On the same page, Meacham wanders: In our view, David Brooks makes some good points this morning.
He listed eight ideas which "moderates tend to embrace." In our view, the first such idea may well be the best, especially in a giant, continental nation with an array of cultures and regional outlooks:
BROOKS (8/22/17): The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth. ... Politics is a dynamic unfolding, not a debate that can ever be settled once and for all.As a general matter, we agree with that. We'll return to this idea below.
We may not really agree with at least one of Brooks' ideas. Is this idea actually true?
"In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high."
According to Brooks, government can blunder horribly, for example by creating wars and depressions. That's true, of course, but government can also create a program like Social Security. How much suffering has that program wiped away over the years?
Here's another of Brooks' ideas with which we would tend to agree. Below, though, we'll offer a comment:
BROOKS: Truth before justice. All political movements must face inconvenient facts—thoughts and data that seem to aid their foes. If you try to suppress those facts, by banning a speaker or firing an employee, then you are putting the goals of your cause, no matter how noble, above the search for truth. This is the path to fanaticism, and it always backfires in the end.This idea is fairly close to the first idea we praised. If you agree that "the truth is plural," you're likely to be attracted to the idea that facts shouldn't be disappeared in service to partisan ends.
That said, we'll offer a comment. When Brooks imagines suppression of facts, he thinks about such conduct as "banning a speaker or firing an employee."
We think of such conduct as maintaining an industry-wide code of silence, the way Brooks and his press corps colleagues have done for these many long years. No one suppresses facts any more than the mainstream press does!
One more suggestion. In listing the world's best ideas, Brooks probably shouldn't use words no one understands, as he does in one example. "Creativity is syncretistic?" Nobody knows what that means!
We're going to close with a thought about a second column from today's New York Times. It was written by Jon Meacham. It's the immediate neighbor of Brooks' column to the left, or the west.
Meacham is trying to tell us what we should think about those Confederate statues. More specifically, he's trying to explain why it's a good idea to dump those statues of Robert E. Lee while leaving George Washington up. In this way, he's contradicting some of the things Donald J. Trump has said.
Should we dump Lee but leave Washington up? That seems to be Meacham's (highly conventional) view. That said, does everyone have to agree with that view? At several points, we wondered if the sage of Tennessee knows that truth is plural:
MEACHAM (8/22/17): To me, the answer to Mr. Trump’s question begins with a straightforward test: Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government? Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward “a more perfect Union.”Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! The argument works out the way we liberals like, with General Lee crashing down and Donald J. Trump badly wrong.
By definition, the Confederate hierarchy fails that test. Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey...
To us, the problem with that passage lurks in the word "straightforward." The word was selected to make it sound like Meacham's position is hard to assail.
Is it, though? For example, is it really so obvious that Washington and Jefferson were "devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government?"
Is it obvious that this is true in a way that's so "straightforward" that everyone has to agree? So obvious that no one could sensibly think that they too should come crashing down?
We're going to say it isn't! We're also going to challenge Meacham's softened charge of treason against Lee. (Lee was "explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey.")
Ever since Donald J. Trump shot off his mouth last week, we liberals have been reveling in the charge of treason against Lee and them. We think that's childish, silly, unwise. Try a thought experiment:
Suppose the northern states had housed the slave empire, and the southern states had not. Suppose that the southern states had declared secession as a matter of protest against this obvious evil.
That isn't what happened, of course. But try to imagine what our noble tribe would think if it had.
Would we liberals be condemning those southerners as traitors? Or would be be praising them for their attempt to separate themselves from an evil institution?
Our point is simple. The problem with the southern states is the fact that they sought to defend an indefensible system. (That isn't the fault of anyone living today.) In another situation, we might praise the greatness of a group of states which sought to withdraw from an evil union.
That isn't what happened, of course. But aren't we defining secession as treason mainly because we dislike what secession was for?
Ever since Donald J. Trump mouthed off last week, it seems to us that the liberal world has been reshaping arguments to ensure that his statements will all turn out to have been crazily wrong. Of a sudden, we're all riled up about Lee's "treason." Meanwhile, Washington remains a great man devoted to our ideals, despite the horrible way he hunted down his runaway enslaved persons.
All the analysts love Meacham's sense of humor. But as we read his column today, it seemed to us that he was violating some of Brook's more sensible ideas.
He didn't seem to be working real hard to remind himself that "truth is plural." It seemed to us that he may have been violating another of Brooks ideas, the one about partisan fury:
BROOKS: Partisanship is necessary but blinding. Partisan debate sharpens opinion, but partisans tend to justify their own sins by pointing to the other side’s sins. Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes."Partisanship is blinding?" Surely, we all understand that concept by now.
In recent weeks, have we liberals been spinning Washington up so we can spin Donald Trump down? Suddenly, Washington is morally great. Are we saying that because Donald J. Trump said something we want to knock down?
One final point: At one point, Meacham praises Lee. It almost sounds like Robert E. Lee would have chosen to tear himself down:
MEACHAM: While we should judge each individual on the totality of their lives (defenders of Lee, for instance, point to his attempts to be a figure of reconciliation after the war), the forces of hate and of exclusion long ago made Confederate imagery their own. Monuments in public places of veneration to those who believed it their duty to fight the Union have no place in the Union of the 21st century—a view with which Lee himself might have agreed. “I think it wiser,” he wrote in 1866, “not to keep open the sores of war.”“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war?" We often think that we fiery liberals might sensibly ponder such words now and then. As is true with us "humans" all over the earth, we tend to like to loathe.