If the largest protest in American history happens the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, is David Brooks still wrong?
The answer, of course, is that the conservative New York Times columnist is always wrong — excruciatingly, congenitally wrong, as if his intellect was born defective and cannot adapt to the real world.
Yes, the man that wrote Bobos in Paradise to celebrate the yuppies who voted for George W. Bush and his cataclysmic failures, then derided protests against those failures until it was clear to absolutely everyone that they were, indeed, failures, has some advice for the millions of Americans who turned out Saturday to oppose Trump: you’re not establishment enough.
First, he says, the marchers should give up on the “conventional structure” of their demands for female autonomy and equality, affordable health insurance, civil rights, and climate action because that’s the sort of junk that only liberal elitists worry about.
Instead, Brooks argues, the organizers should emphasize “building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality” in order to attract those rural, red-state Trump voters that conservative elitist Brooks has always pretended to understand.
Brooks has spent years promoting this “view from nowhere.” He has consistently been surprised and disheartened by every major development in conservative politics — the decline of party elites, the advent of tea parties, and the rise of Donald Trump — while hectoring liberals for their supposed shortsightedness towards his favored mainstream Republicans.
Now he says that the Women’s March organizers should step aside to let the political hacks take over. “Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism,” Brooks opines.
People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.
It’s significant that as marching and movements have risen, the actual power of the parties has collapsed. Marching is a seductive substitute for action in an antipolitical era, and leaves the field open for a rogue like Trump.
It’s too easy to debunk this drivel.
One can point to any number of social movements that have defied his dialectic: the civil rights movement changed the Democratic Party, not the other way around; the evangelical movement changed the Republican Party, not the other way around. It would be ridiculous to say that the power of American political parties “collapsed” as a result of either phenomenon, so of course that’s exactly what Brooks is saying here.
To be sure, some movements have faded without changing American politics. But the best modern example, Occupy Wall Street, died by deliberately eschewing the major parties and politics altogether in favor of ‘radical action,’ while the most successful movement in recent history — the Tea Party — has passed out of fashion because it succeeded so brilliantly at marginalizing the moderate Republicans Brooks has always endorsed.
But the more salient point here is that Brooks thinks street protests have “left the field open” for Trump. Of all the explanations for the Trump candidacy and presidency, this one makes the least sense. It would be far more plausible to argue that Republican obstructionism created that space, but of course David Brooks can never, ever admit the party of the right is wrong about anything.
Now he says that “identity politics is too small for this moment.” His proof is that a narrow majority of white women voted for Trump, who built his entire candidacy on white identity politics. Who would think to oppose such a powerful coalition with a larger, more diverse one?
Better, Brooks says, to offer “a better nationalism” than the one in Trump’s inauguration speech. By which he means white majoritarian politics, the default to which he always returns.
David Brooks has always been wrong, and he will be wrong about this, too.
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