Friday, November 10, 2017

Somewheres over the rainbow

"Somewheres out there", via Buy Some Damn Art.

Damned if I can figure out what Brooks is up to today ("The Existing Democratic Majority"), unless it's just cranking out original-sounding copy in the wake of this week's election surprises in Virginia. He's got a new "there-are-two-kinds-of-people" breakdown, imported from Britain, and the opinionist and think tanker David Goodhart, whose most recent book, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, came out over the summer, but he doesn't give us a link to the book, or even tell us its name, which echoes his own The Road to Character, which—oh, wait:

He was just googling himself again, and got curious about who was knocking him down to second place. He leaves out the title in hopes we won't catch on.

What Goodhart has for Brooks is an improved way of expressing Brooks's own idea from last November, in the election postmortems, of a division in US between the closeds and the opens (which it turns out was not Brooks's at all, but coined for European purposes by Tony Blair, in a we-must-go-beyond-the-tired-divisions-of-right-and-left speech of 2006). To Goodhart, the two kinds of people are those with a view from Somewhere, generally a nice little village like Miss Marple's, where they have roots and ritual observances and a sense of belonging, and those who see it from Anywhere, meaning it doesn't really matter.

Anywheres dominate society, do well at school and get jobs in London or even abroad, and have generally "achieved" identities based on their academic and professional successes, which "makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people," while the less educated Somewheres are "more rooted and generally have 'ascribed' identities—Scottish farmer, working class Geordie, Cornish housewife—based on group belonging and particular places, which is why they often find rapid change more unsettling."

Or as Brooks translates it into fluent American,

Somewheres are rooted in their towns and have “ascribed” identities — Virginia farmer, West Virginia coal miner, Pennsylvania steelworker. Anywheres are at home in the global economy. They derive their identity from portable traits, like education or job skills, and are more likely to move to areas of opportunity.
(I think he doesn't know the technical meaning of the ascribed vs. achieved dichotomy.)

So you see where we're headed here, into full-on Brookstopia, where traditional values are constantly getting run over by the heartless buses of progress and collectivism. The English Somewheres (I do mean "English" rather than "British") are the equivalent of our Distressed White Working Class, even more aggressively white (deeply suspicious not only of Pakistanis and West Indians but also of the Polish and Czech doctors and nurses without whom the National Health Service would collapse) and more immobile (60% of Brits, says Goodhart, live less than 20 miles from where they lived when they were 14). A YouGov poll of 2011 found that 62% agreed with the proposition that Britain has changed so much it feels like a foreign country, and a similar number that "people led happier lives in the old days."

They are not religious maniacs like their American counterparts, and Goodhart denies that they're "closed" in the Blairian or Brooksian sense: "They feel uncomfortable about many aspects of cultural and economic change—such as mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, the reduced level of non-graduate employment and more fluid gender roles." (Notice how he chops up the racism and sexism with the real economic grievances, to weaken their impact.) "They do not choose 'closed' over 'open' but want a form of openness that does not disadvantage them."

But the Somewheres of Britain voted for Leave in the Brexit referendum, because they're so unsettled by rapid change it makes them want to instantly throw the entire European economy into a state of chaos, and Brooks replies that the American Somewheres voted for Trump for the same reason, more or less, "because he sticks his finger in the eyes of the Anywheres who have made their world worse."

A couple of moderately funny things here are, first, that Goodhart's distinction cuts strongly across party lines, at least those of Conservative and Labour (pretty sure all the Lib Dems are Anywheres), which is why Goodhart thinks he has something to explain, but of course the American equivalency doesn't; when you ask Americans whether they feel like they're foreigners in their own country, pretty much everybody who says yes is a Republican:

Via Ipsos.

What Brooks thinks is that the Republican Anywheres have been driven out of the party by insurgent Trumpery, and this is why Democrats won in Virginia on Tuesday (and maybe Westchester and Long Island—I don't think the New Jersey and Washington results need anything like this framework to explain them):

The thing about this new set of battle lines is this: It redraws the political map. The cities are dominated by Anywheres. The rural areas are dominated by Somewheres. But the growing suburbs are no longer divided. They are Anywhere all the way through. Last Tuesday, exurban Loudoun County went Democratic 60 to 40 percent. That’s nearly the same as inner-ring Fairfax County, which went Democratic 67 to 31 percent.
And second, that it's finally gotten Brooks pissed off with our White Working Class brothers, because he holds them responsible for the Democrats' victory, such as it was:

We could be seeing the creation of a new Democratic heartland, exurbia, and this alignment could hang around for a while. The stain Trump leaves on the G.O.P. will take some time to wash away. But this is bigger than Trump; it’s an alignment caused by the fundamental reality of the populist movement.
But does this mean Democratic dominance is baked in the cake? Here I would say, not so fast. It’s worth remembering that the Democrats don’t quite deserve this victory. It didn’t come about because of some masterly Democratic strategy. The Democrats won because the Republicans decided to shrink their coalition.
So he slides into some concern trolling:

Here’s how you can tell which way the Democrats are going. If they talk mostly about oligarchy and rich financiers, they are retreating to their base. But if they talk about mobility — geographic mobility, economic and social mobility, intellectual and spiritual mobility, they are talking the language of the suburbs. And if they have practical plans to enhance universal mobility, the age of Democratic dominance will be at hand.
David Brooks really hates those Somewheres, it seems, and if we behave really well, he might sort of be on our side!

For more on the Goodhart book, see this excellent review by Jonathan Freedland/Guardian.

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