TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2021
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