April 23, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

David Brooks is maddening but he has an important role to play in moving the needle of progress

No one represents better the conventional wisdom of respectable white people.

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David Brooks is maddening but interesting. Maddening, because no matter how often the Republicans behaved barbarously toward Barack Obama, the Times columnist could not quit apologizing for the party. More than anyone else, he’s responsible for the idea that the United States, after electing its first Black president, had birthed a new bipartisan consensus that was fiscally conservative, as it had been for the previous three decades, but newly socially liberal. Well, no one said Brooks was good at his job.

That makes him interesting, though. Brooks could not, or would not, see the nascent white-power political movement1 sprung up in reaction to Obama’s victory. But he did over time. He didn’t double down. He didn’t look away. He sided with a “reality-based community,” though at a pace so glacial as to be insufferable. Still, as an elite pundit most representative of that globular middle of American politics, which is to say, respectable white people,2 Brooks faced the facts. That has been good for republican democracy, as respectable white people followed him to arrive at the same conclusion.

Brooks does not seem ready to put the blinders back on. In his latest piece, he is shocked by the sight of a Republican Party refusing to seek common ground with the party controlling Washington, something one would expect from the party out of power. Instead, he wrote, it’s exhibiting what “can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.”

If they worry about putting suicide-bomber Republicans back in power, thanks to Brooks giving them reason, I say huzzah!

Interesting, right? People on the political vanguard3 have been debating the GOP’s suicide-bomber politics for some time. Yet here’s Brooks, moving at a snail’s pace, reflecting and informing the opinions of respectable white people, thinking the same thoughts. Not only that, he said the GOP’s “apocalyptic pessimism” is untenable due to its “tendency to deteriorate into nihilism.” He ends his column warning that “people eventually turn to the strong man to salve the darkness and chaos inside themselves.”

Let’s add funny to our list of Brooks’ traits, because haven’t we seen this episode? After the election of Barack Obama, lots of people did deteriorate into nihilism. They did give up on democracy. Democracy produced President Black Man. They did “turn to the strong man to salve the darkness and chaos inside themselves.” He was the same one who presided over a death toll greater than those of all foreign wars combined. He was the same one who incited his followers to sack and loot the United States Capitol.

It may seem like Brooks is coasting toward retirement by echoing the work of more innovative thinkers.4 But that’s not a bad thing. That just means innovative ideas, though he didn’t think them up, are being introduced to respectable white people in ways they can tolerate. If they worry about putting suicide-bomber Republicans back in power, thanks to Brooks giving them reason to worry, I say huzzah! We should want respectable white people to stop giving the Republican Party the benefit of the doubt. Ambitious Democrats used to go out of their way to prove their party wasn’t Black. Maybe ambitious Republicans will someday see reason to prove the GOP isn’t racist.

Here’s the tip jar!

Respectable white people worried about a future strong man doing what an actual strong man already did—well, that’s a good place to be. That means they are open to suggestion, to new ideas, to governing in the name of the people, and to ways of thinking they’d never have been open to had the Republicans not exhausted their credibility among respectable white people. According to the Post, a new poll finds that 60 percent of Americans believe “the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people.” That, the Post said, is “far outpacing concerns about those measures interfering with how law enforcement does its job.”

Incredible. The Republicans enjoyed 40 years of political dominance thanks to their ability to scare respectable white people with all manner of Black boogeymen. Yet now respectable white people seem to be more scared of them squeezing the life out of democracy the same way Derek Chauvin squeezed the life out of George Floyd. David Brooks can be maddening, but he has a role to play in moving the needle of progress.

John Stoehr

1

The so-called Tea Party.

2

See my column, “The Chauvin verdict isn’t a turning point in equal justice. But it does suggest a new political norm,” for more on what I mean by “respectable white people.”

3

I would put you in that category since you’re reading the Editorial Board.

4

That rings true to me.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

11 Comments

  1. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    Good piece. Still I wish you’d say “pink people” instead of “white people”. Jus sayin

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

      As I tell my daughter, 9, I’m just using the same words everyone else is using.

      • Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

        So, I’m jus sayin the time is ripe for using pink even though almost everybody say white. How else will we ever get good folks to say the true words. Just, for instance, look at the word “love” which has so many meanings it has really no meaning, if you take my meaning.

      • Bern on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

        Your daughter’s name is 9?

  2. realsaramerica on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    You made me read a David Brooks column. I saw the headline this morning, and thought…”Nah, I don’t want to start the day with my head exploding.” I read your piece, then his, and while I think you’ve made a good point, my head exploded when I read this: “Maybe Trump was the restraining force.” SERIOUSLY DAVID? Can you poke your head out of your comfortable white dude zone and pay attention to the increase in hate crimes that are a direct result of the guy you call a “restraining force”? And then he goes on to repeat the talking points of the people he’s saying are going to far: “Over the last decade or so, as illiberalism, cancel culture and all the rest have arisen within the universities and elite institutions on the left…” JFC. I can’t wait till Brooks retires.

    • realsaramerica on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

      *too far. Ugh, head exploding makes me spel bad.

      • Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

        no, not to far. spelling bad ain’t really bad, it’s jus more funnier

    • Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

      Well said!

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

      To be honest, I didn’t want to read it either. But then I did and I discovered I had something to say.

  3. Rational Dialogue on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    The first year I could vote was 1964, as the required voting age was then 21. I registered as an independent to be able to vote either Republican or Democratic, there were then Nelson Rockefellers and George Romneys in the national political arena. But in 1964 the GOP showed its true colors—Goldwater versus LBJ—and that was my first not Republican vote, followed by every election since.

    LBJ’s Great Society and civil rights legislation—imagine, coming from a Texan!—resulted in the Republican party’s formal adoption of racism as a philosophical bedrock. Over a half century has now passed, with the GOP marching at varying speeds into full-fledged fascism. It’s now the American Fascist Party (“AFP”). GOP is an oxymoron.

    People describe the political spectrum as a line from left to right. It’s not. It’s a circle, with the center at the top and full-fledged totalitarianism at the bottom. The left moves from the social democracies of Canada and Europe in the upper left quadrant down through the lower left quadrant of Latin American countries, arriving at the dictatorships of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

    The U.S. generally wavered around the top center point — though mostly in the upper right quadrant. Following Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the slide down the right half of the circle accelerated, and the AFP’s well-executed long-term strategy of focusing on the statehouses has paid off handsomely. The AFP has commandeered state legislatures, has skewed the SCOTUS and gutted the Civil Rights Act, thereby freeing the sprint down the final stretch to resurrecting Jim Crow laws to eliminate voting rights. Now demographics will keep state houses—and the Senate—under AFP control for a long time, maybe even enough to make Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” prove to have been an accurate forecast.

    Under Trump the Orangutan the U.S. slid into the lower right quadrant. If he’d been even a little bit human he’d have been reelected, but he’s a sociopath. Ignorant and incompetent, he seemed to enjoy watching the COVID-19 pandemic screw over 90% of the populace of the U.S. Trump looked forward to completing the lower right quadrant and shaking hands with Putin, waiting anxiously for him at the totalitarian bottom. Soviet communism, of course, met Nazism at the bottom close to a century ago.

  4. Bern on July 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    Never mind all that – I wanna know what the hell is David on? Those Friday night vignettes w/Woodruff & Capehart are frightening to watch – Brooks looks like he’s going to explode!

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