A little while after midnight this morning some Times editor signed off on a feuilleton-style piece by David Brooks for the paper's "Campaign Stops" rubric, to which Brooks has never contributed, just as he more or less refuses to post a blog or to Tweet as the others do and has withdrawn from the back-and-forth jollity with Gail Collins and generally demands privileges of non-work that are accorded to no other Times opinionist.
The piece had apparently been written in the wake of Senator Ted Cruz's passionate non-endorsement of the Republican presidential candidate, which Brooks had personally witnessed on Wednesday night; he's been in Cleveland all week with the PBS-NPR team broadcasting the color commentary, as I mentioned in my own response to his Tuesday column. Although he seemed at his most clownish and disengaged on the TV, gesticulating wildly, woggling his head, and smiling with embarrassment, having apparently nothing to say—I can't remember a single thing he said and I think I was having some trouble understanding him—the piece was extremely dark and disturbed, under the headline "The Death of the Republican Party", describing the convention as a fatal catastrophe and Senator Cruz as its suicidally brave Cassandra.
I'm not linking it, for a reason that will become clear below, if you don't know about it already.
Then at the usual time of around 3:21 am, over at the Op-Ed desk, some other Times editor signed off on Brooks's regular Friday column, a reaction to Donald Trump's acceptance speech, of which an advance text had been passed out to all the press folks in Cleveland on Thursday. This wasn't exactly cheerful, but lighter in spirit, picturing the nominee as a boob who thinks, wrongly, that he's Batman, not a bad conceit by any means, and suggesting in a more measured Brooksian tone that he was likely to lose the election, heh-heh. This was titled "The Dark Knight".
Later that morning, I followed my usual Friday routine of struggling out of the NPR fog to find out what old Brooksy had to say, found the "Dark Knight" piece, and started grinding out a little piece on it. I learned about the "Death of the Party" piece by accident: the two, oddly, shared a reference to a Tweet by Brooks' fellow unbearably prissy Toronto-born comrade David Frum, which was strange, because Brooks has never before referenced a Tweet (Tuesday this week was the first time, and that's what convinced me that the column had been almost entirely written by an assistant), and the reference had a link in the "Dark Knight" column, but not in the "Death" feuilleton. Is that all clear so far?
We've nominated George Wallace and Henry Wallace all in one https://t.co/suFH4tBobO— David Frum (@davidfrum) July 21, 2016
You know I'll be getting back to that, don't worry.
So anyhow, I was anxious to get to the work I get paid for, and wrote up a short post on the "Dark Knight" reserving the "Death" for later, and headed out to midtown, where I learned via a message from the Dean of Brooksology, Drift Glass, that SOMETHING FISHY WAS GOING ON, in that the text I had been commenting on in my post was missing from the text he had been commenting on in his. Because lolwut?
Because while I was innocently traveling on the subway, the "Death" column had disappeared from the Times website; if you tried to get there you were automatically redirected to the "Dark Knight" post. And that's not all; as I can now report (h/t commenter tom239 who made the job much easier), the two columns have a great deal in common, which I shall now lay out in incredibly tedious detail, representing "Death" in sans-serif red and "Knight" in the usual Times font, ineluctably suggesting that David Brooks is plagiarizing himself.
On the surface, this seems like a normal Republican convention. There are balloon drops, banal but peppy music from the mid-1970s and polite white people not dancing in their seats.Obviously written before Trump left the stage to the sound of the Stones (against the band's wish, formally expressed last May, that he desist) in "You Can't Always Get What You Want". But adds,
But this is not a normal convention. Donald Trump is dismantling the Republican Party and replacing it with a personality cult. The G.O.P. is not dividing; it’s ceasing to exist as a coherent institution.Corresponding to a bit of the final paragraph of the "Dark Knight" essay:
This is less a party than a personality cult.The Brooks-of-Death goes on to say,
The only speaker here who clearly understands this is Ted Cruz. He understands that the Trump phenomenon is probably not going to end the way a normal candidacy ends. It’s going to end catastrophically, in November or beyond, with the party infrastructure in tatters, with every mealy mouthed pseudo-Trump accommodationist permanently stained.
Some rich children are careless that way; they break things and other people have to clean up the mess.Or in the language of the Brooks-of-Batman, following the revelation that Trump was going to speak to the theme of "law and order",
Law and order is a strange theme for a candidate who radiates conflict and disorder. Some rich children are careless that way; they break things and other people have to clean up the mess.That's paragraphs 3 and 4 of "Death" matching with the rest of paragraph 19 of "Dark Knight". It is interesting to me to note that he's kind of stealing Dowd's Gatsby reference ("They were careless people, Bill and Hillary, they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness") from a couple of weeks ago, transferring it from Bill and Hillary to Trump. I'll bet he reads her, as a way of improving his style.
In what follows, the first part of "Death" more or less tracks with the second part of "Dark Knight":
It’s been gruesomely fascinating to see the Trumpian acid eat away the party of Lincoln and T.R. and Reagan.
Trump is not really changing his party as much as dissolving it.
A normal party has an apparatus of professionals, who have been around for a while and can get things done. But those people might as well not exist. This has been the most shambolically mis-run convention in memory — with a botched V.P. unveiling, a plagiarism scandal, listless audiences most of the time, empty seats midway through prime time, vote-counting strong-arm tactics, zero production creativity, no coherent messaging and a complete inability to control the conversation.
A normal party has an apparatus of professionals, who have been around for a while and who can get things done. But those people might as well not exist. This was the most shambolically mis-run convention in memory.He deletes the plagiarism scandal, among other things.
A normal party is united by a consistent belief system. For decades, the Republican Party has stood for an American-led international order abroad and small-government democratic capitalism at home. That capitalist ethos at least gave Republicans a future-oriented optimism.
A normal party is united by a consistent belief system. For decades, the Republican Party has stood for a forward-looking American-led international order abroad and small-government democratic capitalism at home.
Trump is decimating that too, along with the things Republicans stood for: NATO, entitlement reform, compassionate conservatism and the relatively open movement of ideas, people and trade.
Trump is decimating that, too, along with the things Republicans stood for: NATO, entitlement reform, compassionate conservatism and the relatively open movement of ideas, people and trade.
There’s no actual agenda being put in its place, just nostalgic spasms that, as David Frum has put it, are part George Wallace and part Henry Wallace. This has been a convention of loss — parents who have lost children, workers who have lost the code that gave them dignity, white retirees who in a diversifying America have lost an empire and not found a role. Trump policies, if they exist, are defensive recoils: build a wall, ban Muslims, withdraw from the world.
There’s no actual agenda being put in its place, just nostalgic spasms that, as David Frum has put it, are part George Wallace and part Henry Wallace. Trump’s policy agenda, such as it is, is mostly a series of vague and defensive recoils: build a wall, ban Muslims, withdraw from the world.That Wallace vs. Wallace trope, by the way, being probably the whole point of both columns: intended to reveal Trump as being, not so much a Batman as a Two-Face, a Politician in Spite of Himself, and a bothsiderist working both sides of the street, combining George Wallace racist populism with Henry Wallace's, um, what?
Because Henry Wallace tended to oppose NATO (not because he was an isolationist but because he thought British imperialism was just as bad as Soviet imperialism), as Trump does (not because he's an isolationist but because he imagines some kind of "renegotiation" in which Germany would be the loser and the US the winner), while George Wallace proposed segregation now and segregation forever. Therefore by the law of tropotropism, according to which every time you propose a stupid analogy it makes the analogy less stupid, Trump is both a liberal and a conservative.
In reality Trump's isolationism, Lindbergh through Buchanan, is as right-wing as his tax proposals. Both sides do not do it.
Note that the Tweet is linked only in the "Death" text; this is a major reason for thinking it was actually written not at all by Brooks but by the assistant.
Then, at length, the second art of "Death" matches the first part of "Dark Knight":
A normal party has a moral ethos. For Republicans it has been inspired by evangelical Christianity. That often put the party on the losing side of the sexual revolution, but it also gave individual Republicans a calling toward private acts of charity, a commitment toward personal graciousness, humility and faithfulness. Mitt Romney is no evangelical, but his convention was lifted by stories of his personal mentorship.
The G.O.P. [backing up to paragraph 8] used to be a party that aspired to a biblical ethic of private charity, graciousness, humility and faithfulness. Mitt Romney’s convention was lifted by stories of his kindness and personal mentorship.
All that is eviscerated, too. The selection of Mike Pence for his running mate notwithstanding, Trump has replaced Christian commitment with the ethos of a whining gladiator. Everything is oriented around conquest, success, supremacy and domination. He’s shown you can be a public thug and a good dad, but even in his children’s speeches, which have been excellent, he exists mostly as a cheerleader for high grades, moneymaking and worldly success.
Trump has replaced biblical commitments with a gladiator ethos. Everything is oriented around conquest, success, supremacy and domination.
This has been the Lock Her Up convention. The proper decibel level was set by Rudy Giuliani screaming. The criminalization of political difference was established by Chris Christie. Most of the delegates here are deeply ambivalent about their nominee, so they grab onto extreme Hillary bashing as one thing they can be un-ambivalent about.
This was the Lock Her Up convention. A law-and-order campaign doesn’t ask voters to like Trump and the Republicans any more than they liked Richard Nixon in 1968....Ultimately leading somebody at the Times this morning to say, ulp, we are faced with a David Brooks Plagiarism Watch of the most unexpected sort, that is, a blatant and egregious self-plagiarism, and to attempt to cancel the one version as if it had never existed, even though it had already been printed and distributed, and hope that nobody would notice when the other one came out in the weekend supplement.
Except, thanks to your faithful Brooksologists, that was not going to happen. You're all very welcome.
Leaving us, nevertheless, with a few questions that really need to be answered, like, how often exactly does a cockup this total actually occur?
My guess is, not that often. Brooks was caught in a perfect storm of his own making, between his idiotic habit of trying to write his column like a Tarot reading, trying to force his notes into a pattern by laying them out on the floor, and his Trumpian reliance on the assistant, whose double task is to do the research, and to not be afraid of those computers.
In this case it looks as if Brooks and his assistant were both working on the same set of index cards, with two different floors, each with the intention of getting to a different point, the assistant trying to make them add up to a demonstration of how evil Trump is, while Brooks himself was trying to generate a story of how savvy he is. The assistant must have thought she was expected to produce her own copy to run under Brooks's name, just as she had done on Tuesday, and Brooks clearly never imagined that she would go so far on her own as to submit a column. Or maybe she submitted it and he didn't read it but waved it on through, while working on his own piece for Saturday.
The assistant is probably, once again like Ms. Snyder, the better writer, and I hope she's not the one who gets fired for this. Fat chance though.
|Image via The Tarot Lady.|