18 February 2016

David Brooks: Can't we all just get along???

David Brooks is looking for a happy warrior to stop Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.The New York Times columnist, a moderate conservative, warns each man's rivals that they "can't beat passion with pragmatism," Whether it's Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio, Brooks urges the rest of the field to campaign with more emotion, warning them that " You can’t beat angry passion with bloodless calculation." Instead, he thinks that the demons of the left and right can be beaten with "warmth, confidence and optimism." He offers Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower as models for candidates and Presidents who inspired a feeling of "neighborliness" among Americans. I don't know as much about Eisenhower, but I think Brooks misreads Roosevelt to an extent. He's thinking of the FDR of the radio "fireside chats" and the guy who said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. But FDR chastising the "economic royalists" of his time, and declaring that "I welcome their hatred" doesn't sound that different from Sanders railing against the "1%" Scholarship aside, Brooks badly misreads the electorate and the candidates of 2016. He thinks of Sanders and Trump as pessimists because they warn of national decline and worsening conditions for working-class Americans, but I doubt whether their supporters see them that way, since each group believes their man can solve all the problems. From their perspective, the real pessimists are the self-styled realists who think that neither man actually could enact his agenda because of vested interests and entrenched opposition.

A more profound misreading is Brook's belief that Sanders and Trump, not to mention their supporters, are mainly "put[ting] the blame for this disaster on discrete groups of people — Wall Street or immigrants." This is a superficial interpretation of so-called "populist" candidates, when it should be obvious to anyone with ears on the ground that Sanders people hold more than "Wall Street" to blame, and Trump people hold far more than immigrants to blame. Brooks can only propose the alternative approach he does because he doesn't understand the national mood. What good can it do to appeal to neighborliness when so many people think their neighbors are to blame for our national plight? Sanders supporters are indifferent to Clinton's warnings about Republican intransigence because they despise Republicans. How does Brooks suggest any Democrat get them not to do so? Trump supporters are at the point, or near it, where they despise anyone who isn't on their team. Anyone who isn't with Trump is part of the problem, not just because of their beliefs or policies but because of their overall attitude; they are "disgusting" and stupid losers who need and deserve the chastisement Trump is giving them, as a bare minimum. How does Brooks suggest any Republican persuade them to tone down the contempt? If these people are populists, as so many observers insist, then we can more certainly define populism as a belief that people, not systems, are the problem. Brooks, who blames conditions on "structural forces — globalization, technological change, the dissolution of the family, racism," may be right about all that, but that doesn't help him understand how other people think or how to refute their beliefs. He might be able to reach Sanders's younger supporters, who I suspect still think more systemically and thus are more receptive to sweepingly radical proposals, but his older fans are unlikely to reconcile themselves to Republicans after generations of mutual hate. Brooks has less chance yet with Trump's followers, whose analysis of American society is more completely ad hominem than the Sanders camp's. Brooks may yet get lucky and see both Sanders and Trump self-destruct due to flawed campaign strategies and tactics, but if he thinks anyone can beat either man with Brooks's own Pollyana patriotism, then he must be as much a believer in a hidden majority as the Tea Party is -- only his majority, those Americans who still think well of and trust all their neighbors and all of civil society to be part of the same team, is even more well hidden than the TP chimera.


Anonymous said...

When there are problems caused by people, those people are to blame! There should be no stigma attached to blaming the proper parties when their actions cause problems for others. However, intention should also be considered. As a comparison, individuals on Wall Street in position to make certain decisions were definitely to blame for the Wall Street meltdown of '08, although only 1 person was actually tried for any crime. Their intentions were corporate and personal profit at the expense of the public.

On the other hand, to blame immigrants for simply wanting a safer, better life for themselves and their families for the problems caused by poor immigration policies fostered by the government is pointless. In this case, the blame belongs to politicians for pandering to special interests, rather than coming up with a compromise that results in a workable solution. At the same time, like it or not, these immigrants need to accept that given the anti-America/anti-West sentiments among the majority of muslims across the planet, they will - and should be treated with a certain amount of suspicion by the rest of us, and since they are the guests (or immigrants), then the onus is on them to assimilate. If they have no love and/or tolerance for the prevalent culture of their adoptive country, they don't belong here, they will never be happy here and they will never accept/be accept by the current population of their adoptive country.

Anonymous said...

" If these people are populists, as so many observers insist, then we can more certainly define populism as a belief that people, not systems, are the problem. "

So the people already living here who don't want a further pollution of their culture are to blame for not wanting anti-West immigrants to be allowed entrance, but you seem unwilling to assign blame to those immigrant populations for 1) allowing their own countries to get to the point where their only option is to leave. 2) for not taking the wants/needs/feelings of their adoptive nations into account and making concessions thereto regarding their own culture/religions.

So on a micro level, you seem to support the idea that anyone with a justification should be allowed to impose their presence on you, in your home, with complete and total disregard to you or the particular order with which you prefer to live by.

Empathy and compassion are fine things, but last time I checked, they were not legislated into law. Considering what a hot button topic immigration has become, it seems only fair that we put the question up to a national referendum and word it in detailed, certain terms: What people we want to allow in, from which countries we want the allow immigration from; what particular social/political/religious affiliations we are willing to tolerate; and what qualifications would-be immigrants should be expected to meet. And the government should be obligated to rule according to the will of the majority.

Samuel Wilson said...

All I've done above is draw a contrast between a possible definition of populism that emphasizes personal accountability for social crises, beginning at a minimal level of suffering insults, and an alternate viewpoint that seeks, for whatever reason, to minimize personal accountability for crises that are instead attributed to "impersonal forces." The latter viewpoint comes with an aversion to creating "scapegoats" that often leaves the populist doubting whether anyone will ever be held accountable for error, or whether society will ever be improved by correction, should that viewpoint prevail. My main point this time was to note that writers like Brooks are naive to deny a widespread and probably growing demand in this country for more sweeping personal accountability, and that Brooks's own appeal to neighborliness is hopeless in such an environment. He sees the problem in terms of people scapegoating immigrants and Wall Street, but above and beyond that I think we're seeing the majority (the unhidden one) demanding accountability of its own as well, with Trump setting the example as an equal-opportunity chastiser of anyone who opposes him.

Anonymous said...

The problem being that those who most loudly demand personal responsibility are the people who least like to actually practice what they preach. There has been a "gap" in this country pretty much since its inception. Between the industrialists and the agriculturalists; between the "good ol' boys" and the "yankees"; between a certain segment of white society and non-white society, etc. I think this lack of "neighborliness" has always existed, it is just more out in the open with the advent of cable television and the internet.

Samuel Wilson said...

Jill Lepore has a piece in the current New Yorker that makes just such a linkage between the spread of media and social media and the apparent breakdown of both civility and party discipline. Check out http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/22/did-social-media-produce-the-new-populism.