|Antonio Vivarini (studio of), "The Garden of Love" (c.1465-1470), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, via Australian Research Council Centre for the Study of Emotions.|
And in the stupidest analogies ever department we have an extraordinary performance from Mr. David F. Brooks ("How to Repair the National Marriage"), who say that
Listening to people argue about politics these days is like overhearing people in a restaurant who are in a bad marriage. They’re always trying to use disagreements to establish superiority. It’s not merely, “We’re different.” It’s, “I’m better.”
So I thought it might be a good idea to consult some marriage books for lessons on how to repair national politics.No, you know what? That is not a good idea. In terms Brooks might understand clearly, Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." He didn't say, "Love thy neighbor as thy girlfriend." You should not have intimate relations with everybody. You should have respectful relations with everybody. The "national marriage" is a truly grotesque idea.
Not to mention when it's Brooks giving this lecture I keep having really inappropriate thoughts. If my relations with people I have political disagreements are modeled on marriage, should I allow myself to consider dumping them for younger, hotter opponents?
As Mike Mason puts it in “The Mystery of Marriage,” “A marriage lives, paradoxically, upon those almost impossible times when it is perfectly clear to the two partners that nothing else but pure sacrificial love can hold them together.” This involves, he writes, “a deliberate choosing of closeness over distance, of companionship over detachment, of relationship over isolation.”Is this how Brooks relates to E.J. Dionne, in a plasma of pure sacrificial love without which they would fly apart into hostility and mistrust? I'm getting creeped out here, people.
That involves a relentless turning toward each other. John Gottman, who I suppose is the dean of marriage experts, describes relationship as a pattern of bids and volleys. One partner makes a conversational bid: “Look how beautiful the sunset looks!” The other partner can either respond with a toward bid: “Wow. Incredible. Thanks for pointing it out!”; or an against bid: “I was reading the paper, do you mind?”; or a turning-away bid, which would be grunting and not responding at all.Or is he really talking about something else altogether? If Brooks is currently reading three manuals on successful marriage plus an interview in The Atlantic with Dean Gottman (of the University of Love, where he also heads the beach volleyball program and the bridge club), maybe he's got something on his mind other than Republican-vs.-Democrat tribalism. Because that's really not how it works, as I believe would be clear to Brooks if he gave it some thought. The relationship between Republicans and Democrats is nothing whatever like our relationships with spouses and partners, and not just because we don't sleep with them—sometimes we do!
But they're two different branches of the universe. When we're having sex, we want to melt into each other. When we're having a political discussion, we don't. We maintain a civilized distance and an agreement that it's okay to be different!
Brooks, with his characteristically neuter pose—note how he starts off the column "listening to people argue about politics" as if he'd never argue about it himself—isn't even willing to take part in it anyway, at least not today, like the Catholic priest working as a marriage counselor, or rather an impostor posing as a Catholic priest (because he'll be partisan again on Friday, telling us "I'm better" in that smarmy way of his—"This book is incredibly well researched and argued but I'll spend 250 words disagreeing with it"), so I don't know why we'd consider taking him seriously anyway, but "relentless" is what we have to avoid, and if I draw your attention to a sunset and you reply, "Wow. Incredible. Thanks for pointing it out!" I will think you are being sarcastic.
Driftglass also suspects this column may not be about politics.