Saturday, April 24, 2021

Brooks Is Getting Even Worse

No particular reason. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP, June 2019.

Getting rid of Trump not only hasn't helped, according to David Brooks ("The G.O.P. Is Getting Even Worse"), it's actually hurt, and Republicans (who no longer include Brooks, it's hinted in the third sentence, but he still has friends in the party), wouldn't you know it, are the real victims:

Those of us who had hoped America would calm down when we no longer had Donald Trump spewing poison from the Oval Office have been sadly disabused. There are increasing signs that the Trumpian base is radicalizing. My Republican friends report vicious divisions in their churches and families. Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

It's fun to imagine how Trump was holding them back all this time. If he hadn't warned supporters on 6 January, "I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," who knows what they might have gotten up to? They might have been distinctly unpeaceful, even unpatriotic, waving Confederate flags and the like.

It's hard to see what Brooks thinks he's up to, other than foraging for the first spring clichés as they emerge from the ground. He thinks that liberal democracy is "based on optimism", whereas James Madison was both "an optimist and a pessimist", and the "hyperpopulist wing" of the Republican party suffers from "deep pessimism", even as they're "crashing through the floor of philosophic liberalism into an abyss of authoritarian impulsiveness." So Madison is a great compromise between liberal democracy and hyperpopulism, with his readiness to occupy both sides?

No, here it comes:

Over the last decade or so, as illiberalism, cancel culture and all the rest have arisen within the universities and elite institutions on the left, dozens of publications and organizations have sprung up. They have drawn a sharp line between progressives who believe in liberal free speech norms, and those who don’t.

There are new and transformed magazines and movements like American PurposePersuasionCounterweightArc DigitalTablet and Liberties that point out the excesses of the social justice movement and distinguish between those who think speech is a mutual exploration to seek truth and those who think speech is a structure of domination to perpetuate systems of privilege.

It's all about the "left", suddenly! Illiberalism, cancel culture, and "all the rest" in the universities and elite institutions, and because why? Apparently because illiberalism, cancel culture, and all the rest have publications and organizations, though Brooks doesn't specify which ones. Which draw lines. Does he mean that they inform everybody about the split between those who do and those who don't believe in liberal (and presumably optimistic) free speech norms, as a publication might do? Or that they represent both sides of the struggle, free speech–friendly and free speech–hostile?

But instead he starts talking about the magazines and movements where his friends work—maybe not Slate's Will Saletan 

(source for Brooks's report that Republicans are getting worse, on the grounds that many of them now cheer the 6 January insurrection, whereas before 6 January almost none of them did)

but definitely Leon Wieseltier (the expert on Madison's pessoptimism), who now writes for Liberties because he got canceled, not by his longtime employer, Even The Liberal New Republic (which he left alongside Franklin Foer and Julia Ioffe when it became Even The Neoliberal New Republic under the ownership of some Silicon Valley tool, if I understand this properly), but by the Even The Pathologically Centrist Atlantic, which sacked him over a lot of fairly extreme sexual harassment that he has acknowledged and apologized for, which presumably shows how frighteningly far illiberalism has gone.

Though the evidence suggests, actually, that there may not be such a gulf between the free speech–hating and the free speech–loving as Brooks thinks: according to an example of the kind of article he loves to cite in the City Journal.

Our survey shows that conservative and gender-critical scholars in Britain engage in widespread self-censorship. Just two in ten U.K. academics in the social sciences or humanities who backed the winning “Leave” side in the 2016 Brexit referendum said that a Leave supporter would feel comfortable expressing this opinion to a colleague. This compares with 87 percent of “Remain” voters who said that an academic who backed the losing Remain side would feel comfortable expressing that view. In the North American sample, results are even more skewed. Only 15 percent of all academics, of which the large majority are Democrats, said that a Trump-voting academic would feel comfortable expressing his opinion to colleagues, as opposed to 88 percent who said that a Biden supporter would feel comfortable doing so.

Suggesting that free speech isn't the issue at all, only the holding of intolerably hateful and cruel opinions among personal neighbors. You can say whatever disgusting racist trash you want, but please don't say it to me over lunch, but the woke and the unwoke Trump opponents seem to be getting along just fine.

After which Brooks does return to the subject of Republicans getting worse

This is exactly the line-drawing that now confronts the right, which faces a more radical threat. Republicans and conservatives who believe in the liberal project need to organize and draw a bright line between themselves and the illiberals on their own side. This is no longer just about Trump the man; it’s about how you are going to look at reality — as the muddle it’s always been, or as an apocalyptic hellscape. 

So it is the publications that draw the line! Brooks's solution to the illiberalism of the right is that Republicans need to start more little online magazines like Tablet and Liberties! 

So that next time they're tempted to overthrow the US government and install a corrupt and ignorant hotelkeeper as dictator, they'll remember that Fred Barnes might criticize them in an online editorial, and then they'll certainly think twice!

Or, putting it another way, Brooks is going to be grimly phoning it in for the duration because he's such a pessimist he no longer has any idea what might matter. Other than holding on to your opinions in the hopes of someday telling your grandchildren about how interesting they were.

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