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When David Brooks is Sad

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I thought I would try a little experiment. Take a David Brooks column on Trump and sit on it for a couple of weeks to see how outdated it would become almost overnight. But his April 29 column is not so much outdated as it is utterly laughable since the policies he personally has dedicated his career to support are at the core of why he sees Trump’s rise. What to do David?

That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. 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.

Ha ha ha ha. Looks like someone hasn’t been following Charles Murray’s rules on how to be a Real American. I’m sure teaching some more courses on humility at Yale will get you out among the troglodytes!

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 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.

You mean a new national story where people have good jobs that pay them good wages and allow them to live dignified lives? The kind of story of you have sought to crush for your entire life?

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. 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.

See previous post on the connection between manufacturing nostalgia and nostalgia for the white male workplace. Plus added desire that real men are Gary Cooper in High Noon.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.

It takes a village, David.

Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.

How about providing people good-paying unionized jobs? That would fill in a lot of those cracks.

Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.

It’s nice I guess that David Brooks thinks a bunch of hippies creating arts festivals are patriots?

Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe through a national service program, or something else.

Yes David, big government spending that provide many thousands of jobs can indeed help bind together a diverse nation! Perhaps that something else should be, wait for it, jobs!

In conclusion, everything David Brooks has spent his life defending is a failure. If he had any real capacity for self-reflection, perhaps he’d realize he should completely reject the Republican Party, but of course his sinecure is dependent on being the Reasonable Republican.

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