25 January 2017

David Brooks: 'The central threat is not patriarchy'

David Brooks, whom I usually describe as a house conservative at the New York Times, may actually be one of the more impartial observers of politics right now. He deplores both President Trump's inaugural address and the following day's marches in opposition to Trump. Brooks deals with the President quickly in his latest column; Trump's address "offered a zero-sum, ethnically pure, backward-looking brutalistic nationalism." Unfortunately, according to Brooks, the Jan. 21 women's marches did not represent a viable opposition to Trump, for the simple reason that they were defined and constrained by "identity politics" as women's marches, presumably, inevitably must be. Identity politics, and gender politics in particular, are "too small for this moment." In the face of Trump's alleged exclusivism, Saturday's marchers failed to be inclusive.

Identity-based political movements always seem to descend into internal rivalries about who is most oppressed and who should get pride of place. Sure enough, the controversy before and after the march was over the various roles of white feminists, women of color, anti-abortion feminists and various other out-groups.The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now... The central challenge today is not how to celebrate difference. The central threat is not the patriarchy. The central challenge is to rebind a functioning polity and to modernize a binding American idea.

Brooks's criticism will baffle marchers and sympathizers who no doubt see themselves as the most authentic and honorable American patriots, according to their own idea of what the nation stands for. Follow the link to Brooks' column and you can gauge their bafflement in the comments thread. Many Americans actually do feel that "the patriarchy" (see also "the redneck") as embodied by the predatory old man who now leads the nation, is the central threat to both national well-being and their own standing as equal citizens. It'll be hard work convincing people to lay off the patriarchy if they remain convinced that the patriarchs see them as second-class citizens, mere breeding machines, etc.

For all that, Brooks has an important point. For all that Trump is thought to be a narcissist, the marchers appear equally narcissistic insofar as their main concern is the threat that Trump is thought to represent to themselves and those with whom they choose to sympathize. What you hear constantly is that Trump and the Republicans are a threat to this, that, and another specific group of people, but what are those groups saying to the rest of the American people, who  may also be threatened by Trumpism, but in less immediately personal ways than those that concern the marchers? Brooks fears that the marchers really are saying nothing to anyone else except "Respect me!" He would have preferred "a red, white and blue alternative patriotism, a modern, forward-looking patriotism based on pluralism, dynamism, growth, racial and gender equality and global engagement."

For all that he apparently despises Trump, Brooks sees that he appeals successfully to "a true and fervent love of our home." The marchers certainly will say that they love their "home" as well, though they may mean "the planet" or "humanity," but Brooks's perception, at least, is that they really only love themselves. If they really want to stop Trump, they need "a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality." Brooks probably lost most of his Times audience with "capitalism" and "biblical," but one hopes they caught the bit about the "central mission [of] building a nation" before then. As Trump appears poised to sacrifice the environment and who knows what else to his own rebuilding effort, true progressives should have had an alternative rebuilding plan ready long ago. It may be unfair to criticize the Jan. 21 marchers for not articulating that vision adequately, since it's their prerogative to emphasize the specific threats to themselves  they perceive, but until we have marches of equal size calling for more jobs while preserving the environment, workers' health, and so on, those marchers are the only mass opposition we can see -- and they're not enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality."

I have to disagree. The "dynamism" of capitalism is what has lead to the huge wealth disparity in this country - and the rest of the world. That whole mentality must be forced to come to a crashing halt and those who drive it must be ostracized from civil society. Biblical morality is not progressive or forward thinking in any way. It is based on cultural traditions of the middle east, influenced by early south European (Roman) mentality. It has no place, whatsoever, in the 21st century.

What we need is the dynamism of pure science balanced with democratically-conceived and legislated morality with the force of law behind it. When the only deterrent to immoral behavior are the vague threats of possible eternal damnation with no proof, then the majority of people will act in an immoral manner. When the deterrent to immoral behavior is the same as that for illegal behavior, there is less immoral behavior.

But that means either eliminating the sub-species of humanity which I've decided should be named "homo oblivious ignoramus", or removing any political power they may possess. One cannot make an omelet in a kitchen full of armchair chefs who can't even agree on what an omelet is.