Tag Archives: David Brooks

David Brooks and other odious people

David Brooks has written about how he believes the old WASP elite ran the country better than today’s meritocracy because they imposed social structure and forced everyone beneath them to cling to common standards and rules. So there’s more than a little projection when he believes one of the driving forces of extremism is “I yearn for order. Blunt simplicities.” Because that’s his own approach.

Also, because Brooks can’t actually come out and say how bad the right is (they are, after all, the extremists doing almost all the killing), he has to explain this is the mind of extremists on both sides. And by implication that anyone who blames anyone specific is an extremist and potentially dangerous because smart people like Brooks know things are really, really complicated. And “Did you really think you could raise me on gourmet coffee and yoga pants and I wouldn’t find a way to rebel against your relativism and materialism? Didn’t you observe the eternal pattern — that if you try to flatten a man to the bourgeois he will rebel by becoming a fanatic?” is some really, really bad writing.

In other matters:

Trump’s campaign manager predicts Donald Jr. will follow his dad and form a political dynasty. As No More Mr. Nice Blog notes, not a chance.

A court decrees that it’s morally wrong cops can steal $200,000 in the course of its search, but even so, “the law was not clearly established” that this crosses a legal line.

The political hacks running NOAA warned its staff not to publicly question Trump’s “Dorian threatens Alabama” claim.

A Brazilian mayor tried to block the sale of Marvel comics featuring a gay male kiss on panel.

The movie Satan’s School for Girls? According to crackpot preacher Jesse Lee Peterson, it’s a documentary — educated women serve Satan! The sexist turd also believes Brett Kavanaugh isn’t a real man because he has daughters.

Speaking of Kavanaugh and sexist turds, right-wing misogynist Josh Bernstein says obviously Christine Blasey Ford was a slut who came on to Kavanaugh and when he turned her down, she decided to wait 20 years to get revenge! Yeah, that’s really plausible (it’s even dumber and nastier in detail).

Following Brett Stephens’ freakout over being insulted on Twitter, Slate looks at the history of Stephens and other NYT columnists being special snowflakes.

“Tour was all about how hard it was for the slaves,” according to one review of a plantation tour that discusses the realities of slavery.

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw says universal background checks would be bad because he couldn’t lend guns to friends who couldn’t pass. He is, very, very upset that anyone should think this means his friends shouldn’t have guns. Because nobody ever uses a borrowed gun to — oh, wait. And wait again.

Alaska’s attorney general is working hard to destroy public sector unions.

The pastor of a Tennessee Catholic school has banned Harry Potter from the library because the spells are real (spoiler: no, they’re not!).

To end on an upbeat note as I like to do, North Carolina Republicans’ racist gerrymandering has been thrown out by a state court (based on the state constitution so it doesn’t clash with the Supreme Court’s federal ruling). Republicans have thrown in the towel, though I won’t be surprised if they have more tricks up their sleeves.

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Pundits begging us to mock them

Remember Kevin Williamson? The right-wing twerp currently seething with outrage that Atlantic denied him a columnist slot just because he says women who get abortions should be executed? Ed Kilgore of New York asked Williamson what punishment he really believes appropriate. Williamson’s response? Duck the question because it’s an evil liberal trap!!! No, it’s a valid question, Williamson just doesn’t want to answer. Oh, he also whines that offered to air his views in an essay for New York, for free, but the liberal fascists said no, having  seen “as much on the subject of your views on this matter as we want to publish.”

That’s not a first world problem, that’s a first-world right-wing bullshit artist problem.

*I can’t comment on Jonah Goldberg’s new book, having not even read an excerpt but I have read David Brooks’ gushing column about what a game-changer it will be (given Goldberg’s body of work, I’m unconvinced). According to Brooks, Goldberg’s thesis is that 300 years ago, Europe adopted (and America embraced) the belief that “each person is to be judged and respected on account of their own merits, not the class or caste of their ancestors.” And this worldview, which gave us democracy, equality and capitalism, lasted until the left got into identity politics, the right reacted and now we’re sliding back into tribalism. As noted at the link and in comments, any book that argues America treated all races and genders equally until social justice warriors started demanding identity politics is bullshit.

Brooks adds Goldberg’s only mistake is missing that the real problem isn’t tribalism but Brooks’ personal bugaboo, too much individualism! Brooks has always been nostalgic for the days of traditional morality, when white, male Protestants imposed a social order on everyone else, individual choice be damned. As Echidne of the Snakes says, why doesn’t he just move to Saudi Arabia where that kind of top-down social order is still a thing? As a couple of people noted in comments, it’s very easy to believe that even a rigged system is meritocratic — just assume that by definition, white men are more meritorious.

Over at Harper’s, an editor says he was fired  for opposing a Katie Roiphe piece on the #metoo movement. As LGM says, a piece commissioned to be contrarian (everyone things fighting sexual harassment is good — let’s say it isn’t!) rather than a serious investigative piece was probably a bad idea in the first place. Particularly from Katie Roiphe.

And then we have The Federalist. California is considering a bill to ban gay-conversion therapy. Conservative fake news claims the state will ban the Bible, Snopes says no — so Snopes is fake fact-checking right! A Federalist pundit argues that while, no, obviously it’s not going to ban the Bible, but you can’t tell gays “Jesus can make you straight!” (this being The Federalist, I wouldn’t trust that to be accurate) and that’s exactly the same thing!

Oh, and for bonus annoyance, Charlie Rose, having lost his TV show due to charges of sexual harassment has proposed a new talk show where he’ll talk to powerful men accused of harassment. No way that could go wrong.

And for double bonus, annoyance, the very serious journalists horribly offended over Michelle Wolf’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

To compensate for subjecting you to all that, here’s Mr. Squirrel trying to get into our bird feeder and failing.

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David Brooks: Don’t blame Republicans, Americans are at fault (except, I imagine, himself)

It’s been a while since I’ve devoted a post to David Brooks, but I see he hasn’t improved. As witness a recent column arguing that the real problem with our dysfuncitonal government isn’t our leaders, it’s us and our damned individualism.

Sure, the next president could tell Congress that “We’ll disagree and wrangle, but we will not treat this as good-versus-evil blood sport.” and change the tone in Washington, but what’s really important is “the social context politics is embedded in.” If society worked, Brooks says, we’d be members of many extended families — church, recreational groups, neighborhood watch, PTA, our employer’s company. “But starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others.” Which according to Brooks is a Bad Thing, so the obvious course is to “scale back the culture of autonomy that was appropriate for the 1960s but that has since gone too far …  If each of us fulfill all of our discrete individual desires, we end up with a society that is not what we want at all.”

Brooks in wrong in multiple ways. Most obviously, a miraculous reconciliation after the next election isn’t possible, and that’s primarily because of the Republicans. They’re the ones who said their primary goal after 2008 was to make Obama a one-term president; who are actively restricting the vote to reduce the Democratic turnout; and who insist that everything Obama does (and Bill Clinton before him) is totally utterly wrong. Heck, David Brooks once wrote a column (can’t find the link) that said Obama proposing things like Hurricane Sandy relief was a hardball divisive tactic because not all Republicans would agree: a true conciliator would only propose policies that get 100 percent Republican buy-in. I have never heard him express a similar suggestion about the Republicans (and here’s some more Brooks discussion of how Obama is divisive.).

I’m also struck by his reference to our employers as one of the families we should be embedded in. Yes, that would be nice; I’ve been good friends with lots of coworkers and some bosses. But in a world where employers outsource jobs to China because the shareholders want more money, how much community can develop? It’s not like corporate America hasn’t been telling us for years that we’ll get loyalty from employers as long as we’re useful to them, no longer. Of course, Brooks has listed employees switching jobs as a sign of moral decline, so he’d certainly like us to feel we’re family who should loyally support our bosses, even as they slit our throats.

The rest is mostly standard Brooks. The man hates individualism and loves the days past when America’s elite fit everyone into a box and demanded they stay there. Our duty as ordinary people is to shut up and do what our leaders tell us. People who defy the party elites and vote Trump are so very, very wrong.

It is true, as Brooks says, that we’re not as group-oriented as we used to be. As Robert Putnam says in the book Bowling Alone we don’t join as many clubs, groups, churches, lodges, etc. as we did a century ago. But Putnam doesn’t offer any nice pat explanation like “we’re too individualistic” — he specifically points that no matter how you breakdown the figures (age, gender, faith, Internet use) the decline is there. So unless Brooks has some actual facts to offer, I’m going to put him down as defining the problem to fit his pre-existing solution.

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David Brooks: Republicans have bad policies, vote for them anyway!

So Marco Rubio, like most of the Republican pols, favors a tax plan that involves massive tax cuts benefiting the wealthy: cuts in upper-income tax rates, elimination of capital gains, eliminations of the estate tax, and a loss of federal revenue.

David Brooks admits the plan is unaffordable, but that’s not important because everyone running has bad budget plans. Instead, he suggests that we ignore all the details and focus on “how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards” so that proves helping the middle-class is what he cares about. A breakthrough! Never mind that his plan favors the rich, what matters is that he says it will help the poor!

I’m not sure what breakthrough Brooks imagines this is. The GOP since Reagan has embraced trickle-down supply-side economics, the claim that slashing tax cuts for the rich benefits everyone, and boosts tax revenue as well. Neither is true, and I doubt even they believe it: when we had a budget surplus in the late 1990s, supply-siders from George W. Bush to the Wall Street Journal asserted not that Reagan’s tax cuts had done the trick, but that taxes were clearly too high—if we cut taxes, it would lower the surplus before the government spent it (and then the same tools started complaining that since we didn’t have a surplus, we’d have to cut Social Security …) And invariably the tax cuts are directed at the rich, but not because wealthy politicians want to cut their own taxes or those of wealthy donors, no, the rising tide will lift all boats!

And being unaffordable has never been a big deal for Republicans. Reagan pushed massive tax cuts and massive military spending and left office with record deficits. W pushed massive tax cuts and massive military/security spending, and left office with towering deficits. Then pundits and Repubs start screaming that we can’t possibly penalize the rich by raising taxes, but with all that red ink we can’t afford the social safety net—it’s helping people who aren’t military contractors or CEOs that’s unaffordable.

As Brooks favors cutting Social Security to get the deficit reduced I can understand him wanting to believe this bilge. But there’s no reason anyone else should.

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What the hell, I’ll take another shot at David Brooks

Yep, David Brooks, the man who thinks the current depression is good for morals and that the problem with American leadership is that we don’t shut up and obey them more is once again endorsing the joys of traditional lifestyles of a hundred years ago. The new column combines two favorite Brooks themes: We need the great leaders of the past in all their sexist, racist glory and Americans today aren’t moral enough. Oh, and conservatives apparently are the only people who care about America being great.
Back in the 1980s when he started writing, Brooks explains, conservatives included a)economic conservatives who “spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value” and b)traditional conservatives who “wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government … They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.”
As Echidne points out, by Brooks’ standard Saudi Arabia is a fabulous country. The leaders believe in discipline, God, social custom and work to preserve them all, albeit at the point of a gun.
And the America of a century ago, for which Brooks has repeatedly pined, was also pretty damn good at enforcing a social, economic and political order—one where if you weren’t a white, Anglo-Saxon, male Protestant, you went to the back of the line. Or you weren’t allowed in the line at all.
The point Brooks is trying to make is even weirder: Modern conservatives have dropped the traditionalist side and become completely economic: All they care about is shrinking government and slashing spending, instead of worrying about morality and social order.
To quote Charles Pierce on another Brooks piece (he weighs in on this latest column too), here’s where the magic mushrooms kick in. The Republican Party today is all about the social order, at least as far as it concerns shoving gays back into the closet and putting women into the kitchen all barefoot and pregnant (see this And column for more). Hell, even the idea of women getting health insurance to cover their birth control outrages them.
Nor are Republicans particularly interested in slashing spending or cutting government. The deficit rocketed upward under Reagan in the 1980s, and then again under Bush. The myth that Republicans are wise stewards of the government budget (“The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth.” in Brooks’ words) is just that, a myth. They spend government money like a drunken sailor in a whorehouse (a metaphor I wish I could take credit for).
And for that matter, even Brooks assertions—fairly standard ones—that conservatives value tradition and custom is a load of codswallop. We’ve had laws guaranteeing equal rights—to vote, to get hired, to stay in a hotel or an apartment regardless of race, color, sex or creed—for almost 50 years. We’ve had the New Deal for 80. Yet conservatives still kick and whine and scream about how much better everything was when business owner could fire women just for being women, refuse to let blacks stay in their hotels and when workers had no right to unionize or get a minimum wage (albeit they usually phrase it more obliquely).
I don’t think custom and tradition mean what Mr. Brooks apparently thinks they mean.

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David Brooks waxes nostalgic about old-fashioned morality

In one of his recent columns, David Brooks restates several of his favorite arguments: Federal debt is the great problem facing us (for a counterview, see Krugman), so the government must “reform welfare” (which Brooks previously stated means cutting Social Security and Medicare, specifically); the voters don’t want government to do anything; and what’s really needed is a return to traditional Victorian morality.

Brooks’ specific point is that liberals want to resurrect the progressive crusades of the early 20th century, and this is a mistake: Our economy was young and vibrant then, but now it’s flabby and middle-aged, so we have to stimulate it with government spending. Oh, my mistake, we have to starve it because government spending is useless and wasteful, so there you are (the Daily Howler notes flaws on Brooks’ claims about education here). Plus, the progressive age had traditional Victorian morality so “there was an understanding that men who impregnated women should marry them. It didn’t always work in practice, but that was the strong social norm. Today, that norm has dissolved. Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. This sentences the U.S. to another generation of widening inequality and slower human capital development.”

For some of us, the connection between the current economic crisis and single-motherhood might seem oblique, but it fits with Brooks’ previous column arguing that the reason for rising unemployment, foreclosures, etc. isn’t Wall Street or government policy, it’s ourselves (ourselves being workers, not anyone rich or powerful or pundits who enable them). Of course, illegitimate birth isn’t the same as single-parenthood——as many as two-fifths of the 40 percent may be born to unmarried but pair-bonded couples——and single parenthood doesn’t automatically make you poor (although it is higher among the poor, IIRC), but Brooks is rarely bothered by facts (if you’d like some, check out Stephanie Coontz’s (The Way We Never Were and The Way We Really Are histories of family life).

A bigger problem is that holding up the era of 100 years ago as a moral high point is utter bullshit. Brooks is talking about an era when Jim Crow was in full swing; lynching was an acceptable tool for dealing with “uppity” minorities; rape victims were treated even worse than they are today; discrimination against the Irish, the Jews, Slavs, and pretty much against any non-WASP was acceptable; discrimination against women, ditto; and of course, we had exploitation of labor and the freedom to sell rancid meet and adulterated flour. Even sexual morality wasn’t that strict——it was perfectly acceptable for a wealthy man to have a mistress (Brooks carefully hedges that even on illegitimacy, the social norm may not represent actual practice).
Having lived in a community populated heavily by older conservatives, I’ve heard this a lot: The good old days, when people were moral and didn’t have sex before marriage/got jobs based on merit instead of race/didn’t ask government for help/respected tradition/everyone who wasn’t a WASP male knew their place. The 1950s was usually cited as the Golden Age, but the Victorians cropped up too.
Which is to say that Brooks is doing what oldsters have done since ancient Rome, grumbling about how everything’s going downhill and the younger generation’s morals stink. Literally since ancient Rome——the Roman poet Horace grumbled about having to listen to this “good old days” thinking. Only here, Brooks seems to be doing it consciously, with an agenda, pushing his argument that the real threat isn’t unemployment or poverty or foreclosure fraud, it’s the deficit (which means everyone has to sacrifice … except, apparently, David Brooks)
Were I not a gentleman, I might be inclined to state something quite rude about Mr. Brooks.

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