Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Here's David Brooks today, dismissing the anti-Trump movement as an abject failure after one day's worth of significant nationwide (and worldwide) protest:
Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements -- the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.
Now, here's David Brooks in May 2010, writing about the Tea Party:
Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history -- the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.
Emphasis added in both cases, obviously.

Brooks was wrong, of course, when he described the Koch-led, Fox-bred, ultimately loyal-Republican teabaggers as "outsiders." But please note for the record that when it suited him, he thought being outside the party structure was just fine for a movement that wanted to have an impact on American politics.

There are a hundred things wrong with Brooks's column on Saturday's marches, from the premature dismissal (yes, let's write off the civil rights movement because the Montgomery buses were still segregated after one day's boycott) to this:
In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities. But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.
First, Brooks is relying on a Washington Post editorial (not a news story) for an assessment of what the demonstrations were about rather than, y'know, actually showing up to see for himself. Second, he's engaging in one of the cheapest forms of trollery, familiar to those of us who maintain online comments sections: You have just made an assertion about Subject A for which I have no intelligent rebuttal, so I'm just going to stamp my foot very loudly and demand that you address Subject B, on which I believe you are quite vulnerable. Oh, so you won't talk about Subject B? Why are you evading the issue? This form of trolling isn't limited to comments sections, of course -- it's the go-to Fox News response whenever there are protests after the police shooting of an unarmed black person (Hey, why aren't you talking about the murder rate in Chicago?).

Furthermore, Brooks's insistence that the anti-Trump movement can't talk about some vital issues because (in his opinion) there are other issues that are even more vital ignores the right's skill at making us change the political conversation to completely irrelevant issues -- birth certificate authenticity during the Obama years, the Massachusetts furlough program during the Dukakis campaign, email record-keeping during the Hillary Clinton campaign (although the right had a huge assist on that one from the mainstream media and the purist left).

Basically, the vital issues are whatever a lot of people say they are. A few dozen wingnut malcontents with semiautomatic weapons can occupy a bird sanctuary and suddenly we're all talking about federal land management. Why aren't a million-plus angry progressives allowed to set the terms of the debate that way?


Carol Ann said...

Too many white men call "women's issues" irrelevant and not real issues. AS if the majority of humanity is a special interest group, and only what white men define as important is important.

It always makes me feel aggravated.

Unknown said...

Why aren't a million-plus angry progressives allowed to set the terms of the debate that way?

Because you commie hippies aren't real "Muricans, that's why!

Lit3Bolt said...

David Brooks: (noun) A cheap, unpopular brand of microphone that repeats Republican talking points.

Anonymous said...

It's a new paradigm, Erik, them old digs just don't apply anymore... now that Putin's Poodle, a commie pinko fag through and through, is in command.

Let me see your green card, gringo.
Ten Bears

Rand Careaga said...

After reading that drivel the day it was published I said something to the effect that If an AI had been raised on nothing but David Brooks columns and then programmed to compose a piece distilling the man's cluelessness and banality, the result might resemble Brooks' meditations on the women's march. He does cling to his status as Second-Stupidest* Man Ever to Hold a Regular Gig at the New York Times. I'm obscurely gratified to see that this particular excrescence appears to have set so many teeth on edge.

*Bloody Bill Kristol, of course, has the lifetime achievement award—they retired his jersey at the Times—and Maureen Dowd has her own patented witches brew of toxicity and triviality, but Davey's straight-from-the-shoulder stupidity reliably validates his silver medal status. Then again, young Douthat hath a plump and hungry look, so maybe Brooks should look to his laurels.

Jimbo said...

Once again, we're reading that the low-educated, white working class voter decided the election and so all attention needs to be paid to them so drop the women's rights, climate change, issues, etc. Trumps votes came from across the GOP spectrum and included many well-educated, well-employed, suburban and urban voters. And neither Trump nor the GOP Congress is going to pay any attention to the white working class.