Part 2—Sadly, it's already here: David Brooks was horrified by the Democratic Convention.
He described his reactions in last Friday's column—a column which appeared before Donald J. Trump launched his current dispute with the parents of Captain Khan.
At the end of his column, Brooks painted a possible nightmare vision concerning the state of our culture and its effect on our politics.
As Trump keeps seeking ways to lose, this nightmare seems less likely to occur, at least in its most horrific form. But this nightmare vision could occur—and in many ways, we're already living in David Brooks' nightmare world.
In his award-winning column, Brooks was quite unfriendly to Glorious Trump. He described him as "a demagogue." He said "a lunatic fringe" within the GOP had "nominated a Silvio Berlusconi."
Liker many others, he said Trump's conduct had allowed the Democrats to steal the GOP's traditional hold on the sword of patriotism. According to Brooks, Trumpism is also letting the Democrats create pleasing templates like this:
BROOKS (7/29/16): Trump has abandoned the basic modesty code that has always ennobled the American middle class: Don’t brag, don’t let your life be defined by gilded luxuries.In award-winning fashion, we chuckled when we read that. In 1999 and 2000, Candidate Gore and his wife, Tipper Gore, were still "living in the same house" where Tipper had lived as a child!
He left the ground open for the Democrats to seize middle-class values with one quick passage in a Tim Kaine video—about a guy who goes to the same church where he was married, who taught carpentry as a Christian missionary in Honduras, who has lived in the same house for the last 24 years.
It was a modest suburban house. Given the scripting which ruled the time, few pundits thought it showed the modesty code or the middle-class values of Candidate Gore, the man who was then being invented as The World's Biggest Known Liar.
Eventually, our pundit scripts change! Moving right along:
Near the end of his column, Brooks moved toward his promulgation of that possible nightmare vision. He started with a striking suggestion about Candidate Trump, one which is, unfortunately, now quite a bit overdue.
According to Brooks, this is the way he felt, each night, during the Democratic Convention. Ruefully, we were struck by the highlighted diagnosis:
BROOKS: This week I left the arena here [in Philadelphia] each night burning with indignation at Mike Pence. I almost don’t blame Trump. He is a morally untethered, spiritually vacuous man who appears haunted by multiple personality disorders. It is the “sane” and “reasonable” Republicans who deserve the shame—the ones who stood silently by, or worse, while Donald Trump gave away their party’s sacred inheritance.Is Candidate Trump in the grip of "multiple personality disorders?" And by the way, what does that mean?
Is a "personality disorder" a form of "mental illness?" If we understand correctly, and we may not, not all experts agree on that point.
That said, a personality disorder is a psychiatric condition. It has long been wisely assumed that such discussions should be kept out of politics. That said, Candidate Trump's behavior is so relentlessly strange that Brooks' suggestion seems appropriate to us.
(We first asked if Trump was mentally ill when he posed beside that table which was piled high with the raw "Trump steaks" which weren't.)
Trumpism may be a form of mental disorder. It's unfortunate when such conditions exist in the makeup of any person.
But if Trump is new to our politics, Trumpism has long been a part of our upper-end journalism. We'll explore that undiscussed fact tomorrow. For today, let's discuss the nightmare vision which emerged as Brooks continued along from his diagnosis of Trump.
Candidate Trump is disordered, Brooks said. As Trump's craziness has emerged, Candidate Pence has stood silently by, or worse.
As a result, the Democrats have "won the summer," Brooks said right in his column's headline. But he said that might not even matter this year! As he completed his column, a nightmare vision emerged:
BROOKS (continuing directly): The Democrats had by far the better of the conventions. But the final and shocking possibility is this: In immediate political terms it may not make a difference.Have our norms devolved to this point? Could it be that the disordered Candidate Trump is really "a man from the future?" Could it be that "the throes of a completely new birth are upon us?" Is that nightmare vision a genuine possibility?
The Democratic speakers hit doubles, triples and home runs. But the normal rules may no longer apply. The Democrats may have just dominated a game we are no longer playing.
Both conventions featured one grieving parent after another. The fear of violent death is on everybody’s mind—from ISIS, cops, lone sociopaths. The essential contract of society—that if you behave responsibly things will work out—has been severed for many people.
It could be that in this moment of fear, cynicism, anxiety and extreme pessimism, many voters may have decided that civility is a surrender to a rigged system, that optimism is the opiate of the idiots and that humility and gentleness are simply surrendering to the butchers of ISIS. If that’s the case then the throes of a completely new birth are upon us and Trump is a man from the future.
If that’s true it’s not just politics that has changed, but the country.
In the days since Brooks' column appeared, Trump's disordered behavior has (apparently) made it less likely that he will win in November. Who knows? He may be seeking ways to lose, as Candidate Perot successfully did in July 1992, when he quit a three-way race he was actually leading.
Despite his recent disordered behavior, Candidate Trump is still in the race. Have our norms descended to the place where he could end up in the White House?
The answer to that is still yes. A more significant point is this:
Trumpism had deeply infested our culture long before Trump threw his hat in the ring. Trumpism got here long before Candidate Trump.
David Brooks' guild has been deeply involved in that Creeping Trumpism. We'll discuss that long-standing problem tomorrow. We'll start with this gruesome, dull-witted profile from Sunday's New York Times.
Tomorrow: Sternism, Creeping Dowdism