Thursday, October 29, 2020

In Which David F. Brooks Undergoes a Self-Criticism


Cultural Revolution image via Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

No kidding. After decades of refusing to apologize for denying the existence of racism, promoting the sliming of Bill Clinton without having any clue what the so-called "Whitewater scandal" was actually about, backing the Iraq War ferociously and then, when that had become impossible, blaming it on everyone else, and spreading completely wrong misinformation on everything from whether "Asians and Westerners think differently" to the menu at Applebees, he's acknowledging having been wrong about something. He may have been too mean to Donald Trump, in the course of his career as a member of the "anti-Trump camp (The Floor of Decency"):

Nobody has emerged unscathed. Those of us in the anti-Trump camp will be smiled upon by history I imagine, but we might pause for a moment to consider the mote in our own eye. Our own sins are the only ones we can control.

Over the past four years we’ve poured out an hourly flow of anti-Trump diatribes and in almost every case they rise to the top of the charts — most liked, most retweeted, most read.

Even when justified, permanent indignation is not a healthy emotional state. We’ve become a little addicted to our own umbrage, addicted to that easy feeling of moral superiority, addicted to the easy affirmation bath we get when we repeat what we all believe. Trump-bashing has become a business model.

Isn't that special.

You may not even have noticed that he was enough of a member of the anti-Trump camp to get smiled upon by history, but it's quite true that he has been saying critical things about Trump for quite a while, if that's what membership means, and more to the point resisting the blandishments of the anti-anti-Trump crowd at places like The National Review or his Times colleagues Stephens and Douthat, going so far as to suggest that the Biden-Harris administration might be a sort of a good thing, though not so far as to say he's thinking about voting for them, which would violate his journalistic ethics (I don't mean voting for them would—he may well be doing that—but talking about it publicly and proclaiming a view from somewhere), and he claims the events of the last four years have "moved him to the left" in some respects, if not beyond further radicalizing his radical centrism, while the centrism itself has gone right, if I'm reading this right ("Where I Stand"):

If your views haven’t shifted over the past four tumultuous years, you’re probably not doing much fresh thinking. I find I have moved “left” on race, left on economics and a bit “right” on community, family and social issues.

Mostly I find myself supporting the conservative radicals, leaders who are confident that we can push for big change while defeating the illiberalism of radicals on left and right.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said he occupied the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.” If that’s good enough for Isaiah Berlin, it’s good enough for me.

Poor Isaiah Berlin. Brooks is probably unclear that the "left-wing movement" Berlin was talking about (in a 1954 letter to the American philosopher Morton White), was what we generally call socialism, and that he was taking his stand as what Thomas Mann around the same time called a "moderate socialist" (introduction to Hagen Schulz-Forberg and Niklas Olsen, eds., Re-inventing Western Civilisation: Transnational Reconstructions of Liberalism in Europe in the Twentieth Century, 2014), whereas Brooks is suggesting he's gotten closer to Tom Friedman.

Meanwhile the continuing trouble with his anti-Trumpism is that he equates being "immoral" ("At His Core, Trump Is an Immoralist") and still can't imagine that Trump has done anything criminal, let alone caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans:

The key events of the campaign have been moral events: Trump reportedly calling military veterans and the war dead suckers and losers; Trump downplaying a deadly pandemic to the American people; Trump failing to pay fair taxes; Trump sidling up to white supremacists, resorting to racist and QAnon dog whistles.

The debate was an important moment. You and I can give sermons about how cruel, dishonest behavior shreds the norms of a decent society. But moral degradation is an invisible process. It happens subtly over time.

During Tuesday night’s debate, by contrast, people got to see, in real time, how Trump’s vicious behavior destroyed an American institution, the presidential debate. They got to see how his savagery made ordinary human conversation impossible.

He still holds with Burke that "Manners are of greater importance than morals" because he honestly can't tell the difference, and believes that Trump's interrupting-cow performance in the debate was the worst thing he's done as president, the most violent:

On Tuesday we got see that immorality isn’t just a vague thing people talk about in Sunday school. It is a Howitzer that blows through walls and leaves rubble. 

(Make that "got to see", Times copy editor asleep again.) Metaphorical Howitzers are worse than real ones. And now he's sorry he criticized Trump so harshly, because that's bad manners too, deploying a brutal Howitzer of one's own.

And he's not really criticizing himself at all, so much as just preening, making an effort to look modest, in a tasteful way, as he waits for History to start smiling. I'll take his vote, but he's still such a simpering idiot.

Meanwhile, Driftglass, on the corollary view that nothing bad ever happened until the Republicans were strangely and suddenly transformed four years ago:

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