Part 1—Explaining the rise of Trump: We found a remarkable pair of columns today in our hard-copy New York Times.
Down the right border of the op-ed page ran a column by David Brooks. Down the left border of the page, we found the debut piece by Michelle Goldberg, the newspaper's newest columnist.
The fact that Goldberg is there at all tells a powerful story about the possible death of the planet as the American president, Donald J. Trump, seeks war with North Korea.
That said, David Brooks got there first. Quickly, let's review the column he wrote. He does a good job explaining Where We Are on this, our possible eve of destruction.
David Brooks isn't a fan of our president, Donald J. Trump. In the key passage of his column, he describes the role the fellow has played in our recent headlong descent toward the abyss:
BROOKS (9/26/17): Day by day Trump is turning us into a nation of different planets. Each planet feels more righteous about itself and is more isolated from and offended by the other planets.Needless to say, those are statements of opinion. That said, when Brooks describes a nation of different "planets," he's discussing the units we're long described as "tribes."
Earlier in his column, he describes our political culture's two major tribes. He even describes a major flaw in the tribe to which he belongs:
BROOKS: The late 1960s were a time of intense cultural conflict, which left a lot of wreckage in its wake. But eventually a new establishment came into being, which we will call the meritocratic establishment.The two "planets" Brooks describes are 1) "the meritocratic establishment" and 2) "the outraged working class." According to Brooks, the snobbery of the "educated" tribe helped lead members of the "outraged" tribe to elect Donald J. Trump.
These were the tame heirs to [Abbie] Hoffman and [Jerry] Rubin. They were well educated. They cut their moral teeth on the civil rights and feminist movements. They embraced economic, social and moral individualism. They came to dominate the institutions of American society on both left and right.
Hillary Clinton is part of this more educated cohort. So are parts of the conservative establishment. If you’re reading this newspaper, you probably are, too, as am I.
This establishment, too, has had its failures. It created an economy that benefits itself and leaves everybody else out. It led America into war in Iraq and sent the working class off to fight it. It has developed its own brand of cultural snobbery. Its media, film and music industries make members of the working class feel invisible and disrespected.
So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.
That strikes us as fairly sound history. Across the page, a member of that "educated" meritocratic establishment was publishing her first piece as a New York Times columnist.
On the down side, it didn't take long for Goldberg to display the snobbery to which Brooks alludes. Just search on "provincial," an unfortunate word she employs as she describes those same two political tribes.
We'd call that a down side to Goldberg's column. On the other hand, her column, judged as a whole, is extremely instructive.
Goldberg writes about the way our political system is breaking down. She focuses on the outsize political power wielded by the red tribe at the expense of the blue.
At the present time, our Constitution favors the smaller of our planets / nations/ tribes. This smaller tribe is granted disproportionate power in the Senate and in the Electoral College.
We've written about this problem down through the years. In her first column for the Times, Goldberg lays it out in stark detail:
GOLDBERG (9/26/17): Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.”Within that passage, Goldberg describes our warring tribal planets, referring to them as "two countries." She also describes a major political problem:
The distortion carries over to the Electoral College, where each state’s number of electors is determined by the size of its congressional delegation. This would matter less if the United States weren’t so geographically polarized. But America is now two countries, eyeing each other across a chasm of distrust and contempt. One is urban, diverse and outward-looking. This is the America that’s growing. The other is white, provincial and culturally revanchist. This is the America that’s in charge.
Twice in the last 17 years, Republicans have lost the popular vote but won the presidency, and it could happen again. In July, Senator Sherrod Brown told The Washington Post, “It’s not out of the question that in 2020, if nothing changes, Democrats could win the popular vote by five million and lose the Electoral College because of the Great Lakes states.” He meant that as a warning to Democrats to pay attention to the Midwest. But it could just as easily be taken as a warning about the stability of our democracy.
Because of our faltering Constitutional system, the minority tribe is persistently getting the majority of the power. She goes on to say that "[p]olls already show a third of Californians favor secession," due to their disgust with this absurd situation.
(We note that she doesn't accuse these Californians of "treason." Throughout the course of "human" history, insults like these have generally been restricted to those in the other tribe.)
Brooks and Goldberg are each describing a terrible breakdown within our devolving nation:
Brooks says it's like we're different planets, and that President Donald J. Trump is trying to drive these planets even farther apart. Goldberg says we're now "two countries," and that the smaller country, the one with the disproportionate power, elected this Donald J. Trump.
Goldberg's column is very sharp. In its unblinking seriousness, it stands in contrast to the simpering columns of Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins, columnists who have embodied the New York Times' weird, relentless throwback culture in the realm of gender.
Goldberg is going to write real columns, just like the gentlemen do! Dowd and Collins have spent many years writing silly, simpering, hiss-spitting columns which seem to have emerged from the "Women's Page" culture of the 1950s.
A throwback culture is being pierced as Goldberg ascends to the Times' op-ed page. On the other hand, we know what she did last summer—actually, in the spring of 2015—to gain access to this vaunted journalistic real estate.
Goldberg is an "educated" member of that meritocratic elite. Her past conduct helps explain how Donald J. Trump ended up in the White House, where he seems to be trying to start the war which would stop meritocracy in its tracks, perhaps for the next several centuries.
(Have the gods on Olympus sent the ruins in Puerto Rico as a bit of dramatic foreshadowing?)
Brooks and Goldberg wrote very sharp columns today. That said, Goldberg's presence in the Times, and the "snobbery" to which Brooks alludes, help explain how we've reached thew point where our planets may soon explode.
Tomorrow: LeBron James tries to explain
Collins welcomes Goldberg aboard: Trigger warning: involuntary gagging may ensue