David Brooks | The Triumph of the Ukrainian Idea – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The war in Ukraine is not only a military event; it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops. They are winning because they are fighting for a superior idea — an idea that inspires Ukrainians to fight so doggedly, an idea that inspires people across the West to stand behind Ukraine and back it to the hilt.

That idea is actually two ideas jammed together. The first is liberalism, which promotes democracy, individual dignity, a rule-based international order.

The second idea is nationalism. Volodymyr Zelensky is a nationalist. He is fighting not just for democracy but also for Ukraine — Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian land, the Ukrainian people and tongue. The symbol of this war is the Ukrainian flag, a nationalist symbol.

There are many people who assume that liberalism and nationalism are opposites. Liberalism, in their mind, is modern and progressive. It’s about freedom of choice, diversity and individual autonomy. Nationalism, meanwhile, is primordial, xenophobic, tribal, aggressive and exclusionary.

Modern countries, by this thinking, should try to tamp down nationalist passions and embrace the universal brotherhood of all humankind. As John Lennon famously sang, “Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too.”

Those people are not all wrong. Nationalism has a lot of blood on its hands. But it has become clear that there are two kinds of nationalism: the illiberal nationalism of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and the liberal nationalism of Zelensky. The former nationalism is backward-looking, xenophobic and authoritarian. The latter nationalism is forward-looking, inclusive and builds a society around the rule of law, not the personal power of the maximum leader. It’s become clear that if it is to survive, liberalism needs to rest on a bed of this kind of nationalism.

Nationalism provides people with a fervent sense of belonging. Countries don’t hold together because citizens make a cold assessment that it’s in their self-interest to do so. Countries are held together by shared loves for a particular way of life, a particular culture, a particular land. These loves have to be stirred in the heart before they can be analyzed by the brain.”

David Brooks | If an Alternative Candidate Is Needed in 2024, These Folks Will Be Ready – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“What happens if the 2024 election is between Donald Trump and somebody like Bernie Sanders? What happens if the Republicans nominate someone who is morally unacceptable to millions of Americans while the Democrats nominate someone who is ideologically unacceptable? Where do the millions of voters in the middle go? Does Trump end up winning as voters refuse to go that far left?

The group No Labels has been working quietly over the past 10 months to give Americans a third viable option. The group calls its work an insurance policy. If one of the parties nominates a candidate acceptable to the center of the electorate, then the presidential operation shuts down. But if both parties go to the extremes, then there will be a unity ticket appealing to both Democrats and Republicans to combat this period of polarized dysfunction.”

David Brooks | Frederick Buechner – The Man Who Found His Inner Depths – The New York Times

“. . . . . He spent the rest of his life as a border-stalker, too literary for many Christians and too Christian for the literary set. His faith was personal, unpretentious and accessible. “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward.” It is sensing a presence, not buying an argument.

He described the Gospel as a great fairy tale that happens to be true. The fairy tale has pain and danger, goodness is pitted against evil, people are transformed, and in the end all the characters are revealed for who they really are. To live within this fairy tale is to experience the “joy and beauty and holiness beyond the walls of the world.”

Christians, he wrote in one novel, should get up every morning, read The Times and ask themselves, “Can I believe it all again today?” If you say Yes 10 days out of 10, he wrote, then you probably don’t know what believing means. But on the days you can say Yes, “it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and … great laughter.”

One of Buechner’s often cited observations is that you find your vocation at the spot where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. Perhaps like many others, I struggle to experience my inner life in the quiet, patient, deep and old-fashioned way that Buechner experienced his. So much of the world covers over all that — constant media consumption, shallow communication, speed and productivity. Sometimes I think the national obsession with politics has become a way to evade ourselves.

Buechner’s vocation was to show a way to experience the fullness of life. Of death, he wrote, “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” ” -30-

Opinion | David Brooks: I Was Wrong About Capitalism – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I have a specific way I tend to be wrong. I fall behind. Every day the world turns and every day I try to adjust my belief system to the realities of the moment. You would think I’d be able to recognize the emerging challenges and shifting tectonics fairly quickly. As a newspaper columnist, I’m paid for one skill above others: careful observation. But sometimes I’m just slow. I suffer an intellectual lag.

Reality has changed, but my mental frameworks just sit there. Worse, they prevent me from even seeing the change that is already underway — what the experts call “conceptual blindness.” I’m trying to address one period’s problems through the last period’s frameworks.

It’s not until I dismantle and reconstruct those preconceptions that everything becomes obvious — until the next historic change.”

David Brooks | How Democrats Can Win the Morality Wars – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I’m a fan of FiveThirtyEight, a website that looks at policy issues from a data-heavy perspective, but everyone publishes a clunker once in a while. In February, FiveThirtyEight ran a piece called “Why Democrats Keep Losing Culture Wars.” The core assertion was that Republicans prevail because a lot of Americans are ignorant about issues like abortion and school curriculum, and they believe the lies the right feeds them. The essay had a very heavy “deplorables are idiots” vibe.

Nate Hochman, writing in the conservative National Review, recognized a hanging curve when he saw one and he walloped the piece. He noted that “all the ‘experts’ that the FiveThirtyEight writers cite in their piece are invested in believing that the progressive worldview is the objective one, and that any deviations from it are the result of irrational or insidious impulses in the electorate.”

He added: “All this is a perfect example of why the left’s cultural aggression is alienating to so many voters. Progressive elites are plagued by an inability to understand the nature and function of social issues in American life as anything other than a battle between the forces of truth and justice on one side and those of ignorance and bigotry on the other.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. The essence of good citizenship in a democratic society is to spend time with those who disagree with you so you can understand their best arguments.”

David Lindsay: In this column, Brooks hits a home run with the bases loaded.

David Brooks | The Secrets of Lasting Friendships – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“In early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, I met a woman who said she practiced “aggressive friendship.” It takes a lot of her time, but she’s the person who regularly invites friends over to her house, who organizes events and outings with her friends. What a fantastic way to live.

I thought of her while reading Robin Dunbar’s recent book, “Friends.” If the author’s name means something to you, it’s probably because of Dunbar’s number. This is his finding that the maximum number of meaningful relationships most people can have is somewhere around 150. How many people are invited to the average American wedding? About 150. How many people are on an average British Christmas card list? About 150. How many people were there in early human hunter-gatherer communities? About 150.

Dunbar argues that it’s a matter of cognitive capacity. The average human mind can maintain about 150 stable relationships at any given moment. These 150 friends are the people you invite to your big events — the people you feel comfortably altruistic toward.

He also argues that most people have a circle of roughly 15 closer friends. These are your everyday social companions — the people you go to dinner and the movies with. Within that group there’s your most intimate circle, with roughly five friends. These are the people who are willing to give you unstinting emotional, physical and financial help in your time of need.”

Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful piece. I remember reading about the magic number of 50, for the number most people can keep up with, and the observation that all over the world, throughout history, most military companies had 50 fighters. The comments are also interesting, because some people testify about the truth of the research reviewed, while others skoff and deride it as outdated. Many wounded people have trouble making friends, and feel threatened by the data revealed. I was often a black belt in many sports and martial arts, but never at making friends.

David Brooks | The Week That Awoke the World – The New York Times

“Over the last several years, that famous poem has been quoted countless times: “The centre cannot hold,” William Butler Yeats wrote, before adding, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” People cited it so often because it was true.

But it was not so true this past week. The events in Ukraine have been a moral atrocity and a political tragedy, but for people around the world, a cultural revelation. It’s not that people around the world believe new things, but many of us have been reminded what we believe, and we believe them with more fervor, with more conviction. This has been a convicting week.

The Ukrainians have been our instructors and inspirers. They’ve been the ordinary men and women in the Times video lining up to get weapons to defend their homeland. They’ve been the lady telling a Russian invader to put sunflower seeds in his pocket. They’ve been the thousands of Ukrainians who had been living comfortably abroad, who surged back into the country to risk death to defend their people and way of life.

We owe them such a debt. They have reminded us not only what it looks like to believe in democracy, the liberal order and national honor but also to act bravely on behalf of these things.

They’ve reminded us that you can believe things with greater and lesser intensity, faintly, with words, or deeply and fervently, with a conviction in your bones. They’ve reminded us how much the events of the past few years have conspired to weaken our faith in ourselves. They’ve reminded us how the setbacks and humiliations (Donald Trump, Afghanistan, racial injustice, political dysfunction) have caused us to doubt and be passive about the gospel of democracy. But despite all our failings the gospel is still glowingly true.

This has been a week of restored faith. In what exactly? Well, in the first place, in leadership. We’ve seen so many leadership failures of late, but over the past week Volodymyr Zelensky emerged as the everyman leader — the guy in the T-shirt, the Jewish comedian, the guy who didn’t flee but knew what to say: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

It wasn’t only Zelensky. Joe Biden masterly and humbly helped organize a global coalition. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany understood the moment. So did Emmanuel Macron of France and Fumio Kishida of Japan. Across governments, businesses and the arts, we were well led this week.

There’s been restored faith in true patriotism. Over the past few years, we’ve seen so much sour ethnonationalism from the right, an angry and xenophobic form of patriotism. From the left we’ve seen a disdain of patriotism, from people who vaguely support abstract national ideals while showing limited gratitude toward one’s own inheritance; people who rightly focus on national crimes but while slighting national achievements. Some elites, meanwhile, have drifted into a soulless globalism, an effort to rise above nations into an ethereal multilateral stratosphere.

But the Ukrainians have shown us how the right kind of patriotism is ennobling, a source of meaning and a reason to risk life. They’ve shown us that the love of a particular place, their own land and people, warts and all, can be part and parcel of a love for universal ideals, like democracy, liberalism and freedom.

There’s been a restored faith in the West, in liberalism, in our community of nations. There has been so much division of late, within and between nations. But now I wake up in the morning, pick up my phone and am cheered that Sweden is providing military aid to Ukraine, and I’m awed by what the German people now support. The fact is that many democratic nations reacted to the atrocity with the same sense of resolve.

The same is true at home. Of course, there are bitter partisans who use the moment to attack the left for being weak, or to accuse the right of being pro-Putin. There are always going to be people who are happy to be factually inaccurate if it will make them socially divisive. But at this point almost every member of Congress is united about our general cause.

That’s because we have learned to revile that which people for centuries took for granted — that big countries would gobble up small countries, that the powerful would do what they could and that the weak would suffer what they must. This week, perhaps, we’ve come to value more highly our modern liberal ethic.

There’s been a mood of democratic pessimism, as authoritarianism has spread and strutted. Academics of left and right have criticized liberalism. This week we have a clearer view of the alternative. It looks like Vladimir Putin.

The creed of liberalism is getting a second wind. There’s a school of academic realists who imagine that foreign affairs is all about cold national interest, conducted by chess master strategists. But this week we saw that foreign affairs, like life, is a moral enterprise, and moral rightness is a source of social power and fighting morale.

Things will likely get even more brutal for the Ukrainians. But the moral flame they fueled this week may, in the end, still burn strong.

Opinion | ‘My Fellow Americans’: Four Times Columnists Channel Joe Biden – The New York Times

David BrooksGail CollinsRoss Douthat and 

The writers are all Opinion columnists.

With President Biden delivering the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, four Times columnists summoned their inner speechwriter and imagined what they would like him to say. One or two hit a single note they thought the president should emphasize; others found a few chords that they wanted him to strike. The only ground rule for this experiment was that the columnists had to write in Mr. Biden’s voice, if not in his manner of speaking.

“My fellow Americans:

People always talk about the state of our union in these addresses. I’d like to talk about the nature of our union.

Lately, we’ve had a tendency to be bipolar about who we are. At some moments in our recent history we have thought we’re the greatest nation of the earth, with such awesome power that we can reshape the world in our image. At other moments we have lost faith in ourselves entirely. We’ve withdrawn. We’ve discarded the idea that America has any special mission to help champion freedom and democracy or that the American government can do anything good.

It’s like the adolescent who wakes up one day to discover that his parents aren’t perfect and therefore concludes they are terrible.

I’m hoping we can settle upon a mature estimation of ourselves, one that accurately accounts for both our gifts and our errors.

We Americans are the people who fought two wars that are now widely regarded as mistakes, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are also the people who staunchly contained the Soviet Union, so that when the time came, the people of Eastern and Central Europe could liberate themselves.

We Americans have fomented coups and supported dictators. We also led the fight against fascism and helped nurture democracy in places like Germany and Japan, which we conquered but never sought to own.

This skein of sin and heroism, guilt and virtue, runs through our history. Maturity is being humble and confident at the same time. Today, as Russia attacks and China grows more menacing, I hope we can humbly make it clear that we can’t change other nations in ways they don’t want to change but also confidently declare that the global weather patterns are fairer when the United States spreads the message of human dignity and supports the forces of democracy.

I hope we can humbly accept that history is complicated and we are not wise enough to plan it but also confidently remind ourselves that when the United States has stood with people like Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky, we’ve ended up doing a lot of good.

I hope we can humbly know that we are barraged by forces larger than us, like a pandemic, but confidently recall that we responded with a set of gigantic policies that helped ease the economic trauma and successfully brought our people through.

They say youthfulness is America’s oldest tradition. But it’s time we grow up and adopt a global posture that is humble about the means we use to advance our goals but is confident in the mission history has assigned us.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
I thought this whole column idea was in very poor taste. But to my surprise, it worked. David Brooks was brilliant as usual, and so eloquent that maybe the Biden team can use some of it. Brooks wrote, “I hope we can humbly accept that history is complicated and we are not wise enough to plan it but also confidently remind ourselves that when the United States has stood with people like Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky, we’ve ended up doing a lot of good.” This sounds to me like a call to war, which I agree with. I wrote three comments to the NYT this morning, calling for NATO to let in the Ukraine, and start really helping them fight off Putin and his armies. Gail was funny and I love her wit. Brett was strong, but not willing to shed blood or treasure for the Ukraine. Poor Ross was pathetic, He apparently hasn’t a single friend to explain to him that 8 billion humans are what are causing climate change and the sixth great extinction of species.
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.

David Brooks | Defeat Trump, Now More Than Ever – The New York Times

“The democratic nations of the world are in a global struggle against authoritarianism. That struggle has international fronts — starting with the need to confront, repel and weaken Vladimir Putin.

But that struggle also has domestic fronts — the need to defeat the mini-Putins now found across the Western democracies. These are the demagogues who lie with Putinesque brazenness, who shred democratic institutions with Putinesque bravado, who strut the world’s stage with Putin’s amoral schoolboy machismo while pretending to represent all that is traditional and holy.

In the United States that, of course, is Donald Trump. This moment of heightened danger and crisis makes it even clearer that the No. 1 domestic priority for all Americans who care about democracy is to make sure Trump never sees the inside of the Oval Office ever again. As democracy is threatened from abroad, it can’t also be cannibalized from within.

Thinking has to be crystal clear. What are the crucial battlegrounds in the struggle against Trump? He won the White House by winning Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with strong support from white voters without a college degree. Joe Biden ousted Trump by winning back those states and carrying the new swing states, Arizona and Georgia.

So for the next three years Democrats need to wake up with one overriding political thought: What are we doing to appeal to all working-class voters in those five states? Are we doing anything today that might alienate these voters?

Are the Democrats winning the contest for these voters right now? No.”

“. . . What do Democrats need to do now? Well, one thing they are really good at. Over the past few years a wide range of thinkers — across the political spectrum — have congregated around a neo-Hamiltonian agenda that stands for the idea that we need to build more things — roads, houses, colleges, green technologies and ports. Democrats need to hammer home this Builders agenda, which would provide good-paying jobs and renew American dynamism.

But Democrats also have to do something they’re really bad at: Craft a cultural narrative around the theme of social order. The Democrats have been blamed for fringe ideas like “defund the police” and a zeal for “critical race theory” because the party doesn’t have its own mainstream social and cultural narrative.”

Bravo David Brooks.

Here are the three top comments.

Palo AltoFeb. 24

And maybe the Republicans should also do what they can to keep Trump out of office. Oh, wait, they had their chance (twice) and didn’t.

16 Replies2140 Recommended

Phocion commented February 24

United StatesFeb. 24

Thanks for this, but I would remind David that the Republican Party has a role to play in this too—by forbidding Donald Trump to be their nominee.

12 Replies1894 Recommended

Paul Wortman commented February 25

Paul Wortman
ProvidenceFeb. 25
Times Pick

Vladimir Putin has always counted on Donald Trump to be a force to divide the nation and weaken our resolve to defend democracy against authoritarian rule. You are absolutely right in the need to “defeat Trump” and his Republican Party that are now an insurrectionist, fifth column seeking to undermine the renewed Western alliance that President Biden has worked so hard and so effectively to restore. The old Biblical saying echoed by Lincoln that “a house divided cannot stand” remains true in the current crisis in confronting Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and Putin is counting on Trump to weaken us and the West. The Democrats must unite around a simple, but effective narrative that embraces the principles of democracy and human dignity which includes strong support for blue collar workers to have a living wage and an easy right to unionize. Moreover, they must finally go on offense against the sedition of Trump and his allies in Congress and the media who support a Putin-style racist, authoritarian kleptocracy in America, and mobilize voter registration on a massive scale.

11 Replies1804 Recommended

David Brooks | America Is Falling Apart at the Seams – The New York Times – And my response

Opinion Columnist

“In June a statistic floated across my desk that startled me. In 2020, the number of miles Americans drove fell 13 percent because of the pandemic, but the number of traffic deaths rose 7 percent.

I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Americans be driving so much more recklessly during the pandemic? But then in the first half of 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle deaths were up 18.4 percent even over 2020. Contributing factors, according to the agency, included driving under the influence, speeding and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Why are so many Americans driving irresponsibly?

While gloomy numbers like these were rattling around in my brain, a Substack article from Matthew Yglesias hit my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.”

“. . . But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.

What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful and challenging column. You do have a blind spot, or malfunction, like the EVSE I use to charge up my two electric cars, or one electric car, and a Prius Prime, which is only electric for 25 miles in the summer. To fix the EVSE, when some widget seizes up, the manufacturer said, turn off the breaker, and hit the unit with a rubber mallet really hard. And it worked. I wonder if a rubber mallet would unstick you. I’d like to add to your thoughtful short list of the usual suspects, climate change and the sixth extinction, and the world overpopulation which are the cause of both. My adult daughter says she might not have any children because of these environmental crises. My adult son son says nothing I do for mitigation matters, since we have probably already passed the tipping point, and human life on the planet is probably doomed. I write about this stuff, with weird dark thoughts intruding on my brain, when awake and asleep. One sick thought, is that the pandemic has failed, because it hasn’t killed enough people. I admit this is a dark and ugly thought, but so is driving thousands of non human species into extinction, which is real, and going on this century, and accelerating. Are we committing an unforgiveable sin against other forms of life?
David blogs at InconvenientNews.Net
In addition,  one irony of this sin of human overpopulation and consumption, and of our poisoning the water, the air, the land, and the atmosphere, is that according to the late scientist Edward O Wilson, if we kill off over 50% of the world’s other species, which is where we are headed, the human species will probably not survive. During the 5th and last great extinction in the geological record, when the dinosaurs died off, so did probably about 95% of the world’s other species at that time.