|Playboy reactionary. Ross Douthat used this picture, by Richard Corkery for the New York Daily News, 2003 via Getty Images, in a column of August 17.|
This presidential election is a contest between the oldest of the baby boomers. Yet Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 68, represent two very different decades in the formation of that generation. Donald Trump became famous as a classic 1980s type, while Hillary Clinton first attained public notice as a classic 1960s type.
That would make David Brooks and Donald J. Trump roughly Zeitgeist contemporaries, since Brooks just happened to be there himself, as one of the writers:Indeed, young Brooks used to celebrate capitalism at Trump Tower, back in the day. I did not know that! Of course, from an ironic distance:
During the Reagan years, writers celebrated capitalism not only as a wealth-generating engine but also as a moral system, a way to arouse hard work, creativity and trust.
Somehow I got on the guest list of a few of the ’80s-era parties he hosted in the lobby of his skyscraper and would go for sociological entertainment.Just like he used to read Playboy for the articles.
Which I think provides the essential clue: Trump is, of course, a person not of the 1980s but of the long 1950s (ca. 1948 to 1964), the Playboy era, though he was not famous at the time; it was a moment when famous people were generally middle-aged, like Ronald Reagan (b. 1911) and William F. Buckley, Jr. (b. 1908). John Podhoretz actually got this right, though he called it the "Rat Pack end" of the 60s, as opposed to the hippie end. From my standpoint Trump missed out on the 60s proper (the short decade ca. 1964-72), when he was busy helping his father keep black people out of the family properties in Queens, pretending to study in Philadelphia, and avoiding the draft. He was not really grown up—not listed in the Forbes statistics as a businessman independently from his father, as The Economist pointed out in February 2015—until 1985, when he was 39.
While David Brooks, the archetypal Young Fogey, is a person of the 1950s too: he was born middle-aged. He's just confused because he was inducted into 1950s culture, in old Mr. Buckley's apartment and apparently as we now learn at Trump Tower, in the 1980s, when he was chronologically still quite a young man. So I hope that's clarifying.
As you know, Brooks's Third Law of Political Motion states that
- Every reactionary has an equal and opposite actionary.
Clinton gave her Wellesley commencement speech in the spring of 1969. It was filled with that ’60s style of lofty, inspiring and self-important idealism.
“The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible,” she said. “We’re not interested in social reconstruction; it’s human reconstruction,” she continued. “We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living.”
She dreamed of a society in which trust would be restored. “Where you don’t manipulate people. Where you’re not interested in social engineering for people.” The words were grandiose, but at least there was a spiritual ambition to them.Sort of like a left-wing David Brooks, which is an appropriate tone for a 20-year-old in my view.
Now, sadly, she has abandoned the self-important grandiosity that characterized her when she was 20 and taken an interest in that social reconstruction and doing things for people stuff. Instead of talking about her search for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living, which is exactly what we need a president to do for us, she talks about accomplishing social change, and all these annoying practical ideas:
When asked why she wants to be president or for any positive vision, she devolves into a list of programs. And it is never enough just to list three programs in an answer; she has to pile in an arid hodgepodge of eight or nine. This is pure interest-group liberalism — buying votes with federal money — not an inspiring image of the common good.Because a truly idealistic leader would never propose any programs at all! She'd just lift us up with her warm rhetoric and help us to trust each other! She'd appeal to the "higher angels of our nature"! (Misquote making Lincoln's famous phrase nonsensical.) She'd "rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust and autonomy"! (Misquote of himself: he generally talks about "reweaving the fabric of society", which is a coherent, though stupid, metaphor, and saves "rebinding"—a calque from Latin re-ligio, "I rebind", the etymon of the modern word "religion"—for relations between individuals in the congregation.) (Also I can't get over the way he uses "autonomy" as a swear word.) She'd use "a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust"!
What the actual fuck is a restored anthropology? It's words, in any case. What Brooks is calling for is a politics that's all talk and no action, that will somehow bring people to become unselfish and trust one another. Clinton, with her insistence on accomplishing real practical change in people's lives, is identical to Trump and his unawareness that anybody else even exists, because neither one of them performs the essential service of dream-talking us all into the belief that we're all perfectly good and fine already with no need to change except how much we appreciate each other. So we'll all start saying nicer things too! Doing stuff is not inspiring! Too much action, not enough words! Trust me!
Update: Here's Driftglass.