Tuesday, February 14, 2017

David Brooks joins the #Resistance

Alongside that hero of insurrection, Gerald R. Ford. I'm not even kidding.

John Banner as Sergeant Schulz.
Shorter ("How Should One Resist the Trump Administration?"):
There are three models for resistance to the tyranny of Trumpery: anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, monastery organizer Benedict of Nursia, and President Gerald R. Ford. We're in a Ford moment.
It's so weird, but so deeply Brooksian, how he moves more or less unconsciously from the "one" of his title, which you'd think would refer to you and me, the footsoldiers in whatever it's going to take to deal with the present emergency, to the "One" Great Man, the leader who will show us the way. (But not in an ill-mannered way like Donald "I Alone Can Fix It" Trump.) He promised to tell us what to do but slid immediately into looking for somebody else to tell us. His first instinct, in asking how to cope with the threat of authoritarianism, is to call the authorities.

Thus we might need a Bonhoeffer to resist the threat of incipient fascism. Or St. Benedict? Wait, what? In fact, his first instinct is to argue that authoritarianism isn't the problem:

it could be that the primary threat is stagnation and corruption. In this scenario, the Trump administration doesn’t create an authoritarian regime, but national politics turns into a vicious muck of tweet and countertweet, scandal and pseudoscandal, partisan attack and counterattack....
[or perhaps] the primary threat in the Trump era is a combination of incompetence and anarchy. It could be that Trump is a chaotic clown incapable of conducting coherent policy. It could be that his staff members are a bunch of inexperienced second-raters.
(Bit of a poke there at Douthat, who keeps insisting along with the other True Conservatives that the staff picks are sound—"He has, to his credit, assembled a reasonably competent cabinet." Way to give credit where credit is don't, Monsignor!)

If corruption is the problem, we need a Benedict to lead us out of this vale of sin to little communities of the virtuous living in horror of this world and rapt contemplation of the next (this is a shout-out to Brooks's fellow "public intellectual" Rod Dreher, who has been preaching a "Benedict option" for years now). Because this technique worked so well at eliminating moral corruption in Europe from the 2nd through 16th centuries, until the corruption of the clerical and monastic establishments had become so extreme as to provoke the Lutheran (Bonhoefferian!) revolution.

If it's anarchy, we need more authority; we need a Ford to rescue us, the way the original Ford rescued us from the Nixon administration:

a decent, modest, experienced public servant who believed in the institutions of government, who restored faith in government, who had a plan to bind the nation’s wounds and restored normalcy and competence.
I believe this is probably the first time in literary history that anybody has suggested the Nixon administration wasn't authoritarian enough.

What Brooks can't get—well, one of the things he can't get—is that fascism brings corruption and anarchy with it, as part of the package. Brooks thinks Mussolini really did make the trains run on time. (He didn't.)

There isn't one "primary threat" here that requires one primary solution to be implemented by one primary hero, even the illustrious Michigander. The question of resistance isn't to be answered by the identification of the worst threat but of the most vulnerable point.

The Nixon administration itself certainly combined authoritarianism with deep corruption and clownish incompetence. The incompetence (in addition to working the horror of the Cambodia bombing) was the immediate vulnerable point, in the way the Watergate burglaries led to its exposure, and the corruption was the vulnerability that was exposed, which made it possible for the Washington Post sources and the Senate committee to bring it down. We hippies rejecting the authoritarianism with the help of the Smothers Brothers played a valuable cultural role, I believe. And Ford certainly played a part, though nothing he did, from accepting his unelected appointment to the vice presidency to pardoning the ex-president before he could be indicted, counts as resistance in any sense.

He did, though, show that it was possible for a Republican to serve as president without pitting half the population against the other half in a furious culture war, and that's nice. We could certainly use some of that now. If Brooks is looking to Mike Pence to provide that, he's wasting his and our time; Pence is a problem like Spiro Agnew, not a solution like Ford.

We could certainly use some Fords, conservatives willing to make some compromise with the majority interest, as well As more Democrats taking the trouble to make their voices heard, and we could always use some Bonhoeffers—not just in the present emergency, but always!

Oh, and I'm totally in favor of the Benedict option, too, not for me, but for those who advocate it. How about it, Dreher? When are you taking your vows of poverty and chastity and obedience? How about it, Brooks? When are you joining one of those quietist churches with a congregation full of cute girls and leaving the rest of us alone? Politics is too dirty for you! How about a vow of silence?

Update: Driftglass calls it "sex advice from a eunuch".

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