Interlude—Krugman, Brooks and Dale: In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman and David Brooks discuss the same human problem.
They come at the problem from different perspectives. We'd say each of the two is right.
We'll start with Krugman's column. It ends as shown right here:
KRUGMAN (11/13/18): In Trumpworld, which is now indistinguishable from G.O.P.world, good and bad are defined solely by whether the interests of The Leader are served. Thus, Trump attacks and insults our closest allies while praising brutal dictators who flatter him (and declares neo-Nazis “very fine people”).If memory serves, Trump didn't exactly actually say that neo-Nazia, or even some neo-Nazis, are "very fine people."
As with so much about the current political scene, it’s essential to realize and acknowledge that this is not a symmetric, both-sides-do-it situation. If you say something along the lines of “truth and virtue are now defined by partisanship,” you’re actually enabling the bad guys, because only one party thinks that way.
Democrats, being human, sometimes have biased views and engage in motivated reasoning. But they haven’t abandoned the whole notion of objective facts and nonpolitical goodness; Republicans have.
What all of this means is that what’s going on in America right now isn’t politics as usual. It’s much more existential than that. You have to be truly delusional to see the Republicans’ response to their party’s midterm setback as anything but an attempted power grab by a would-be authoritarian movement, which rejects any opposition or even criticism as illegitimate. Our democracy is still very much in danger.
If memory serves, that isn't what this disordered man actually said. If memory serves, this is one of the many incidents over the past four or five year which have been embellished within our own liberal tribe to create more convincing partisan stories.
(In the several decades before our tribe began behaving this way, the mainstream press corps behaved this way in its deadly, relentless chase after Clinton, Gore and then Clinton. Children are dead all over Iraq because the press corps behaved this way, with the career liberal world maintaining a deadly silence or aggressively taking part.)
If our memory is right about this matter, that somewhat embellished quotation attributed to Trump emerged from the "motivated reasoning" in which, as Krugman says, Democrats, being human, do in fact take part. (For the record, we regard Trump as deeply disordered. We assume that he's some version of "mentally ill.")
Krugman's attribution may have a touch of motivated reasoning to it. That said, we'd say that Krugman's overall point is accurate, as long as we draw a distinction between the "Republicans" who serve as party, corporate and media leaders and the rank-and-file "Republicans" who are simply gullible enough to believe the things they get told.
Our tribe can be gullible too! That said, we agree with Krugman's point if we're speaking about "Republicans" on the leadership level. On the leadership level, we'd say the current "Republican" leadership is sunk in a moral and intellectual morass which doesn't exist, to anything like the same extent, among the "Democrats" who serve as party leaders.
Krugman describes a deeply dangerous moral and intellectual morass. At the start of his own column, David Brooks describes a truly great 1957 film—a film which explores this destructive aspect of our deeply flawed human nature.
We include the hard-copy headline. The column starts like this:
BROOKS (11/13/18): The Struggle to Stay Human Amid the FightVery few movies explore human behavior in the way Paths of Glory does. Amazingly, the film was made when Kubrick was just 28. It was only his second feature film. After adjusting for its moral and intellectual greatness, it's one of his least remembered.
I watched Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “Paths of Glory” last weekend, prompted by all the World War I centenary tributes. Set in the trenches near the end of the war, it’s a movie about a man who tries to maintain his integrity and his faith in humanity amid the stupidity, futility, cruelty and cynicism of war. It’s weirdly relevant today.
Kirk Douglas plays a French colonel named Dax who lives in the trenches and leads his men in battle. Far away in the palaces, pampered French generals order his exhausted men to take a nearly impregnable German position. One general hopes the assault will help him score political points. Another is promised a promotion. Something like 4,000 men are expected to die or be wounded for these objectives.
When the assault catastrophically fails, the generals look for scapegoats and decide to execute three enlisted men, more or less chosen at random, for alleged cowardice.
Colonel Dax is finally overcome with disgust and explodes at one of the generals: “You’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. You can go to hell!”
In the column which starts with Paths of Glory, Brooks doesn't point the finger at one party over the other. That said, his column discusses the same moral degredation to which Krugman's column refers.
"Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War," Brooks writes, "but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the specter that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight."
We agree with that formulation. From there, as he closes his column, Brooks describes a disgraceful scene from late in Paths of Glory, a scene which portrays one of the most deeply terrible ways we humans can forfeit our decency.
In our view, it's constructive to see this matter described and discussed in the party-specific way Krugman chooses, but also in this second, more general manner. In our view, the struggle to be human is currently being lost all around the media world, not just Over There.
What in the world does this have to do with The Daniel Dale Experience, the topic we began discussing last week?
Manifestly, Dale is a good, decent person—a person who's wholly sincere. But to what extent is that enough?
That's the question we're currently asking. At some point, we'll get back on track.
Still coming: Dale cites an obvious "lie"