According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.So what does Brooks plan to do?
... The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high.... A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.
Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.
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.In other words, this:
That's not going to end well. It's probably not going to end up with Brooks on a chain gang, amusing as that might be. More likely it'll resemble a project Brooks praises in his column:
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.I respect Fallows more than I do Brooks, but what Fallows did was literally drop from the sky onto struggling communities, much in the manner of Donald Trump, but with a smaller private aircraft:
This article appears in the March print edition alongside the cover story, “Can America Put Itself Back Together?” -- a summation of James and Deb Fallows’s 54,000-mile journey around America in a single-engine plane.Fallows celebrates such interventions as this:
In Holland, Michigan, the family-owned Padnos scrap-recycling company works with a local ministry called 70x7 Life Recovery to hire ex-prisoners who would otherwise have trouble reentering the workforce.That sounds like a way to stop the bleeding in a struggling community; it doesn't sound like a way to nurse a community back to robust health.
But at least Fallows is talking about changes that are concrete. There's one thing you can count on with Brooks, and this won't change even if he boards a Greyhound in Pittsburgh to look for America: his "solutions" will always be gaseous abstractions.
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.Of course, that's not true for a lot of Americans, who trace their roots in this country back to forebears who were passionate union members, and sometimes actual socialists. In any case, what was driving them wasn't a "story" as much as it was a concrete desire to feed their families. Maybe they came over here believing a tale of streets paved with gold, but they were disabused of that notion right away. But at least there were jobs -- and good jobs are what's missing now, not some sort of common national myth.
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.Notice what's missing here? An assessment of blame. The problem, according to Brooks, is dispersed evenly: we're all inadequately communitarian. The problem isn't that people with jobs to offer screw their workers over, or that people who claim they'll train you for a job just take your money and leave you in the lurch. It's all just a general malaise, and your annoying spouse is just as much to blame as the company that shipped all the local jobs overseas.
Brooks can't make sense of this because his conservatism prevents him from blaming people with power more than people who don't have any. So he falls back on states of mind and ascribes them to everyone in society equally. Blaming everyone means blaming no one -- there's just a miasma, and we're all breathing it.
That's not right. Someone's winning right now, and doing so by wielding power to the detriment of the people who are losing. Brooks will be exposed to that fact on his travels to the Real America -- but he'll refuse to see it.