RUNNING ON TRIBAL: Michael Gerson's likely outcome!


Visions of the deluge: Last Friday morning, David Brooks made a perfectly reasonable point in his New York Times column.

We should avoid making "sweeping generalizations" about large groups of people, Brooks said in his column that day. 

According to Brooks, we should especially avoid such generalizations when they involve "rampant dehumanization," leading to a public discourse in which "people are barraged with crude stereotypes that are increasingly detached from the complexities of reality."

We should avoid sweeping generalizations and rampant dehumanization. It's hard to argue with such suggestions—unless you're a human being!

Brooks made several points in his column with which a sensible person could certainly disagree. For example, is the tendency to see the world in the way Brooks described really "the mind-set that’s tearing us apart," as his headline and his column seemed to say?

(It's our understanding that New York Times columnists compose their own headlines.)

A sensible person might sensibly think that Brooks was overstating that point. In yesterday's report, we cited other aspects of his reasoning which struck us as less than sublime.

That said, we were curious as to how readers of the Times would react to the basically sensible words of advice which lay at the heart of Brooks' column. For better or worse, we weren't surprised by what we found when we clicked to the column's comments.

Let's postpone our review of those comment for another day or two. For today, let's look  at a second opinion column, one which is being widely read.

This second column was written by Michael Gerson. As we type, it's listed as the MOST READ article in the whole of the current Washington Post.

Gerson's column describes the coming deluge. This "nightmare" is likely on the way, Gerson says at the start of his column. Headline included:

GERSON (10/12/21): The Trump nightmare looms again

It is increasingly evident that the nightmare prospect of American politics—unified Republican control of the federal government in the hands of a reelected, empowered Donald Trump in 2025—is also the likely outcome.

Why this is a nightmare should be clear enough. Every new tranche of information released about Trump’s behavior following the 2020 election—most recently an interim report from the Senate Judiciary Committee—reveals a serious and concerted attempt to overthrow America’s legitimate incoming government.


Meanwhile, it is clear that this same lawless, reckless man has a perfectly realistic path back to power. The GOP is a garbage scow of the corrupt, the seditious and their enablers, yet the short- and medium-term political currents are in its favor.

Trump is probably on his way back to power, Gerson says at the start of his column. He describes the former and future president as "a lawless, reckless man."

For ourselves, we would start by describing Trump as being "deeply disordered." That said, is Donald J. Trump really on his way back to power? 

It's entirely possible. Meanwhile, his party's return to power next November can seem like a virtual certainty.

In our view, some of the comments to David Brooks' column help explain why that "nightmare prospect" could conceivably come to pass.  For today, though, let's examine Gerson's description of the political failures which may yield a second Trump presidency, which he describes as a "catastrophe" near the end of his column.

As he continues, Gerson refers to a recent New York Times essay which has received a lot of attention. In this essay, Ezra Klein interviews data analyst David Shor about the reasons why Democrats have trouble winning elections.

We think this interview / essay deserves a lot of attention. We also think that Gerson's account misstates the fundamental source of the problem in one basic way:

GERSON: In my woefully condensed version of Klein’s column based on his interviews with the data analyst: American voters are increasingly polarized by education (which is really a proxy for complex issues of class and race). Whites with a college education have lurched Democratic. Whites without a college education have lurched Republican.

This presents Democrats with disadvantages. Significantly more voters lack a college education than have one. And voters with a college education tend to be located in urban areas, which centralizes and thus diminishes their influence. Both the electoral college and the constitutional method of Senate representation reward those who control wide open spaces.

What does this mean in practice? It means Democrats need to significantly outperform Republicans in national matchups to obtain even mediocre results in presidential and Senate races. It means that Democrats, to remain competitive, need to win in places they don’t currently win, draw from groups they don’t currently draw [from] and speak in cultural dialects they don’t currently speak.


Klein’s main complaint, however, is that few Democratic lawmakers at the national level—who mostly live among like-minded, college-educated, liberal peers—are paying attention to the urgency of the task. This type of shift in electoral focus would likely involve major ideological and strategic adjustments. But who in the national debate among Democrats over budget priorities has demonstrated the slightest interest in these matters?

In this rendering, Democrats are losing votes they will need in order to win future elections. They're losing those votes because of their failure to master certain "cultural dialects"—because of their inability to speak to, or understand, the politics of "whites without a college education."

In Gerson's rendering, Democrats "mostly live among like-minded, college-educated, liberal peers." Perhaps for that reason, they're disinclined to master the cultural dialect, or understand the world view, of the white working class.

Gerson gives a truncated account of Klein's interview with Shor. We'll offer one basic complaint:

Gerson speaks as if this problem lies with "Democratic lawmakers." In our view, the problem more typically lies with the kinds of people who commented to Brooks' column, but also with the professors and journalists and cable news stars who have helped those commenters form their cultural / political world view.

Our liberal world has been "running on tribal" for a very long time now. The problem may date all the way back to sacred Thoreau, with his possibly supercilious remarks about the kinds of lives being lived by "the mass of men."

Within our tribe, we've long been inclined to offer "sweeping generalizations" about the mass of our fellow citizens—about the great unwashed.  With substantial frequency, denunciation has been our stock in trade when discussing this lesser breed. 

This is the way our brains are wired, disconsolate scholars tell us. Our brains are wired, these experts insist, to keep us running on tribal!

Tomorrow: Everything we needed to know we learned from reading The Iliad

Thursday: Reader reactions to Brooks

Friday: Running on Not Real Sharp


  1. Trump is yesterday's news.
    Republicans will find a WAY bigger piece of shit to vote for in 2024.

    1. Your comment is undeniably true and very prescient for an anonymouse.

      Whoever runs on the Republican ticket will be more malevolent, dangerous, and corrupting to our national life than was Trump.

      This threat will require the mustering of every institution into a resistance. Rules will be rewritten and boundaries redefined in the wake of national disaster.

      Count on it.

    2. Talking about disasters, what about the nuclear codes!

      Nuclear codes in the hands of a vegetable, if you can forgive my mixing metaphors.

    3. 11:57,
      They're going to re-animate Ronald Reagan?

    4. Oh, I agree.

      It was childish and mean to say such a thing about the late great President Reagan.

    5. I assume you two were outraged over the original put-down.

      Surely this umbrage would not be one-sided.

    6. 4:00,
      Do you mean Joe Biden, who just last year won the U.S. Presidency in a landslide election against the Republican nominee?

    7. Not Anon 8;48

      It's pretty much established that Reagan was suffering from early stage dementia in his 2nd term (which might even explain Iran Contra), which became full blown Alz's later. It seems Cece has conveniently forgotten that

    8. Anonymouse 9:48am, any conjecture on the President and Vice President team the Democrats will run in 2024?

    9. We're extremely concerned about the nuclear codes, currently in the hands of a vegetable.

      Dear Bob taught us to be concerned about the nuclear codes.

      Vegetable and the nuclear codes is a bad, bad combination. Very, very dangerous.

      Are you not concerned, dear dembots?

    10. Pusedorat Cece, you referred to Biden's run in 2020 as a reanimated run, so reference to 2024 is meaningless distraction on your part.

      Also , Reagan has been dead since 2004, so referring to a reanimated Reagan running is different from referring to Biden's run in 2020. But hey, the supposed reanimation defeated your candidate.

    11. Anonymouse 10:14am, you mean one scenario is a real issue and the other is not?

  2. "This is the way our brains are wired, disconsolate scholars tell us."

    Sadly, your liberal comrades' brains are long dead, dear Bob. They (and you, perhaps?) experienced a spontaneous head explosion in the morning of 11/9/2016.

    It'll be the 5 year anniversary soon, and, alas, no sign of recovery.

    1. And what's your excuse for your brain being dead?

  3. "It means Democrats need to significantly outperform Republicans in national matchups to obtain even mediocre results in presidential and Senate races. It means that Democrats, to remain competitive, need to win in places they don’t currently win, draw from groups they don’t currently draw [from] and speak in cultural dialects they don’t currently speak."

    Somerby wants to make this into some sort of contest beyond the simple win or loss of the presidency. It doesn't matter how many extra votes a candidates wins by (unless the election is so close that there is a recount that must be won too). Moderate victories are fine. Not every election must be a landslide.

    It is also not necessary to twist our party into something it is not in order to woo a different base. There are many people who fit the current democratic demographic who are not voting. A stronger GOTV effort can win more vote perhaps more easily than trying to sell ourselves as "Republican lite" or condemning ourselves to be always a centrist party, as some hysterical essays have proposed (notably Kevin Drum).

    Further, showing voters the venality of Republicans should encourage some to vote more sensibly, without Democrats pretending to be something we are not in order to woo those different groups Klein suggests we need (note that this never means attracting diverse voters, since Democrats are the party of diversity, but generally means sucking up to Trump supporters -- and I just don't see that happening, especially not when Trump becomes worse with each passing day).

    A better communications strategy on the left should include more negative campaigning against Trump's crimes coupled with an emphasis on integrity, which is our party's strength.

    Meanwhile, these pundits who seem to thrive on the Democrats in Disarray theme need to flush themselves down the nearest toilet. It is unhelpful to continually weaken Democratic prospects in the public mind by suggesting that Democrats cannot win elections, when that is patently untrue.

    I'd like to see a stronger effort to demand that Trump be put in jail, like the criminal he is. No one should be above the law, not even billionaires.

  4. "sacred Thoreau"?

    Thoreau is the guy who thought that people who did not walk in the wood for four hours each day were leading lives of quiet desperation. Talk about lack of understanding of other people's lives! Talk about elitism! And this is who Somerby considers "sacred"!!! Thoreau sounds like a major asshole, not someone to be held up as a role model for modern day Democrats, unless you are courting more of the Marin County/Boulder Colorado vote.

    1. Skimming instead of reading is an anonymouse tradition.

      Go back and read.

    2. He calls Thoreau supercilious but he also quotes him at length, approvingly, over the years. Somerby likes to have things all ways.

    3. No, it’s possible to both revere a writer and to be aware of their humanity

      Somerby gently uses Thoreau as an example of high-handedness toward the largest portion of society that did not [could not] go off on their own and live in the woods.

      Your rage at TDH has leeched you of all sense of perspective.

  5. Sweeping generalizations are not the problem. Inaccurate generalizations are.

    The problem with stereotyping is that stereotypes are frequently not a good description of given individuals who may be members of categories but have important exceptions to the properties defining such groups. So it is always better to consider the person in front of you without making assumptions based on category membership. Ask that blue collar guy whether he prefers beer to wine, instead of assuming he does.

    But Somerby's belief that anyone can think without generalizing is wrong, especially when it comes to politics. Brooks tried to say that. Somerby just doesn't know enough about human cognition to suggest a remedy to generalizing (which has absolutely nothing to do with tribalism).

    Someone confronted with Klein's concerns might be better off urging greater education for the masses, so that more people will wander over to the left of their own accord, not trying to lure white working class people leftward using sweet talk, or trying to dumb down the Democratic party (which is what it means when Somerby suggests that someone be less "supercilious", a very big word for such a conservative little man).

    People began predicting an education gap decades ago, when it became clear that technology was going to leave quite a few people behind. They didn't predict that it would have this effect on our politics -- no one quite envisioned a Donald Trump in office until the film Idiocracy. The solution to strengthening our nation, improving people's lives and reducing the gaps in our culture is more education. But Somerby systematically attacks educated people (especially professors) and our system of public education, as well as the press (a primary vehicle for educating those who are no longer in school). That makes Somerby part of the problem, not the solution. But we already knew what side Somerby is on. He would rather vote for a disordered former president than someone with sense and kindness, such as Biden.

  6. Brooks is a pseudo-intellectual quoting mostly academic writers who few actually read. He's also a ideologue who hides it.

    Why make too much of the anything he writes?

  7. ' description of the political failures which may yield a second Trump presidency'

    A great political failure would be listening to anything said by people who spent 4 years defending Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson etc. concern trolling and trying desperately to get Trump re-elected and Roy Moore elected.

    Such people (such as TDH) are lying, hypocritical Trumptards wedded to failure and possessing irrational hates towards TV personalities they are jealous of (while approvingly quoting those they approve of such as Carlson). Like a stopped clock, Somerby may be right very occasionally, but no more than one would expect by random chance.

    [Shor, is of course, not a devoted Trumptard like Somerby]

  8. ' In our view, the problem more typically lies with the kinds of people who commented to Brooks' column, but also with the professors and'

    I have not read Brooks column, let alone the people commented to it, but it is notable that Somerby says the problem lies with the people who commented to Brooks column, but not with Trumptards. Does Somerby venerate Trumptards ? We can't say !

    Somerby's hatred for professors demonstrates his Lilliputian brain. The large majority of professors have difficulty getting their own students to do assignments. Yet Somerby seems to think professors have some supernormal ability to change electoral fortunes. Then again, this is the same moron who seemed to claim a column WaPo's style section about Katharine Harris contributed/led to the defeat of Al Gore.

    [If College professors could do really tough tasks, such as making morons like Somerby understand relativity, then perhaps one could assume they are powerful in society. ]

  9. “We should avoid sweeping generalizations and rampant dehumanization. It's hard to argue with such suggestions—unless you're a human being!”

    Somerby needs to practice what he preaches.

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