“The Biden administration is in mortal peril. Hemmed in by circumstances, the Democrats bet nearly their entire domestic agenda on the passage of two gigantic bills, the trillion-dollar infrastructure package and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
Both are now in serious trouble because Democratic moderates and progressives aren’t close to agreeing on what should be in the bills, how much they should cost or even when they should be voted on. If these bills crumble, the Democrats will fail as a governing majority, and it will be far more likely that Donald Trump will win the presidency in 2024.
We don’t want that, so the question is, how can moderate and progressive Democrats create a package they both can live with? The best way to do that is to build on each side’s best insights.
The best progressive insight is that we need a really big package right now.”
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
While I have enjoyed many of the critical comments, David Brooks makes a number of good points. I particularly like his fear that the Biden team will not pass anything, if they aren’t careful. While the outcome eludes me,
I had a bad feeling when the Democrats refused to pass the first infrastructure bill, till they saw success for the 3.5 trillion package through budget reconciliation. The Republicans were outraged, and for once, I was sympathetic. My instincts tell me that the Biden Team should pass the infrastructure bill first and alone, as a clean win for the country, and for bi-partisanship. It also makes the process of trying for the second bill, in some ways simpler. If critical leverage is lost, someone please explain that.
What is needed, is probably all of both bills, but that does not mean they have to all be tied together. Mitigating climate change now, and preventing the return of Trump, are both very important. Just passing the infrastructure bill, will make the Biden team look like winners, and leave the 3.5 trillion bill on the table, to be passed in toto, or possibly in tranches. In the latter case, I would put all the climate change mitigation elements at the top of the to do list.
“You may think you understand the difference between seeing something and imagining it. When you see something, it’s really there; when you imagine it, you make it up. That feels very different.
The problem is that when researchers ask people to imagine something, like a tomato, and then give some of them a just barely visible image of a tomato, they find that the process of imagining it is hard to totally separate from the process of seeing it. In fact, they use a lot of the same brain areas.
And when you stop to think about it, that makes some sense. Your brain is locked in the pitch-black bony vault of your skull, trying to use scraps of information to piece together the world. Even when it’s seeing, it’s partly constructing what’s out there based on experience. “It turns out, reality and imagination are completely intermixed in our brain,” Nadine Dijkstra writes in Nautilus, “which means that the separation between our inner world and the outside world is not as clear as we might like to think.”
Bravo David Brooks. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Many of the top commenters do not see any relevance between this column and the problems we face today. Brooks lets his readers connect the dots, and some of them can not. I am currently reading, “Inside the Third Reich” by Albert Speer, a famous member of Hitler’s inner group. Still in the beginning of this biography, the connections between Hitler, Trump, and the essay by Brooks are apparent. People who are depressed and scared are easily manipulated by someone who sees their fears and wants to turn them against some enemy or enemies, to relieve them of their suffering. The complexity of the human mind, which naturally mixes facts with fantasy, is fertile for such charlatans.
Genuinely surprised to see so many people comment that this is an indulgent or throwaway topic. My first thought after catching the column’s drift was—exactly! This is the science that explains why we’re so polarized as a country, why it feels as if people are living in side-by-side realities. Fear is the emotional basis for many of our “rational” stances and decisions—for white Trump supporters, the fear of losing power and being “replaced.” This science is a mechanism by which we could admit when we’re wrong and start to come out of delusions—and that reconciliation is what has to happen for democracy to continue here (if you’re in doubt, read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson). Just because it isn’t likely that Americans will start to learn about this science and apply it to themselves doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely relevant.
I appreciate Brooks’ sketch of open questions and debates in cognitive neuroscience and in theory of mind. It points toward the possibility of a radical, experiential shift in understanding the self. Buddhist teaching grounded in mediation and articulated in Madhyamaka philosophy has a lot to say about the un-findability of the conventional self. My favorite short summary comes from Kalu Rinpoche: “You live in a world of illusion. There is a reality. You are that reality. When you realize this, you realize you are nothing, and being nothing, you are everything. That is all.”
At least 27 percent of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family, and research suggests about 40 percent of Americans have experienced estrangement at some point.
The most common form of estrangement is between adult children and one or both parents — a cut usually initiated by the child. A study published in 2010 found that parents in the U.S. are about twice as likely to be in a contentious relationship with their adult children as parents in Israel, Germany, England and Spain.
The Cornell sociologist Karl Pillemer, author of “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them,” writes that the children in these cases often cite harsh parenting, parental favoritism, divorce and poor and increasingly hostile communication often culminating in a volcanic event. As one woman told Salon: “I have someone out to get me, and it’s my mother. My part of being a good mom has been getting my son away from mine.”
” . . . I confess, I don’t understand what’s causing this. But social pain and vulnerability are affecting everything: our families, schools, politics and even our sports.
A friend notes that politics has begun to feel like an arena where many people can process and regulate their emotional turmoil indirectly. Anxiety, depression and anger are hard to deal with within the tangled intimacy of family life. But political tribalism becomes a mechanism with which people can shore themselves up, vanquish shame, fight for righteousness and find a sense of belonging.
People who feel betrayed will lash out at someone if there is no one there to help them process their underlying hurt. As the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr wisely wrote, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” -30-
David Lindsay: Thank you David Brooks for this sad but helpful essay. This is another of your masterful organizations of excellent sources. You ended it with, “People who feel betrayed will lash out at someone if there is no one there to help them process their underlying hurt. As the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr wisely wrote, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
I hope you now write just about the idea in the last sentence by Richard Rohr, who happens to be one of my most important teachers on religion. He helped me to return to Christianity, through the big tent and environmentally conscious teachings of Saint Francis of Assis in his book, “Eager to Love.”
David Lindsay Jr is a writer and author who blogs at InconvenientNews.Net
For most of the past century, human dignity had a friend — the United States of America. We are a deeply flawed and error-prone nation, like any other, but America helped defeat fascism and communism and helped set the context for European peace, Asian prosperity and the spread of democracy.
Then came Iraq and Afghanistan, and America lost faith in itself and its global role — like a pitcher who has been shelled and no longer has confidence in his own stuff. On the left, many now reject the idea that America can be or is a global champion of democracy, and they find phrases like “the indispensable nation” or the “last best hope of the earth” ridiculous. On the right the wall-building caucus has given up on the idea that the rest of the world is even worth engaging.
Many people around the world have always resisted America’s self-appointed role as democracy’s champion. But they have also been rightly appalled when America sits back and allows genocide to engulf places like Rwanda or allows dangerous regimes to threaten the world order.
The Afghans are the latest witnesses to this reality. The American bungles in Afghanistan have been well documented. We’ve spent trillions of dollars and lost thousands of our people. But the two-decade strategy of taking the fight to the terrorists, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, has meant that global terrorism is no longer seen as a major concern in daily American life. Over the past few years, a small force of American troops has helped prevent some of the worst people on earth from taking over a nation of more than 38 million — with relatively few American casualties. In 1999, no Afghan girls attended secondary school. Within four years, 6 percent were enrolled, and as of 2017 the figure had climbed to nearly 40 percent.
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
This is a complicated essay by David Brooks, and I’m afraid he might have more good points than bad ones, but he fails to convince this reader, becasue of the dearth of real facts and knowledge of Afganistan. His first major mistake, was leaving out Vietnam in the first paragraph. He says we are keeping the Taliban at bay with little cost and almost no casualties, but what exactly are the numbers over the last five years. We already spent over a trillion dollars in Afganistan, because we wasted $2 trillion in Iraq, in a war that was a tragic mistake. I am knowledgeable now in the history of Vietnam, and our dive into that civil war was also an unmitigated disaster, based on a complete lack of appreciation for Vietnamese history and culture. What real experts in Afganistan’s history and culture think that there is any force in Afghanistan strong enough to stand up to the Taliban, without a lot more treasure by the US. The Taliban appear to be the most determined, and disciplined in this war, just like the Vietnames communists under Ho Chi Minh were. If that is not a fair comparison, who can explain in detail, why the forces we have supported have any chance with light support against the Taliban. Our side appears to be better at corruption and graft, than at fighting the Taliban.
David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth Century Vietnam” and blogs mostly at InconvenientNews.Net.
“Distrust is a cancer eating away at our society. It magnifies enmity, stifles cooperation and fuels conspiracy thinking. So the question is, how do you build trust?
Within organizations, trust is usually built by leaders who create environments that encourage people to behave with integrity, competence and benevolence.
That’s not just a matter of character, but of having the right practical skills — knowing what to do in complex situations to make people feel respected and safe. Here are some practices leaders have used in their companies and organizations to build trust:
Assume excellence. The more you monitor your employees’ behavior, the more distrusted they will feel and the more distrustful they will become. Leaders who trust their employees may tell them what to do, but they let them manage their own schedules and fulfill their responsibilities in their own ways. In the 1980s, Hewlett-Packard allowed engineers to take equipment home without a lot of formal paperwork, because they had confidence they would bring the stuff back.”
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you David Brooks for another deep and challenging column. I see the paparazzi commentors here are furious that you don’t finger the Republicans, but they miss the the clear waters, in their pain and anger. Here is one of my favorite of your paragraphs: “Answer distrust with trust. People who have learned to be distrusting will resist your friendship because they assume you will eventually betray them. If you keep showing up for them after they have rejected you, it will eventually change their lives.” This wisdom alone is priceless. I inherited from my father, his six volume biography “Abraham Lincoln” by Carl Sandburg, and eventually, I read all six books. I then new Abraham Lincom better than I knew anyone in my own family. The paragraph above captures Lincoln’s political genius. He was mistreated many times in politics, and in every case reported by Sandburg, Lincoln turned the other cheek, and amazed his critics and enemies, by his willingness to foregive and forget, and reach out with kindness or helpfulness. It was two scoundrels who had betrayed him before, whom he treated with kindness, who allowed him to become the candiate for president of his new Republican party, at its ugly and divided convention. There are hundreds of examples of this advice, Answer distrust with trust, in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.
For millions of Americans, the next six months are going to be great. The power Covid had over our lives is shrinking, and the power we have over our own lives is growing. The image that comes to mind is recess. We’ve been stuck emotionally indoors for over a year. Now we get to sprint down the hallway and burst into the playground of life.
People in large parts of the world will still be enduring the ravages of the pandemic, but those of us fortunate enough to be in countries where vaccines are plentiful will be moving from absence to presence, from restraint to release, from distance to communion. Even things that didn’t seem fun are going to be fun. Not being able to get the bartender’s attention because the bar is packed — that will be fun! I’m a Mets fan, but going to Yankees games will be fun! (As long as they lose.) Going to age-inappropriate concerts will be fun! I don’t care if Generation Zers don’t want to sit next to some damn boomer at their Cardi B concert. I’m going anyway.
David Lindsay: This is an awkard time, when things are getting better, but in CT, ony 50% are fully vaccinated, and people are still getting sick, even a few are dying.
Here is a comment I liked, and comment to it which I also agree with.
The problem with unmasking is that it makes the unvaccinated unmasked indistinguishable from the vaccinated unmasked. That can lead to greater exposure of masked and unmasked unvaccinated. And, of course, only 95 percent (or less) of vaccinated folk are strongly immune. So they should wear a mask, but they do not know they are not strongly immune. Altogether the unmasking is ill advised, and making a jubilant celebration of it is juvenile.
@Julia Let him wear it forever. As we go on with our lives. There is risk in practically anything we do, but some level of risk has to be accepted in order to have any kind decent life and happiness. Some people will never be happy because either they don’t understand statistics or can’t accept any risk (speaking specifically in regard to Covid risk to the vaccinated – miniscule risk of anything serious happening)
” . . . When I think of the wise people in my own life, they are like that. It’s not the life-altering words of wisdom that drop from their lips, it’s the way they receive others. Too often the public depictions of wisdom involve remote, elderly sages who you approach with trepidation — and who give the perfect life-altering advice — Yoda, Dumbledore, Solomon. When a group of influential academics sought to define wisdom, they focused on how much knowledge a wise person had accumulated. Wisdom, they wrote, was “an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.”
But when wisdom has shown up in my life, it’s been less a body of knowledge and more a way of interacting, less the dropping of secret information, more a way of relating that helped me stumble to my own realizations.
Wisdom is different from knowledge. Montaigne pointed out you can be knowledgeable with another person’s knowledge, but you can’t be wise with another person’s wisdom. Wisdom has an embodied moral element; out of your own moments of suffering comes a compassionate regard for the frailty of others.
Wise people don’t tell us what to do, they start by witnessing our story. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell, and see us in a noble struggle. They see our narratives both from the inside, as we experience them, and from the outside, as we can’t. They see the ways we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus uncertainty — and understand that our current self is just where we are right now, part of a long continuum of growth.
I have a friend, Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke and learned at age 35 that she had stage IV cancer. In real life, and on her podcast, “Everything Happens,” I have seen her use her story again and again as a platform to let others frame their best story. Her confrontation with early death, and her alternating sad and hilarious responses to it, draws out a kind of candor in others. She models a vulnerability, and a focus on the big issues, and helps people understand where they are now.
People only change after they’ve felt understood. The really good confidants — the people we go to for wisdom — are more like story editors than sages. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to reconsider it so you can change your relationship to your past and future. They ask you to clarify what it is you really want, or what baggage you left out of your clean tale. They ask you to probe for the deep problem that underlies the convenient surface problem you’ve come to them with.
It is this skillful, patient process of walking people to their own conclusions that feels like wisdom; maybe that’s why Aristotle called ethics a “social practice.” . . . “
“What is the quintessential American act? It is the leap of faith. The first European settlers left the comfort of their old countries and migrated to brutal conditions, convinced the future would be better on this continent. Immigrants all crossed oceans or wilderness to someplace they didn’t know, hoping that their children would someday breathe the atmosphere of prosperity and freedom.
Here we are again, one of those moments when we take a leap, a gamble, beckoned by the vision of new possibility. The early days of the Biden administration are nothing if not a daring leap.
I asked Anita Dunn, one of President Biden’s senior advisers, to reflect on the three giant proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure and the coming “family” plan. What vision binds them together? What is this thing, Bidenomics? Interestingly, she mentioned China.
This could be the Chinese century, with their dynamism and our decay. The unexpected combination of raw capitalism, authoritarianism and state direction of the economy could make China the dominant model around the globe. President Biden, Dunn said, believes that democracy needs to remind the world that it, too, can solve big problems. Democracy needs to stand up and show that we are still the future.
I asked Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, where our vulnerabilities lie. It is in our public goods, she said, the degradation of our common life.
“The model of the past 40 years has been to rely on the private sector to carry the load, but that sector is not best suited to deliver certain public goods like work force training and infrastructure investment,” she told me. “These are places where there is market failure, which creates a role for government.”
Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said that Bidenomics has three key prongs: an effort to distribute money to those on the lower end of the income scale, an effort to use climate change as an opportunity to reinvent our energy and transportation systems, and an effort to replicate the daring of the moon shot by investing big-time in research and development.
Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.
Bidenomics is a massive bid to promote economic dynamism. It’s not only the R&D spending and the green energy stuff; it’s also the massive investment in kids and human capital.” . . .
Credit…Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, via Getty Images
“This has been one of the most quietly consequential weeks in recent American politics.
The Covid-19 relief law that was just enacted is one of the most important pieces of legislation of our lifetimes. As Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine, the poorest fifth of households will see their income rise by 20 percent; a family of four with one working and one unemployed parent will receive $12,460 in benefits. Child poverty will be cut in half.
The law stretches far beyond Covid-19 relief. There’s a billion for national service programs. Black farmers will receive over $4 billion in what looks like a step toward reparations. There’s a huge expansion of health insurance subsidies. Many of these changes, like the child tax credit, may well become permanent.
As Michael Hendrix of the Manhattan Institute notes, America spent $4.8 trillion in today’s dollars fighting World War II. Over the past year, America has spent over $5.5 trillion fighting the pandemic.
In a polarized era, the legislation is widely popular. Three-quarters of Americans support the law, including 60 percent of Republicans, according to a Morning Consult survey. The Republican members of Congress voted against it, but the G.O.P. shows no interest in turning this into a great partisan battle. As I began to write this on Thursday morning, the Fox News home page had only two stories on the Covid relief bill and dozens on things like the royal family and cancel culture.
Somehow low-key Joe Biden gets yawns when he promotes progressive policies that would generate howls if promoted by a President Sanders or a President Warren.
This moment is like 1981, the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, except in reverse. It’s not just that government is heading in a new direction, it’s that the whole paradigm of the role of government in American life is shifting. Biden is not causing these tectonic plates to shift, but he is riding them.” . . .
It has become a covid lockdown tradition here for us on Friday night to watch the PBS News Hour with Judy Woodruff, and with analysis near the end by David Brooks and now Jonathan Capehart. Then Judy ends with a video collage In Memorium of 5 people who have died recently of Covid-19, with photos and stories submitted by their families. It is breathtakingly sad.
In the 7 or 10 minutes of Brooks and Capehart, Brooks usually summarizes his op-ed from that same Friday’s NYT in one or two sentences, which is quite a feat of discipline and taciturnity. And what a great column he wrote. (above)
Credit…Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images
“This is the year that broke the truth. This is the year when millions of Americans — and not just your political opponents — seemed impervious to evidence, willing to believe the most outlandish things if it suited their biases, and eager to develop fervid animosities based on crude stereotypes.
Worse, this was the year that called into question the very processes by which our society supposedly makes progress.
So many of our hopes are based on the idea that the key to change is education. We can teach each other to be more informed and make better decisions. We can study social injustices and change our behavior to fight them.
But this was the year that showed that our models for how we change minds or change behavior are deeply flawed.
It turns out that if you tell someone their facts are wrong, you don’t usually win them over; you just entrench false belief.
One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.
These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.
Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.” . .
Brooks goes on to say that what scientists say works, is integrating neighborhoods, schools, teams and organizations. Social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote decades ago about a contact hypothesis. Only doing things together changes prejudice and minds.