Opinion | Do Democrats Know What Unites Us? – by David Brooks – NYT

“National identity is the most powerful force in world politics today. Most of the strong leaders around the world were swept to power with a strong nationalist story and govern in nationalist ways. This is true in Russia, China, India, the U.S., Israel, Turkey, Britain, Brazil and on and on. It’s hard to see how any party could appeal or govern these days without a strong national story.

In this country, Donald Trump has almost nothing but a national story, which he returned to with a vengeance in the closing days of this year’s campaigns. It happens to be a cramped, reactionary and racial story. Trump effectively defines America as a white ethnic nation that is being overrun by aliens — people who don’t look like us, don’t share our values, who threaten our safety and take our jobs.

Trump’s blood-and-soil nationalism overturns the historical ideal of American nationalism, which was pluralistic — that we are united by creed, not blood; that our common culture is defined by a shared American dream — pioneers settling the West, immigrants crossing an ocean in search of opportunity, African-Americans rising from slavery toward equality.

The Republicans have flocked to Trump’s cramped nationalism and abandoned their creedal story. That’s left the Democrats with a remarkable opportunity. They could seize the traditional American national story, or expand it to gather in the unheard voices, while providing a coherent, unifying vehicle to celebrate the American dream.

And yet what have we heard from the Democrats? Crickets.

What is the Democratic national story? A void.

Why have the Democrats failed to offer a counternarrative to Trumpian nationalism? For two reasons, I think, one political and one moral.

First, these days nations often define their national identities through their immigration policies. Democrats have never liked to talk about immigration at election time. The immigration issue splits the Democratic coalition. Affluent progressive and liberal activists are for it, but working-class whites and African-Americans are more skeptical.”

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Opinion | Do Not Double-Major – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“When I visit a college campus and ask the students what they’re studying, the response often starts with: “I’m double-majoring in … ” And then my heart sinks just a little bit.

I understand why many students are tempted to double-major. They have more than one academic interest. When I was in college, I briefly thought about double-majoring in my two favorite subjects, math and history. (Instead, I spent much of my time at the college newspaper and barely completed one major — applied math.)

But the reality is that many students who double-major aren’t doing it out of intellectual curiosity. The number of double majors has soared in recent years mostly because students see it as a way to add one more credential to their résumé. What’s even better than one major? Two majors!

 

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Except that it’s not. Most students would learn more by creatively mastering a single major — and leaving themselves time to take classes in multiple other fields. “Double majoring,” as Jacqueline Sanchez, a Wellesley College student, wrote in a recent op-ed for her campus paper, “ultimately prevents students from exploring many different disciplines.” “

David Lindsay: I strongly agree. I love the motto of a consulting company whose name is not so memorable:  Work hard, play hard.

To that I will add, find what gives you joy, and do some of that. Since the world is often sad and crazy, learn to laugh with humility, when you are not punishing yourself for your imperfections.

Opinion | The Most Contrarian College in America – by Frank Bruni – NYT

 

“SANTA FE, N.M. — Have I got a college for you. For your first two years, your regimen includes ancient Greek. And I do mean Greek, the language, not Greece, the civilization, though you’ll also hang with Aristotle, Aeschylus, Thucydides and the rest of the gang. There’s no choice in the matter. There’s little choice, period.

Let your collegiate peers elsewhere design their own majors and frolic with Kerouac. For you it’s Kant. You have no major, only “the program,” an exploration of the Western canon that was implemented in 1937 and has barely changed.

It’s intense. Learning astronomy and math, you don’t merely encounter Copernicus’s conclusions. You pore over his actual words. You’re not simply introduced to the theory of relativity. You read “Relativity,” the book that Albert Einstein wrote.”

David Lindsay: Bravo Bruni.

Great piece and comments too. Here is one of many good comments:

M
MGJ
New York, NY
Times Pick

When we were visiting prospective colleges, I bribed my son to visit St. John’s. (I promised lunch in nearby Washington, DC).

Having gone on tours of multiple colleges, we had developed stock questions to ask admissions officers, including “What’s the ideal [Name of College] student?” Most of the responses were stock answers performed in front of a crowd of parents and students.

At St. John’s it was just my son and me sitting across from two Admissions officers for over an hour. (We didn’t even have an appointment.) When I pulled out this stock question, “What would you say is the ideal St. John’s student?” the Admissions officers took her time turning the question over in her mind and thoughtfully replied, “I’d say St. John’s is for the intellectually courageous.”

I watched as my son sat up taller.

We spent two more hours touring the campus with an enthusiastic “Johnny” as our guide. Lunch time came and went. My son was smitten. He fell in love with St. John’s and graduated four years later. His passion for “the program” has never wavered.

Every time I’d visit, he’d take me for his own version of a tour of this magical place, unpacking and relating all he’d learned.

My favorite was standing in front of a series of framed mathematical proofs. His explanations became more expansive and incisive with each visit—from Euclid to Ptolemy to Copernicus to Apollonius to Galileo to Newton to Lobachevski.

The four years passed quickly, but this education is timeless.

Opinion | What Is the Democratic Story? – by David Brooks – NYT

David Brooks in an intangible national treasure. He starts with:
“There’s a lot of discussion about how far left the Democratic Party should go these days. Is it destroying its electoral chances when its members call for a single-payer health plan or abolishing ICE?

That’s an important question, but the most important question is what story is the Democratic Party telling? As Alasdair MacIntyre argued many years ago, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of. Story is more important than policies.”

. . . .    “In brief, Democrats have stayed away from this narrative because the long hoped-for alliance between oppressed racial minorities and the oppressed white working class has never materialized, and it looks very far from materializing now.

Maybe this year is different, but for 100 years, Democrats have tended to win with youthful optimism and not anger and indignation. The Democrats who have won nationally almost all ran on generational change — on tired old America versus the possibilities of new America: F.D.R.’s New Deal, J.F.K.’s New Frontier, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century and Obama’s hope and change.”

David Lindsay:

Thank you David Brooks for shining more light into the darkness that appears to be growing. The detractors are many, and they are like those annoying children of Kahil Gilbran, They have their own thoughts. You do not pander to any group, but perhaps to those of us who are into self flagellation and searching for deeper truths at the expense often of popularity.

“The story Donald Trump tells is that we good-hearted, decent people of Middle America have been betrayed by stupid elites who screw us andbeen threatened by foreigners who are out to get us. That story resonated with many people. You can get a lot of facts wrong if you get your story right.”

In tennis, if you hit a ball before it lands by the baseline, you will never know for sure if it was going out. We will probably never know how we would have done in the last election if we had chosen Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. While I lie awake at night thinking about such things, I force myself to think about what do to in this next election. I think fondly of David Leonhardt, who pointed out that we have to be disciplined, and focus on the red and blue state voters  who voted for Obama, and then switched to Trump. We also have to somehow force the government, or at least the press, to hold off the Russians and GOP manipulating Facebook and other social media with dark ads, paid for with dark money.

Republican or Conservative- You Have to Choose – by David Brooks – NYT

“The never-Trumpers are having an interesting debate over the question, Is it time to leave the Republican Party? George Will and Steve Schmidt say yes: The Trumpian rot is all the way down. Bill Kristol says not so fast: Once Donald Trump falls, the party could be brought back to health, and the fight has to be within the party as well as without it.

My instinct is that we can clarify this debate by returning to first principles. Everybody in the conversation is conservative. Where do conservative loyalties lie? How can we serve those loyalties in these circumstances?

Conservatism, as Roger Scruton reminds us, was founded during the 18th-century Enlightenment. In France, Britain and the American colonies, Enlightenment thinkers were throwing off monarchic power and seeking to build an order based on reason and consent of the governed. Society is best seen as a social contract, these Enlightenment thinkers said. Free individuals get together and contract with one another to create order.

Conservatives said we agree with the general effort but think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.”

 

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | Pending Approval at NYT comments.
Bravo David Brooks, you are amazing. As my father liked to say, don’t let the bastards get you down. Folks! The civil rights movement of the 1050”s and 60’s had wonderful leaders from diverse backgrounds and parties. Martin Luther King was one of many black church leaders and civil rights activists. He was helped by the likes of John Lindsay, who co-authored the civil rights act while working in the attorney general’s office for President Eisenhower. Lindsay and small group of mostly liberal Republicans forced the Kennedys to bring the civil rights act to a vote, and Lyndon Johnson, then the Vice President, and a southern conservative Democrat, was a leader of the management that got the civil rights act passed. All of these historical facts support David Brooks’ deep thinking on these difficult subjects.

David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNews.wordpress.com

He Called Out Sick-Then Apologized for Leaving This World (David Buckel) – The New York Times

“Domingo Morales was not initially concerned when he got a text message from his mentor, David S. Buckel, at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, calling out sick.

Twenty-five minutes, later, Mr. Buckel sent him an email: “I apologize for leaving this world early and leaving you with some big challenges to tackle. But I have to at least try to make this planet a better place for having lived on it.”

Mr. Buckel, a nationally known civil rights lawyer and, in his final decade, a master composter directing the sprawling site at the Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn, set himself on fire around dawn Saturday in Prospect Park. It was, according to his suicide letter, to make a statement about people protecting the environment.”

David Lindsay:  The New York Times, and some of the commentors, are conflicted as to whether this is a major protest by an environmentalist or the act of a sick and depressed person. I fault the NYT for not mentioning his protest for the environment in their first article on the 14th. I sense that this was a major protest, but if I am right, and it is not a story about depression and mental illness, it was sort of bungled. The Vietnamese buddhists who immolated themselves in Vietnam to protest the South Vietnamese Governments abuses and corruption, were organized to happen in front of the world’s media and television cameras. They got a lot of world attention to their protest. This quiet immolation at dawn, was more pure, but less politically successful. The NYT literally didn’t know what to make of it, when they first reported it in the article linked to below.

Lawyer Burns Himself to Death to Protest Environmental Destruction – by Lorraine Chow – Ecowatch.com

“David Buckel, 60, doused himself with an accelerant before starting a fire that ultimately killed him.

“I apologize to you for the mess,” he wrote in a suicide note he left in a shopping cart near his body, the Daily News reported.

In an emailed copy of the note the New York Times received, he said: “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

The Times further reported:

In his note, which was received by the Times at 5:55 a.m., Mr. Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.

Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others.

“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Mr. Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough.

Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr. Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.

Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson, a lawsuit regarding Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Nebraska. Teena’s tragic story was the subject of the Oscar-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank.”

Source: Lawyer Burns Himself to Death to Protest Environmental Destruction

Robert Kennedy’s eulogy for Martin Luther King

David Margolick wrote in an op-ed in the NYT today, that the eulogy below might well be the best speech Robert Kennedy ever delivered. There was no hyper-link to the speech, so I went and found it.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

 

The following text is taken from a news release version of Robert F. Kennedy’s statement. For more information please contact Kennedy.Library@nara.gov or 617.514.1629.
JFKLIBRARY.ORG

Opinion | Jesse Jackson: How Dr. King Lived Is Why He Died – The New York Times

“As the nation prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we should dwell not merely on how Dr. King died but also on how he lived.

He mobilized mass action to win a public accommodations bill and the right to vote. He led the Montgomery bus boycott and navigated police terror in Birmingham. He got us over the bloodstained bridge in Selma and survived the rocks and bottles and hatred in Chicago. He globalized our struggle to end the war in Vietnam.

How he lived is why he died.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson ends this lovely op-ed:
“Dr. King bequeathed African-Americans the will to resist and the right to vote. Yet while we were marching and winning, the powers of reaction were regrouping, preparing a counterrevolution. Five decades ago, a segregationist governor, George Wallace, peddled hate and division in reaction to the civil rights movement. Today, it is the president himself who is inciting anguish, bigotry and fear.

We are in a battle for the soul of America, and it’s not enough to admire Dr. King. To admire him is to reduce him to a mere celebrity. It requires no commitment, no action. Those who value justice and equality must have the will and courage to follow him. They must be ready to sacrifice.

The struggle continues.”

What Holds America Together – by David Brooks – NYT

“Unity can come only from a common dedication to this experiment. The American consciousness can be formed only by the lab reports we give one another about that experiment — the jeremiads, speeches, songs and conversations that describe what the experiment is for, where it has failed and how it should proceed now.

One of my favorites of these lab reports is Walt Whitman’s essay “Democratic Vistas,” published in 1871. The purpose of democracy, Whitman wrote, is not wealth, or even equality; it is the full flowering of individuals. By dispersing responsibility to all adults, democracy “supplies a training school for making first class men.” It is “life’s gymnasium.” It forges “freedom’s athletes” — strong and equal women, courageous men, deep-souled people capable of governing themselves.”

“Whitman was not, however, pessimistic. He had worked as a nurse during the Civil War, watching men recover and die, and the experience had given him illimitable faith in the goodness of average citizens. Average American soldiers showed more fortitude, religious devotion and grandeur than all the storybook heroes, he wrote. They died not for glory, nor even to repel invasion, but out of gratitude to have been included in the American experiment. They died “for an emblem, a mere abstraction — for the life, the safety of the flag.”

Whitman spent his life trying to spiritualize democratic life and reshape the American imagination, to help working people see the epic heroism all around them that unites the American spirit.”

David Lindsay Jr. Hamden, CT Pending Approval NYT Comments.
Wow. This is magnificent piece by David Brooks. I am sorry that so many of the comments tear him apart, without addressing the brilliant ideas he brings forth from the genius and heart of Walt Whitman.
I hate to sound snobby, but the comments section doesn’t seem to give this man a fair hearing, or to even understand the profundity of some his research and questioning. My father was a Lincoln scholar, who read Whitman, and it is a priviledge to hear some of Whitman’s extraordinary essay, and to contemplate his faith in and admiration of common people.
I almost wish that the comments section had a 4th tab, after: All, Readers Picks and NYT Picks, there should be another, called Mostly in Praise, or, In Support. This 4th tab, would be especially usefull when reading quickly through the angry mob of comments for David Brooks, or for instance, Brett Stephens. I love Socrates the commentor, but he makes a fool of himself, when he suggests that Abe Lincoln would be shocked by the scoundrels that have taken charge of the government today. Lincoln was famous for so many things, joke telling, brilliance, humor, wrestling, and especially his humility and sadness over the behavior of his fellow citizens. I recommend all six volumns of the Carl Sandberg biography. Now, we should read Whitman.
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David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNews.wordpress.com