Friday, February 19, 2021

Longer™ David Brooks: To a Young Republican


Do you have a future in the new multiracial party of the working class?

Opinion Columnist

Handmade in organic cotton sateen by Bridgetown Bow Ties, $30, via Etsy.

I know what you're thinking, but there's no reason I shouldnʼt be getting a note from a nonfictional young Republican whoʼs spent the last ten years, ever since he got out of his college Young Republicans unit, in Washington, fighting the fight, and feeling disillusioned. I live in Washington myself, and meet lots of young people. Perhaps I spoke at his commencement at Stanford or Hillsdale, or lectured him on Machiavelli in the the Yale Grand Strategy program during my service there from 2012 to 2018 , which would be a little less than ten years ago. Or he could be a relative, you know, or a parishioner at one of the groovy churches I attend, or one of my wife's school friends, or or even my wife herself! The possibilities are practically infinite.

Anyway, you’ll just have to take my word for it that he exists, that he decided in college that he would make a difference in this world by serving in government, chose to be a Republican as the most pleasing option on the party menu, spent a decade struggling up the ladder on congressional staffs and think tanks and maybe even the Trump White House, and became dismayed and disgusted, those are his words, by what Republicans have become over the period and the political game in general, and wrote me a note asking if I know of any vital, meaningful work he could be doing between now and retirement, and that I’m answering it here instead of calling up somebody who could offer him a job, which is what he was obviously asking for, with some less specific advice on how he might work his way through this career crisis:

Dear Young Republican,

I get it.  I’ve been increasingly dismayed and disgusted by the Republican Party myself, ever since my good friends and incomparably dignified role models Dr. William Kristol and Captain John McCain unexpectedly found themselves sharing the national stage with Governor Sarah Palin, which seemed odd, or, as I put it in September 2008, “When McCain met Sarah Palin last February, he was meeting the rarest of creatures, an American politician who sees the world as he does. Like McCain, Palin does not seem to have an explicit governing philosophy. Her background is socially conservative, but she has not pushed that as governor of Alaska. She seems to find it easier to work with liberal Democrats than the mandarins in her own party. Instead, she seems to get up in the morning to root out corruption.

Well, maybe “dismayed and disgusted” is not exactly the right expression, at least for the initial phase, but you get the drift.

In any case, my interests have shifted away from government, which I only discuss on approximately two of my four days per month working at the Times, and my weekly appearances on the PBS News Hour where Jonathan Capehart represents Democrats so I'm forced by the logic of the show to represent Republicans, and a few exceptional cases like that. Now I'm more involved in watching those who are Weaving™ the Social Fabric, as I like to put it, at the community level, from my position as Chair of the Aspen Institute project I used to serve as Executive Director until the workload became too stressful.

But if you want to devote yourself to government, as a Republican, more power to you, and I mean that literally, because the Republican Party will be holding a lot of power in the years ahead. Indeed, it already does, judging from the last election, in which the G.O.P. picked up 20 House seats in spite of losing the presidency and the Senate, and has nowhere to go but up, as more and more Americans realize that the Democrats, the party of the educated metropolitan class, do not share their views, but have more in common with fairly young Yale graduates like you.

While politically viable, however, the Republican party is intellectually and morally bankrupt, having become an apocalyptic personality cult in recent years, while you were so busy working for it. However, I am confident that there are many Republicans who would like to change the party and make it a vehicle for conservative ideas, and perhaps you could be one of them if you already are.

Are you? Are you dedicated to the three ideas that are at the heart of current conservatism — the need to hold off the China threat; the need to contain the cultural elites, those educated metropolitans, and centralized government; and the need to build an economy that works for the working class? And do you know any actual Republicans, by which I mean not any of your Washington colleagues but the people who eat breakfast every day in rural diners in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia?

Because our party lost its way by failing to think about such people, creating a path for Donald Trump to take them over, and missing our opportunity to create a party for a multiracial working-class coalition of people who didn’t finish college, don’t want to move to the city, and do have a set of traditional values centered around their faith — which clearly describes the multiracial working class I have in mind, good, simple folk who shun the places where blue-collar jobs and multiracial communities actually exist, because the diner menus aren't right. Not enough pie, and too much Black Lives Matter in the churches and synagogues, if you know what I mean.

The way to these people’s hearts is clearly right within the capacity of a fairly young Yale graduate with an interest in politics: to displace the cultural circus with actual policymaking. Trumpism is a media strategy, not a political philosophy, and the way to defeat it is obviously to use the exact opposite of the strategy with which he won these voters in the first place, by issuing white papers supporting the policies the Trump administration supported, like minimum wage hikes that aren't imposed by the federal government and controls on immigration that are. And instead of focusing on one dude, as Ben Sasse complained of the Trump-era party, focusing on Ben Sasse, and a couple of other decently-dressed G.O.P. senators, which is who the multiracial working class really likes to see running things, not some educated metropolitan elite. 

Seeing the Republicans becoming a true conservative party in this way will surely win the multiracial working-class masses back, unless it doesn’t, and the party that moved from Theodore Roosevelt, to Calvin Coolidge to Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump could easily surprise us all by becoming nicer if it doesn’t become even more grotesque. You can’t say I didn’t warn you, or perhaps you can.

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