sentences then cohered into paragraphs. Someone called it “Why We Miss the WASPs.” Let’s look at it together.

The nostalgia flowing since the passing of George H.W. Bush has many wellsprings: admiration for the World War II generation and its dying breed of warrior-politicians, the usual belated media affection for moderate Republicans, the contrast between the elder Bush’s foreign policy successes and the failures of his son, and the contrast between any honorable politician and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The only people from whom nostalgia is flowing are the permanent occupiers of seats in cable talk show green rooms. The rest of us wondered why the hell a war with Iraq over Kuwait mattered and loathed George Bush’s AIDS policy, a generous word for an irritated improvisation. 

Also in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Bush nostalgia as a “fondness for a bygone institution known as the Establishment, hardened in the cold of New England boarding schools, acculturated by the late-night rituals of Skull and Bones, sent off to the world with a sense of noblesse oblige. For more than a century, this Establishment resided at the top of the American caste system. Now it is gone, and apparently people wish it weren’t.”

Ah, the nut graf. We live in an America increasingly dominated by minorities and one of Douthat’s paladin acquaintances implicitly admits he wishes it ain’t so.

Also in The Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Bush nostalgia as a “fondness for a bygone institution known as the Establishment, hardened in the cold of New England boarding schools, acculturated by the late-night rituals of Skull and Bones, sent off to the world with a sense of noblesse oblige. For more than a century, this Establishment resided at the top of the American caste system. Now it is gone, and apparently people wish it weren’t.”

“What IS it about social media, the Freedom of Information Act, and Afghanistan and Iraq that makes these brown people so pushy?”

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs — because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.

“We in Washington hate you.”

However, one of the lessons of the age of meritocracy is that building a more democratic and inclusive ruling class is harder than it looks, and even perhaps a contradiction in terms. You can get rid of the social registers and let women into your secret societies and privilege SATs over recommendations from the rector of Justin and the headmaster of Saint Grottlesex … and you still end up with something that is clearly a self-replicating upper class, a powerful elite, filling your schools and running your public institutions.

In the previous paragraph, he quotes Foer on Henry Adams, whom I suspect Foer has read and Douthat has not; in this one, he alludes to the late minor novelist Louis Auchincloss, who spent a half century painstakingly writing about the incestuous stupidity of the WASP culture revered by Douthat. At any rate, his insight: put women, blacks, gays, and your Mexican housekeeper in Andover and they might be as nearsighted as the Bushes.

So it’s possible to imagine adaptation rather than surrender as a different WASP strategy across the 1960s and 1970s. In such a world the establishment would have still admitted more blacks, Jews, Catholics and Hispanics (and more women) to its ranks … but it would have done so as a self-consciously elite-crafting strategy, rather than under the pseudo-democratic auspices of the SAT and the high school resume and the dubious ideal of “merit.” At the same time it would have retained both its historic religious faith (instead of exchanging Protestant rigor for a post-Christian Social Gospel and a soft pantheism) and its more self-denying culture (instead of letting all that wash away in the flood of boomer-era emotivism).

Something something hippies, something something unwashed atheists, mmm delicious word stew.

It’s de rigueur for liberals to lament the decline of the Rockefeller Republicans, or the compromises that a moderate northeastern WASP like George H.W. Bush made with Sunbelt populism.

De rigeur yourself, pal.

But a WASP establishment that couldn’t muster the self-confidence to hold on to Yale and Harvard was never likely to maintain its hold on a mass political organization like the G.O.P. Whereas an establishment that still believed in its mission within its own ivied bastions might have been seen as more politically imposing in the wider world — instead of seeing its last paladin, a war hero and statesman in a grand American tradition, dismissed in the boomer era as a “wimp.”

Cogitation, words, sentences, paragraphs.

The point of this counterfactual is not to just join the nostalgic chorus around Bush’s departure for the Great Kennebunkport in the Skies. Rather it’s to look forward, and to suggest that our current elite might someday be reformed — or simply replaced — through the imitation of the old establishment’s more pious and aristocratic spirit.

Imitating a pious and aristocratic spirit that hid essential truths from the American public and ruled as if, to cite a forgotten WASP scion, “the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law.”

An excerpt from a boring defense of meritocracy follows. I can quote too, from P.G. Wodehouse’s The Imitable Jeeves: “You must meet old Rowbotham, Bertie. A delightful chap. Wants to massacre the bourgeoisie, sack Park Lane and disembowel the hereditary aristocracy. Well, nothing could be fairer than that, what?”

David Brooks: ‘We don’t think this way anymore…’

This morning, David Brooks assembled sounds into phonemes that after hours of cogitation settled into sentence structures; he called this one “Speaking as a White Male…,” with the ellipses his idea. Let me poll the best lines.

The myth of centrism, part XC

Americans who spend too much time watching MSNBC, particularly “Morning” Joe Scarborough and “Mika” Brzezinski’s pre-dawn chattering of well-connected sparrows, will recognize the signs of the ptomaine poisoning known as mythicalcenteritis. Its guests like to mourn the collapse of a time when over Merlot and Marlboros Barack Obama and John Boehner considered cuts to social services, Newt Gingrich found common ground with fellow southerner Bill Clinton, Ron ‘n’ Tip had drinks after work, and Richard Nixon got a woody staring at Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Cabinet Room.

Well, bullshit. “He may be ready to surrender, but I’m not,” Reagan snarled in a fifth-rate Dirty Harry impersonation not long before ordering the withdrawal from Lebanon that O’Neill had suggested. We know what happened between Ginbrich and Clinton, and we’re lucky Obama, recovering most of his senses, reneged on the debt deal with Boehner. What vestiges of centrism existed during the Cold War’s bipartisan consensus on fighting Communism. Pick up any FDR biography to read what the opposition said about him in 1936. And the descendants of the Adams clan still remembers when one of Vice President Jefferson’s paid agents called the second president “a blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Does Steve King even know how to spell hermaphroditic?

Three days after Conor Lamb’s surprise victory in Pennsylvania, the disease strikes again. One of its symptoms is assuming that calling for another minority leader whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Maborosi” means you belong in the middle. Charles Pierce will have none of it:

This attempt to drag Conor Lamb into David Brooks’ Cloud Cuckoo Land of Responsible Centrism is simply a load. Lamb suggested that it might be time for Nancy Pelosi to step aside as a Democratic leader, but he told Paul Ryan that Ryan’s whole economic philosophy is a façade of a mockery of a sham. These two are not the same thing, and I suspect that, if the Democrats in the House re-elect Pelosi as their leader, she and Lamb will get along just fine. His opposition to the assault-weapons ban—which, we should note, is not on offer anywhere at the moment—is based on his belief that there are laws enough at the moment. However, he is in favor of closing the gun-show loophole, which is something.

But, more pertinent to our discussion of David Brooks’ most recent foolishness is the fact that, despite Lamb’s holding the positions that so warm the Brooksian cockles, the Republicans spent millions of dollars in ads promoting the notion that Lamb was a gun-grabbing Pelosi-bot anyway. This means, of course, that the Republican side of Brooks’ tribalism remains truthless and insane.

The disease will worsen as fall midterms approach. As soon as the Beltway press sense the inevitability of a Democratic takeover of Congress, the pressure on the party To Go the Middle Way will increase because the GOP is exempt from such concerns. Someone has to fill the space.

David Brooks, building a mystery

Yesterday, David Brooks assembled sounds into phonemes that after hours of cogitation settled into sentence structures, only this time these structures got attention on shows I know I shouldn’t be watching. Let’s look at a couple of those structures together.

Anti-Trumpists, Brooks argues, are so blinded by rage that they miss how actual policy decisions affecting billions globally emerge from the White House. He’s got a dandy conceit explaining the phenomenon too:

It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation. Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country.

Pretending that he’s bumbling into certainties is purest Brooks. “I sometimes wonder[ed]” whether the George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations weren’t Potemkin villages in which Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Schultz, Caspar Weinberger, Don Regan, etc in effect ran the country. I sometimes wonder if anyone is dense enough to think he or she can sever symbolism from action.

But, to quote Dan Savage, it gets better:

The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him. And if they do have friends and family members who admire Trump, they’ve learned not to talk about this subject. So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.

I can’t speculate on whom David Brooks gets cocktails with, but I face Trumpists on social media and, yes, in my family circle a couple times a week. I know what they’re going to say because they’re not shy about saying it, loudly. When not espousing the conservatism of which Trump, contra David Brooks, is the culmination, these people flaunt their boorishness. It’s not that Trump curdled their sense of empathy – it’s that they identify with the president’s sense of beleaguerment. They’re under siege. I mean, you can’t even open a door for a woman in 2017 without worrying about a sexual harassment accusation ten years down the line, for crying out loud!

No liberal was under any illusion that Trump would govern like a New York Democrat. In November we knew he was too stupid to overrule Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, opening American coasts to drilling, and passing a tax break paid for by the poor to plutocrats like his children and son-in-law, among other things, are what Presidents Rubio, Romney, and Cruz would have signed, and they’ve got at least three more functioning brain cells than Donald Trump. A columnist with a penchant for monikers would have better served his purported intellectual honesty by razing Bush II and Reagan’s Potemkin villages.”There’s a huge difference between William F. Buckley and Sean Hannity, ” David Brooks actually wrote. The William F. Buckley who floated the idea of tattooing AIDS victims and saw no difference between hysterical anti-communism and opposing civil rights legislation. Believing in the myth of the intellectual Buckley versus the “lowbrow” Sean Hannity – proof if we needed any that you can never trust a #NeverTrump-er.

David Brooks, in search of heroes

Yesterday, David Brooks assembled sounds into phonemes that after hours of cogitation settled into sentence structures. Let’s look at them together.

It turns out that John McCain’s most important service to American democracy was not rendered in a P.O.W. camp in Vietnam. It’s being rendered right now in the U.S. Senate.

The experience as a POW was a horrifying one for McCain; I’m not sure how participation in the Vietnam War and his subsequent captivity contributed to American democracy. The second sentence is usual Brooksian filler, of the kind my students specialize, another way of consuming word count (“John McCain is a senator from Arizona.”).

In the first place, McCain seems to be the only member of Congress who insists on holding hearings and working toward compromise before passing major legislation. This would seem to be the very elemental prerequisite of good government — like a doctor seeking a diagnosis before performing surgery — but McCain appears to be the only member, or at least the only Republican, willing to risk unpopularity to insist upon a basic respect for our sacred institutions.

Democrats can’t hold hearings until they control the House and Senate; until then the ranking members of committees can request them. Also, I’m sure his colleagues Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray may disagree with him.

Second, McCain is one of very few Republicans willing to stand up for the American story. Human beings can be rallied around one of three things: religion, tribe or ideals.

“I’m alluding to Bobos in Paradise, available for a few bucks used on Amazon.”

Donald Trump and the campus multiculturalists want to organize people by ethnic tribe, which has always been the menacing temptation throughout our history. But McCain seeks to preserve our traditional rallying point — our ideals.

The Brooks column engages in the classic Smart Conservative bait and switch, also known as the Smart Con: although the headline and lead suggest an frontal assault on conservatism, the body establishes an equivalency between it and a liberal straw man. Conservatism may suck, but liberals suck too! “Multiculturalism” is sure doing a lot of work as portmanteau. How the Jewish Brooks can deny that black, indigenous, and Latino activists form no less a part of Our Ideals shows the extent to which the Smart Conservative will value order over even the faintest ripple.

Third and most important, McCain still believes that paideia is essential for democracy. Paideia is the process by which we educate one another for citizenship. Paideia is based on the idea that a healthy democracy requires a certain sort of honorable citizen — that if we’re not willing to tell one another the truth, devote our lives to common purposes or defer to a shared moral order, then we’ll succumb to the shallowness of a purely commercial civilization, we’ll be torn asunder by the centrifugal forces of extreme individualism, we’ll rip one another to shreds in the naked struggle for power.

Ah — Greek, hijacked for the purpose of replacing one daddy figure (Trump) with another (McCain).

As the brilliant Spanish philosopher Javier Gomá Lanzón reminds us, most moral education happens by power of example.

The George “F.” Will Tag of Erudition.

McCain’s career has had its low moments, as all of ours do — a banking scandal, Sarah Palin — but he exemplifies a practical standard of excellence to an extraordinary degree: enduring in Vietnam, seeking compromise legislation on everything from immigration reform to campaign spending, condemning torture after 9/11.

The column’s weasel moment, an example of odious compression. The “ideals” for which this member of the Keating Five stood for he undercut if not destroyed by picking an ambitious imbecile as a running mate: a clear antecedent for the conservative enthusiasm for Roy Moore. And notice McCain’s “condemning” torture. Brooks knows McCain blasted the Bush administration for the use of torture as an instrument of anti-terrorism in the early post-9/11 period but yielded to a significant congressional dilution.

That is an essential bulwark in the age of Trump. That is what needs rebuilding. Books will someday be written on how Trump, this wounded and twisted man, became morally acceptable to tens of millions of Americans. But it must have something to do with the way over the past decades we have divorced private and public morality, as if private narcissism would have no effect on public conduct.

Okay, buddy.

It must have something to do with the great tide of moral libertarianism from Herbert Marcuse on down. This tide taught that progress meant emancipating the individual from shared moral orders. It taught transgression was always delightful and that morality was individual and optional.

“Both sides do it,” Diamond Dave mumbles again, thinking about the Twitter response from Russiabots.

The moral fabric of society is invisible but essential. Some use their public position to dissolve it so they can have an open space for their selfishness. McCain is one of the strongest reweavers we have, and one of our best and most stubborn teachers.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran. Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father. I’ll repeat: Sarah Palin.

The ingénue to sex temptress arc of David Brooks’ career

Sometime this week  David Brooks assembled sounds into phonemes that after hours of cogitation settled into sentence structures. Let’s look at them together:

Sometimes pop culture seems completely prepackaged and professionalized, so when somebody steps out and puts on a display of vulnerability, trust and humility, it takes your breath away.

What “sometimes” and “completely” are doing here only a bobo in paradise would know.

Then, an eye on his word count like a student in a composition course, Diamond Dave spends three paragraphs explicating Chance the Rapper’s newest song, performed on Colbert’s show; he concentrates on lyrics, so he’s no different than the average music critic. The lesson he draws from Chance’s movin’-on-up story:

Sometimes that sounds like a hopeful Martin Luther King dream. Sometimes it sounds like an angry warning about final judgment.

Guess which “sometimes” grabs Diamond Dave’s attention most. It is the fate of the American political pundit to ignore the despair into which MLK sunk in 1968 as the Vietnam War swallowed thousands of young men, many of whom were black and poor, and the black power movement advocated less peaceful methods of protest. If Brooks has read Bearing the Cross or Taylor Branch, he betrays no sign.

But he’s warming up:

It’s interesting to compare Chance’s song with Taylor Swift’s new song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” which is also about a young star coping with celebrity. The former stands out from the current cultural moment; the latter embodies it. Swift is a phenomenally talented and beautiful songwriter who has lost touch with herself and seems to have been swallowed by the ethos of the Trump era.

Yes, it’s interesting how a man in his dotage notices how Swift’s mediocre at best #1 is no more vengeful than, say, “Mean.” It’s interesting how Swift is beautiful but Chance isn’t because Diamond Dave is a man. It’s interesting how a copy editor let the phrase “lost touch with herself” through the system. It’s interesting how Chance’s management team hounded MTV News into yanking an article it found offensive, but it’s Swift who got swallowed by the ethos of the Trump era.

Swift had defied the normal ingénue-to-sex-temptress career trajectory of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, but now she’s fitting right in. Spears released a similar song a decade ago called “Piece of Me,” which didn’t take itself so seriously.

The first thing you notice in comparing the Chance and Swift songs is the difference between a person and a brand. A lot of young people I know talk about “working on their brand,” and sometimes I wish that word had never been invented.

Notice how “Look What You Made Me Do,” whose anonymity reduces it to an attack on a lover, sibling, mother, or Starbucks barista, adduces Swift’s membership in the “normal ingénue-to-sex-temptress career” fan club. I needed Diamond David to explain how ferocity, however blank, is synonymous with sex temptressing or something. But then weaselly elision is David Brooks’ brand.

The second thing you notice is the difference between sincerity and authenticity. In Lionel Trilling’s old distinction, sincerity is what you shoot for in a trusting society. You try to live honestly and straightforwardly into your social roles and relationships. Authenticity is what you shoot for in a distrustful society. You try to liberate your own personality by rebelling against the world around you, by aggressively fighting against the society you find so vicious and corrupt.

Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination and book length study of E.M. Forster are favorites of mine, but I prefer Oscar Wilde’s definition of sincerity: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal,” as well as “Everything matters in art, except the subject, and all bad literature is sincere.” To understand Wilde’s irony would tax even a regular NPR contributor.

Back in the 1950s, sincerity seemed treacly and boring, and authenticity, in the form of, say, Johnny Cash, seemed daring and new. But now rebellious authenticity is the familiar corporate success formula, and sincerity, like Chance the Rapper’s, is practically revolutionary.

I give up.

The élan, the perfect poster boys of conservatism

Do go on, Jonah Goldberg:

So it sounds like Trump was rude, bullying and tacky to the former Miss Universe about her need to lose weight. That doesn’t shock me and I doubt it shocks anybody else. So could he have been nicer about it? Absolutely. But this notion that a beauty pageant winner’s physical appearance isn’t relevant to the organization just strikes me as bizarre. Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women, nor a perfect poster girl for decrying the scourge of “fat shaming.” Newt Gingrich is right when he says, “you’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds during the year that you’re Miss Universe.”

The son of Lucianne Goldberg, the publisher who encouraged Linda Tripp to record her chats with Monica Lewinsky, indulges in his usual rhetorical flimflam: rhetorical question followed by intensifier that as my students well know is less intense than he thinks. The point isn’t that Donald Trump was a boor, a lout, and dweller in locker rooms of an all too familiar type; for Goldberg it’s that Trump wasn’t nicer. The casualness and lack of self-consciousness with which Goldberg can write, “Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women” is precisely why “fat shaming” is a “scourge” and why we’re talking about it. To read the rest, Google. I’m not linking to NRO.

Elsewhere, peeking out from his cirrus clouds of melancholy David Brooks pecks sentences that form themselves into words.

This presidential election is a contest between the oldest of the baby boomers.

587 words to go.

Yet Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 68, represent two very different decades in the formation of that generation. Donald Trump became famous as a classic 1980s type, while Hillary Clinton first attained public notice as a classic 1960s type.

It’s interesting, and sad, to see how the promise of those two decades has aged.

Here is what we call in the business the nut graf, so-called because this paragraph was written by a nut.

Trump opened Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in November 1983. Go-go capitalism had a lot of élan back then. Capitalism had washed away the stagnation of the 1970s. It was defeating the Soviet Union. During the Reagan years, writers celebrated capitalism not only as a wealth-generating engine but also as a moral system, a way to arouse hard work, creativity and trust.

Of course, Trump was always a scuzzy version of the capitalist type. Somehow I got on the guest list of a few of the ’80s-era parties he hosted in the lobby of his skyscraper and would go for sociological entertainment

I would imagine that “somehow” Brooks got on this list because William F. Buckley, Jr. and the other “writers” who gave him his start spent eight years publishing encomia to Ronald Reagan’s feet. “Of course” Trump was a vulgarian, unlike Buckley himself, advocate of tattooing HIV victims and apartheid enthusiast.

Because Brooks dwells in the green rooms of NPR and PBS he pledges his troth to On the Other Hand. After praising the “poetic, aspirational” virtues of Hillary Clinton’s 1969 Wellesley commencement address, he writes:

Clinton can be a devastatingly good counterpuncher, but she lacks the human touch when talking about the nation’s problems, and fails to make an emotional connection.

“She is a woman, after all.”

When asked why she wants to be president or for any positive vision, she devolves into a list of programs. And it is never enough just to list three programs in an answer; she has to pile in an arid hodgepodge of eight or nine. This is pure interest-group liberalism — buying votes with federal money — not an inspiring image of the common good.

Federal programs and collaborations with business are not an inspiring image of the common good; they lack the “élan” of Brooks’ definition of capitalism.

There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature.


Yes, the world is watching what we do.
Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose.
So let’s be stronger together.
Looking to the future with courage and confidence.
Building a better tomorrow for our beloved children and our beloved country.
When we do, America will be greater than ever.
Thank you and may God bless the United States of America!

Platitudes and excerpts from self-help books, but I can’t accuse them of lacking uplift.

Ironically, one of the tasks for those who succeed the baby boomers is to restore idealism.

If a reader can parse this sentence, contact my lawyer.

At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrus

I appeals to the same reader for help with “restored anthropology.” As for solidarity, friendship, and all the rest, Brooks can buy an example of one candidate’s “vocabulary” for five bucks. Tax free, I think. Just like the go-go eighties would have liked it!

‘It’s never too late to learn from experience’

The GOP Master of Ceremonies has written about his latest attempt at cogitation, and in some instances words form themselves into sentences.

Lately I’ve been thinking about experience.

A lie. David Brooks doesn’t think. Besides, how does one “think about” experience?

Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day.

Throat clearing — the equivalent of reading, “My summer in Rome was definitely a great time” in the student narratives I assign.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.

The ship runs smoothly despite that whiff. Before modern times sailors couldn’t use precious fresh water on baths, hence the whiff.

So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.

The graciousness of Dick Cheney, the sweetness of Tom DeLay, the magnanimity of Newt Gingrich.

What follows is the usual Brooksian list of names he may have read somewhere, maybe heard about them while being driven to the NPR studios (Lincoln, MLK, Jr., Mandela, the usual). He even squeezes in a Keats quote.

Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.

Martin Luther King lacked for sharp elbows? Did you call LBJ for comment, David?

But back to Hillary:

Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling. Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s an act of unseemly but not felonious behavior, then the futile drawn-out withholding of information, and forever after the unwillingness to ever come clean.

Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s a rush to publication of stories whose leads are buried, then the futile drawn-out presentation of both-sides-do-it and worrying about the Appearance of Illegality.

If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad.

A University of Chicago graduate wrote this sentence in a motley of letters for New York Times publication.

It’s tough to surrender control, but like the rest of us, Hillary Clinton gets to decide what sort of leader she wants to be. America is desperate for a little uplift, for a leader who shows that she trusts her fellow citizens. It’s never too late to learn from experience.

So facile a thinker is Brooks that he can’t figure out how Hillary’s meticulous preparation, leaden delivery, and administrative venality make her human. But it’s never too late to read your own columns.

David Brooks, searcher and settler

With the United Kingdom crumbling and the EU reeling, it’s a comfort to know that David Brooks can bring keenness to the opacity of our political discourse. Here’s a precious thing he wrote called “At the Edge of Inside” published yesterday:

In any organization there are some people who serve at the core. These insiders are in the rooms when the decisions are made. Hillary Clinton, for example, is now at the core of the Democratic Party.

Then there are outsiders. They throw missiles from beyond the walls. They are untouched by internal loyalties and try to take over from without. Donald Trump is a Republican outsider.

But there’s also a third position in any organization: those who are at the edge of the inside. These people are within the organization, but they’re not subsumed by the group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, is sometimes on the edge of the inside of the G.O.P.

Brooks got the ideas from a “pamphlet” written by “a Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque.” On the Edge of the Inside” should wow’em at David’s next TED Talks. But he should be careful about mentioning bridges and entranceways. Republicans don’t like to build those. Maybe that’s why Lindsey Graham is on the edge of the inside.

A person at the edge of inside can be the strongest reformer. This person has the loyalty of a faithful insider, but the judgment of the critical outsider. Martin Luther King Jr. had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be American. This love allowed him to critique America from the values he learned from America. He could be utterly relentless in bringing America back closer to herself precisely because his devotion to American ideals was so fervent.

MLK had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be black in America, which in late fifties Montgomery and mid sixties Selma meant blacks were treated as if they didn’t belong in America.

The person on the edge of inside is involved in constant change. The true insiders are so deep inside they often get confused by trivia and locked into the status quo. The outsider is throwing bombs and dreaming of far-off transformational revolution. But the person at the doorway is seeing constant comings and goings. As Rohr says, she is involved in a process of perpetual transformation, not a belonging system. She is more interested in being a searcher than a settler.

This sure is a convoluted way of saying, “People changed their seats in the elementary school cafeteria if they saw me coming.”

When people are afraid or defensive, they have no tolerance for the person at the edge of inside. They want purity, rigid loyalty and lock step unity. But now more than ever we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend and dauntlessly insist that they live up to their truest selves.

Britishes should could have used somebody telling them to live up to their truest selves!

David Brooks: solving problems ‘from the bottom up’

David Brooks posted his latest suicide note:

There are just a few essential reads if you want to understand the American social and political landscape today. Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids,” Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and a few other books deserve to be on that list. Today, I’d add Yuval Levin’s fantastic new book, “The Fractured Republic.”

Books written by the author of The Bell Curve and a National Review contributor.

Levin starts with the observation that our politics and much of our thinking is drenched in nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s. The left is nostalgic for the relative economic equality of that era. The right is nostalgic for the cultural cohesion. The postwar era has become our unconscious ideal of what successful America looks like. It was, Levin notes, an age of cohesion and consolidation.

Ask black members of the left or women about fifties nostalgia. Labor and management did work out a truce after the convulsion of the immediate postwar years, so maybe that’s what David meant before word count interfered…

But we have now moved to an age of decentralization and fragmentation. At one point in the book he presents a series of U-shaped graphs showing this pattern.

“The book has pictures.”

The share of national income that went to the top 1 percent declined steadily from 1925 to about 1975, but has risen steadily since. We are a less economically cohesive nation.

Bully for you, David, a Republican, for acknowledging a reality. Because you like parallelisms, however, the pedantry of your thinking abjures the simpler sentence, “Most people who weren’t William F. Buckley, Jr. believed the tax system was fairer.” But he’s gathering steam, preparing yet another explanation for how bobos in paradise live. They – we– are, you guessed it, form part of an “individualistic, diffuse society.” Again, I’m not sure women, blacks, and gays thought they belonged in a collectivist, consolidated society for which Brooks purrs his own nostalgia.

Our politicians try to find someone to blame for these problems: banks, immigrants or, for Donald Trump, morons generally. But that older consolidated life could not have survived modernity and is never coming back. It couldn’t have survived globalization, feminism and the sexual revolution, the rising tide of immigration and the greater freedom consumers now enjoy.

Translation: “Sigh.”

Our fundamental problems are the downsides of transitions we have made for good reasons: to enjoy more flexibility, creativity and individual choice. For example, we like buying cheap products from around the world. But the choices we make as consumers make life less stable for us as employees.

What the fuck is he on about?

Levin says the answer is not to dwell in confusing, frustrating nostalgia. It’s through a big push toward subsidiarity, devolving choice and power down to the local face-to-face community level, and thus avoiding the excesses both of rigid centralization and alienating individualism. A society of empowered local neighborhood organizations is a learning society. Experiments happen and information about how to solve problems flows from the bottom up.

Don’t count on Social Security and Medicare, hippies. Raising the retirement age and block grants are the way of the future.

It’s not 1830. We Americans have a national consciousness. People who start local groups are often motivated by a dream of scaling up and changing the nation and the world. Our distemper is not only caused by local fragmentation but by national dysfunction. Even Levin writes and thinks in nation-state terms (his prescription is Wendell Berry, but his intellectual and moral sources are closer to a nationalist like Abraham Lincoln).

Where did we get from atomization to collective action?

David Brooks and his gruesome moments


Still in the throes of a nervous breakdown, David Brooks returns to the NYT op-ed page to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken:

I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

In which Brooks admits to being a bobo with parasites. But he’s got something called an “act of will” bought in Target as part of his vow to spend less time in bourgeois strata. Two AA batteries required, David. Also: months and years! You’re so optimistic about your continued employment with the paper that Henry Jarvis Raymond built.

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

“I’m going to come up with another tissue of well wrought lies about how Americans live that I’ll pimp on book tours in college towns.”

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

His eagle eye focused on word count, Brooks repeats “new national story.” Maybe it’s a mantra.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too.

“I have gay friends who watch college basketball.”

There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role.

Okay, I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore.

*Eagle eye steals glance at word count again*

It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

“I have gay and lesbian friends who’ve laughed at me for years.”

Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.

I imagine Brooks knocking doors, a box of Entenmann’s pound cake in his hands, hoping he gets invited to a Game of Thrones watch party.