Saturday, August 27, 2016

Goodness gracious, great balls of Brooks

Hillary's probably more like President Fictional Beyoncé. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty good to me.
Brooks's title, "The Art of Gracious Leadership", makes me imagine a President Jacqueline Kennedy, because I don't think anybody in history has been more frequently described as "gracious", or to make it completely clear, President Fictional Jacqueline Kennedy, because I feel sure the real Jacqueline Kennedy must have had a good deal of toughness behind the wispy voice and the mask of her cheekbones, and an impatience with bad taste that I bet she wasn't always able to graciously conceal.

Maybe President Fictional Dolly Parton:
CHUCK TODD: President Parton, your approval numbers have frankly been in the basement for weeks, don't you think it's time to show more leadership and cut Social Security or something?
PRESIDENT FICTIONAL PARTON: Honey, do you need a drink? Estelle, get Mr. Todd another drink, please, honey! This is such a nice visit, Chuck, I'm just thrilled you found the time to stop by.
TODD: What makes you think you can work with Congress to do what the American people want, whatever that is. Aren't they suspicious about the possibility that you may have had cosmetic surgery?
FICTIONAL PARTON: I'd be so glad if you could offer me some sage advice on that stuff, Chuck. I'm such an airhead myself, sometimes, honestly. We should totally have a longer visit sometime where you can share some of that super-attractive masculine wisdom and I can just sit at your feet drinking it in. How's Mrs. Todd? Honey, I love that girl to death! You should have brought her along!
Indeed, Brooks's beef today is that Hillary Clinton, or Fictional Hillary Clinton, as the case may be, isn't gracious enough to be one of those people in public life that we really admire, so that, sadly, he's unable to really admire her, much as he would enjoy it if he could.

But luckily he has plenty of sage advice as to how she could improve her graciousness numbers, and possibly one day even win some esteem from Brooks himself.

It all starts with experience:

Lately I’ve been thinking about experience.
Indeed, he almost went out to have an experience once himself, but then thought better of it. He wouldn't want to do anything to threaten his journalistic neutrality.

Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day.
This is one of those aperçus that explain to you why some people say David Brooks is one of the foremost surrealist writers of our time, the idea that Trump is what he is as a candidate because he lacks political experience.

At a superficial level, of course, it's merely totally wrong, in the obvious sense that the more experience he has campaigning the worse he does. I mean, he started out last year at zero and managed to seize the Republican nomination from 17 candidates at all different levels of experience, almost effortlessly and certainly without spending much money, and it's only now, with all that under his belt, that he's foundering.

And "ineptitude" is a bizarre way to describe what he does, given that he so clearly doesn't want to behave properly, openly thinks the people with experience are idiots; he isn't just stumbling around, he spends a lot of time calculating his effect, the craziest things he says are things he's evidently devoted much thought to because he always says them the same way, and then when he tries to obey the management of people like Paul Manafort (who was able to make candidates like Ronald Reagan and Mobutu Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos look good), as he regularly does once a week or so, he's generally pretty smooth about it (by contrast with a truly inexperienced person like Sarah Palin)—he just can't stand doing it! He's gotta be him!

Unless he has, in some science fiction way, less experience as time goes forward, which is really hard to see as a useful conceptual tool. So I think we have to say he's doing worse now than he was six months ago not because he's more inexperienced than he was then, but because he's more insane.

But in a deeper sense, I think it's also quite true that he lacks some essential experience over the long haul, at least since he was two or so, the experience of being frustrated, other than from the frustration of being disrespected by people who aren't in his social circle. In this way the campaign constantly furnishes him with things he's not fully equipped to deal with other than by emitting enraged Tweets, which don't really make things better. Brooks's weird expression, with its evocation of a range of different kinds of wisdom from Blake to Hendrix, captures this larger, cosmic problem: Trump literally knows nothing, because he's not disposed to.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.
I'm not saying she's inhuman, I'm just saying she's got this whiff.

So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.
Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well then, how come you're not more gracious? The answer, apparently, is that we all need to be humbled by our experience of life, "Those people, I think, see their years as humbling agents," and "wisdom is not lodged inside until its truth has been engraved by some moment of humiliation" and "Gracious people are humble enough to observe that the best things in life are usually undeserved." Apparently Brooks has been through all this, perhaps through his years as an absurdly underqualified Yale professor, and Hillary has not, according to Brooks, who's still not so humble as to refrain from judging others.

They are good at accepting gifts, which is necessary for real friendship, but is hard for a proud person to do.
You suppose Brooks sent Clinton a copy of The Road to Character and her thank-you note wasn't effusive enough?

This evocation of my grandmother on the Anglo side, for whom the thank-you note was probably the supreme achievement of human ethics, applies even to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, we are led to believe, always sent a note, handwritten rather than typed, and specifically alluding to how much he was enjoying the gift in question, and that is what made him such a good person:

The grace that flowed into him from friends and supporters and from all directions made him radically hopeful and gave him confidence and tenacity. His capacity to fight grew out of his capacity to receive.
Which explains why Dr. King was so profoundly different from Hillary, who apparently never gets any presents:

Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.... Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling.
Because everybody remembers how when Dr. King was called a communist (falsely) and an adulterer (apparently not quite so falsely) he came out to cheerfully acknowledge what he had done wrong and how bad he felt about it? Uh, no, because it didn't happen.

I have no idea what Brooks thinks he's talking about at this point (and I refuse to fall into his Gish Gallop trap here and start discussing the entirety of the Clinton "scandals"), but I have to remind the few readers who haven't already started thinking about it that David Brooks quite recently spent a full year refusing to discuss the rumor, which eventually turned out to be true, that his own marriage had broken up, which it had, and has still never spoken publicly about when or how or why this took place.

Like Hillary Clinton's investment strategy in the 1980s, David Brooks's conduct over the past year or two may have been "unseemly but not felonious", but we don't know, because he won't talk about it. I appreciate that it's really none of my business, but hell, that's really not very gracious of him, is it? When is he going to have a press conference?

If Hillary was more gracious, she'd be more like one of the people in one of his standard lists of people we really admire:

The gracious people one sees in life and reads about in history books — I’m thinking of the all-time greats like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Dorothy Day as well as closer figures ranging from Francis to Havel — turn awareness of their own frailty into sympathy for others’ frailty.
I'd be very hesitant to claim that Clinton isn't aware of her frailty or lacks sympathy for the frailty of others or that they're not related. I think anybody who is a moderately nice person does that stuff. Though we might suspect there's a connection between the fact that certain famous opinionists make serious errors or ethcial violations in virtually every column they write and never publicly acknowledge one, seemingly oblivious to their inability to do it right, and the fact that those same opinionists adopt a political philosophy based on the idea that the poor are to blame for their poverty.

Frankly, I think Gandhiji was pretty cranky, too, and Madiba wasn't exactly serene during much of his life, and Václav Havel was a cruel and effective satirist, which is why the Communists hated him so desperately, as well as a huge Frank Zappa fan. And wasn't Dorothy Day someone who "spoke in a plain and often rude way about [the conventional American Catholic] way of life? Who complained that the church wasn't paying enough attention to its own teachings and compared some of its bishops to sharks?"
To someone who told her she was too hotheaded, she replied, "I hold more temper in one minute than you will hold in your entire life." To a college student who asked a sarcastic question about her recipe for soup, she responded, "You cut the vegetables until your fingers bleed."

But you know what's really ungracious? Kvetching because you think the presidential election will be won by somebody who isn't as capital-G Gracious a person as Gandhi or Day.

Especially coming from somebody whose preferred candidate was Little Marco Rubio. In what respect does he resemble Abraham Lincoln and Pope Francis? ("All of 'em, Katie!")

The long, and entirely accurate, quote from Maurice Ravel toward the end of the solo isn't even the most startling thing in this clip—Jimi was experienced, after all. And gracious too.

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