Friday, February 28, 2020


Here are the lead paragraphs of the latest David Brooks column:
A few months ago, I wrote a column saying I would vote for Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump. I may not agree with some of her policies, but culture is more important than politics. She does not spread moral rot the way Trump does.

Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.
We know Brooks's answer because his headline is "No, Not Sanders, Not Ever."

But Brooks doesn't provide a link to his earlier column on Warren. (That column is here.) Why? Why doesn't he want you to compare and contrast what he's written?

It's because -- surprise! -- he's moving the goalposts in order to denounce Sanders.

Why is Sanders unacceptable to Brooks? Here's what he says in the current column:
I’ve just watched populism destroy traditional conservatism in the G.O.P. I’m here to tell you that Bernie Sanders is not a liberal Democrat. He’s what replaces liberal Democrats.

Traditional liberalism ... believes in gaining power the traditional way: building coalitions, working within the constitutional system and crafting the sort of compromises you need in a complex, pluralistic society.

This is why liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren were and are such effective senators. They worked within the system, negotiated and practiced the art of politics.

... Sanders ... believes in revolutionary mass mobilization and, once an election has been won, rule by majoritarian domination. This is how populists of left and right are ruling all over the world, and it is exactly what our founders feared most and tried hard to prevent.

Liberalism celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism. Liberalism is horrified by cruelty. Sanders’s leadership style embodies the populist values, which are different: rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.
So Brooks believes that Warren has been an effective senator, and values reasonableness, tolerance, and conversation? You'd never know it from that earlier column, written in October, in which -- before reluctantly acknowledging that he'd vote for Warren over Trump -- he wrote:
If the general election campaign turns out to be Trump vs. Warren, what the heck are we supposed to do?

The first thing we could do, of course, is pray for a miracle. Maybe the Democrats will nominate one of the five B’s or the K: Biden, Buttigieg, Booker, Bennet, Bullock or Klobuchar.

These candidates are pluralists, not purists. They make many voters who disagree with them feel heard and respected. They practice the craft of politics, building majority coalitions to get things done.
So back then, Warren wasn't a "pluralist," she was a "purist." She apparently didn't celebrate reasonableness, tolerance, and so on.

Warren, in that column, sounded a lot like the unacceptable Sanders in the current column:
... a Warren presidency would be deeply polarizing and probably unsuccessful. Warren’s policy ideas would make any progressive-moderate coalition impossible. She’d try to govern with her 40 percent partisan base, just as Trump has, which is no way to pass big legislation.
"And yet," Brooks wrote back then,
if it comes to Trump vs. Warren in a general election, the only plausible choice is to support Warren. Over the past month Donald Trump has given us fresh reminders of the unique and exceptional ways he corrupts American life. You’re either part of removing that corruption or you are not. When your nation’s political system is in danger, staying home and not voting is not a responsible option....

Last week, Trump all but greenlighted the ethnic cleansing of Kurds without an ounce of remorse. He normalizes dishonesty and valorizes cruelty. His letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reminds us yet again that we have a president whose professional competence is at kindergarten level. Once a nation has lost its heart, mind and soul, it is very hard to get these things back.

Furthermore, Trump is an unprecedented threat to democratic institutions.... especially over the past month, Trump has worked overtime to validate those fears and to raise the horrifying specter of what he’ll be like if he is given a second term and is vindicated, unhinged and unwell.

In their book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue that authoritarians undermine democracy in several ways. They reject the democratic rules of the game, the unwritten norms we rely upon to make the political system work. They deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, using extreme language to deny them standing as co-citizens. They tolerate or even encourage violence, threatening to take legal action against critics in rival parties.

Trump has been guilty of all three sins, and given a second term he will feel free to stomp where up until now he has merely trod.

This election is about whether we can hold together as a functioning nation, across our economic, racial, geographic and ideological divides. In such circumstances, a bad option is better than a suicidal one.
Everything Brooks wrote about Trump back then is true now. There are still "unique and exceptional ways" Trump "corrupts American life." Trump still "normalizes dishonesty and valorizes cruelty." Trump is still "an unprecedented threat to democratic institutions ... and given a second term he will feel free to stomp where up until now he has merely trod."

So, according to Brooks, the possibility of a second Trump term is an existential crisis for America -- unless his opponent is Sanders. In that case he'll take the murderer of democracy over a guy who's spent decades in Congress working within democratic rules and norms. He'll take the sociopath over the crank.

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