Sympathy for the bumpkins: At least one reader of the New York Times saw value in David Brooks' column.
The column appeared on October 5. It presented an imaginary conversation between a Trump supporter (Flyover Man) and an unconvinced interlocutor (Urban Guy).
At least one reader thought he took value from the column's imaginary conversation. On Wednesday morning, the Times published five letters about the column. One of the letters said this:
To the Editor:Where do they get these people? This writer's the type of self-loathing liberal who is prepared to deny the claim that we liberals "have all the answers!"
David Brooks’s imagined conversation with Flyover Man was quite telling. Those of us who consider ourselves liberals or even moderates need to listen with open minds. Heeding the wisdom of Mr. Brooks’s imaginings may be the only means of winning the election in 2020. We as liberals cannot continue to think (and act) as though we have all the answers. We simply do not! That kind of arrogance must end.
J— L— S—
West Thornton, Colo.
How should readers have reacted to the column in question? It's a bit hard to say.
The problem with imaginary conversations is the fact that someone has dreamed them up. The Brooks column didn't let us evaluate the thoughts of any real Trump supporter, of whom there are still tens of millions.
That doesn't mean the column is worthless. It makes it a bit harder to say how we should react.
The Times published four other letters about the column; they outvoted West Thornton Guy by a score of 4-1. We were struck by the way the column had seemed to the writer of this, the first of the five:
To the Editor:This writer seemed to think that Brooks' "Flyover Guy" was an "angry, underinformed bumpkin." Angrily, he wanted to know why Brooks hadn't written about the support Trump draws from rich corporate CEOs.
David Brooks unabashedly ignores differences among America’s population in his imagined conversation between “Urban Guy” and “Flyover Man.” Americans outside the Beltway aren’t a homogeneous monolith. Lumping together Michigan factory workers, Arizona retirees, disenfranchised African-Americans, flood-ravaged Nebraska farmers and insolvent college students fails to reflect multiple differences of opinion and circumstance. These populations are far more disparate than Mr. Brooks’s East Coast media cohort.
Trump voters also are not a monolithic group. Assuming they’re all angry, underinformed bumpkins belies his support from greedy corporatists more concerned with personal wealth than national solutions. Where’s the fictional conversation with the C.E.O. aware that Mr. Trump is a traitorous grifter but voting for him to maintain his favorable tax rate? Dark money enriching Mr. Trump affects our democracy more than flyover angst.
W— J— A—
Phoenix Guy wasn't the only writer who felt that Brooks should have pursued a different topic. A writer from Chicago adopted this same style of complaint:
To the Editor:Brooks was just adding to polarization! This writer wanted to hear "some women’s voices discuss[ing] the Trump impeachment."
Why is it always Flyover Man and Urban Guy? Doesn’t this conversation just add to the polarization in our nation rather than explain it? How about a conversation between Moderate Meg and Fundamentalist Florence or between Small-Town Sam and Big-City Sarah? Let’s hear some women’s voices discuss the Trump impeachment.
Instead of stridency and grievance—which we heard from David Brooks—I bet there would be more and quieter expressions of sorrow, loss and concern as we each struggle with our humanity and with the pain of who we are as a nation.
S— E— A—
We were struck by that request. Is there anyone who hasn't heard women complaining about Donald J. Trump? Of course, many women oppose impeachment. Is it possible that this irate writer was asking to hear from them?
In our view, major pseudo-liberal news orgs have shown amazingly little interest in asking why so many people supported, and still support, Trump. When newspaper have explored such topics, liberals have often responded by angrily insisting that such coverage should stop.
Full disclosure. Anthropologists have despondently told us that the human brain, such as it is, is wired precisely this way.
We're wired to loathe and avoid The Others, these top major experts have said. "Whatever you do, don't speak to Those People!" So our lizards are allegedly wired to tell us.
We can't say if these experts are right, but their East Coast credentials are daunting. Meanwhile, one other writer bluntly expressed her reaction to the imagined flyover Trump supporter:
To the Editor:Nihilists be damned! She has no sympathy for the bumpkin! But is that was the column had sought?
David Brooks’s characterizations of Trump supporters don’t elicit my sympathy. Struggle and disappointment are not unique to white Americans in the middle of the country. People everywhere deal with job loss, family chaos and communities coming apart. One of the things that makes urban-me mad is the fact that my kids can’t afford to live in this town where they—and I—grew up.
Whites in rural America have no special privilege to justify their nihilism. Life is difficult for everyone. Deal with it. Grow up.
Why did 63 million people vote for Donald J. Trump? Some voted for Trump due to their loathing for Hillary Clinton. This morning, our big newspapers are dribbling out the news about the probe of her emails—the topic those newspapers beat to death in 2016, even as tribal stars like Rachel Maddow refused to tackle the topic in any way or challenge Comey the God.
(Question: Are we bumpkins when we fail to see the topics this star keeps avoiding?)
Why do (various) people still support Donald J. Trump? We'd like to know more about that. Meanwhile, for a second trip to rural Arkansas, we'll recommend this week's column by Gene Lyons, a New Jersey man by birth.
A few Sundays back, Monica Potts took us to Van Buren County, where the locals are "very religious" and refuse to do what they're told by people with several degrees who are patiently trying to help them.
Just for the record, these are the "educated" people who sat on their ascots while Clinton was savaged for her emails as Our Own Rhodes Scholar refused to speak up or complain. They're the people who said nothing when Clinton was slimed as "Evita" and "Nurse Ratched" many long years before that.
Potts took us to Clinton, Arkansas, population 2500. Lyons takes us to Perry County, "just down the road from Clinton."
What are thee bumpkins in that county like? Lyons provides brief description.
As you may already know: Lyons is the author of Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater (1996), a book press elites knew they had to ignore. Four years later, he and Joe Conason wrote The Hunting of the President.
Because these books discussed the work of the upper-end mainstream press, the books had to be ignored. We intelligent liberals rolled right along, self-impressed to the end.
We decided to try to resist. But only after Trump won!