David Brooks | The American Identity Crisis – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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.

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.

David Brooks | A Practical Guide to Building Trust – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“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.

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.

David Brooks | The Great Unmasking – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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.

John Brews

John BrewsSanta FeMay 27

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.

239 Recommended

JJohnFloridaMay 27

@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)

33 Recommended

David Brooks | Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is – The New York Times

” . . . 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.”   . . . “

David Brooks | The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“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.”  . . .

David Brooks | Joe Biden Is a Transformational President – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

  • 1866

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)

By David Brooks | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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.

Opinion | 2020 Taught Us How to Fix This – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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.”

Opinion | The Sidney Awards – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Getty Images

“This has not been a great period for free expression. The range of socially acceptable opinion has shrunk, as independent-minded journalists and experts have been eased out of their jobs at places ranging from New York magazine to Boeing and Civis Analytics for saying unorthodox things. The esteemed scholar James R. Flynn wrote a book called “In Defense of Free Speech” which was in turn canceled by his publisher for being too controversial.

Fortunately, a range of people from across the political spectrum have arisen to defend free inquiry, including Noam Chomsky, Cathy Young, the University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, Caitlin Flanagan, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Jonathan Haidt, John McWhorter, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch and magazines like Quillette and Tablet.

Rauch was the subject of an interview by Nick Gillespie in Reason magazine, called “How to Tell if You’re Being Canceled,” which gets the first Sidney of 2020, the awards I give out for the best long-form essays of each year. Rauch was an early vocal champion of the movement for same-sex marriage, which was led by people who, in the early years, said things that seemed shocking and offensive to others. All they had back then was their freedom of speech, Rauch observes.

In Reason, he takes up the argument that certain ideas should be unsaid because they make other people feel unsafe. “The emotional safety argument, I argue, is fundamentally illiberal, and there is really nothing about it that can be salvaged. It is just inconsistent with the open society,” Rauch says.

“The notion here is that emotional injury is a kind of harm like physical injury, and because it’s a kind of harm it’s a rights violation. The problem is this is a completely subjective standard, and it makes any form of criticism potentially subject to censorship and cancellation and lumps science into a human rights violation.”

Opinion | Mark Shields and the Best of American Liberalism – By David Brooks – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist,  Dec. 17, 2020

“Every Friday evening for the last 19 years, Mark Shields and I have gathered to talk politics on the “PBS NewsHour.” When people come up to me to discuss our segment, sometimes they mention the things we said to each other, but more often they mention how we clearly feel about each other — the affection, friendship and respect. We’ve had thousands of disagreements over the years, but never a second of acrimony. Mark radiates a generosity of spirit that improves all who come within his light.

This week, at 83, and after 33 years total on the show, Mark announced he was stepping back from his regular duties. Friday will be our final regular segment together. I want to not only pay tribute to him here, but also to capture his conception of politics, because it’s different from the conception many people carry in their heads these days.

We are all imprinted as children and young adults with certain ideas about the world, which stay with us for the rest of our lives. Mark, like many who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s — including Joe Biden — was imprinted with the idea that politics is a deeply noble profession, a form of service, a vocation.

Mark’s father was the first Catholic to serve on their town’s school board. The first time he saw his mother cry was when Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Mark went off to Notre Dame and then served in the Marine Corps, before working as a congressional aide.

This was the mid-60s. Evidence that government worked was all around. The G.I. Bill had worked, though mostly for whites. Mark had served with Black Marines because Harry Truman had the courage to integrate the military. Mark saw the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

There was never a moment when passing this stuff was easy, but everybody took for granted the legitimacy of the system, treasured the country and the way it worked. “The two hallmarks of American politics are optimism and pragmatism,” Mark told me this week, pointing to the optimism of F.D.R., J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan.

To this day Mark argues that politics is about looking for converts, not punishing heretics. You pass bills and win campaigns by bending to accommodate those whose votes can be gotten.

He went on to work on and run political campaigns, for people like Bobby Kennedy and Ed Muskie. He came to deeply respect those he worked to elect, including presidential candidate Mo Udall: “Just a great human being.” Vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver: “He had the best relations with his family of any candidate I have known. His kids revered him.” And Gov. Jack Gilligan of Ohio: He “believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.”

After decades in journalism, Mark still puts the character lens before the partisan lens. He has been quick to criticize Democrats when they are snobbish, dishonest or fail to live up to the standards of basic decency — often infuriating some of our viewers.

I don’t know if it was midcentury liberalism or the midcentury record of the Boston Red Sox, but Mark instinctively identifies with the underdog. Every year he invites me to do an event with him with Catholic social workers. These are people who serve the poor and live among the poor. They have really inexpensive clothing and really radiant faces, and in their lives you see the embodiment of an entire moral system, Catholic social teaching, which has its service arm and, in Mark, its political and journalistic arm.”   . . . . .

Through out the Trump presidency, my lady and I have stayed tuned to the PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff, which we tape, and often watch in the middle of dinner. During the pandemic, we became more faithful, and our favorite nights were Friday, ending with Mark Shields and David Brooks, and the weekends, reduced to 30 minutes, and with the firm thoughtful voice of Hari Sreenivasan. 30 minutes requires better discipline, and Sreenivasan often covers climate change around the world. Shields and Brooks have been spectacular, if you can follow Shields, who speaks quickly and mumbles. But tonight is his last regular appearance. Mark Shields is retiring at the age of 83. As this Brooks essay reveals, Mark Shields has the heart and ballast of a saint, and he speaks with the wit and intelligence of general. Please join Kathleen and me, in watching the final 10 minutes of regularly scheduled Shields and Brooks, sometime between 7 and 8 pm, Eastern Time.

Here is a comment I strongly recommended:

Socrates
Downtown Verona, NJDec. 17

A beautiful, poignant ode to a friend. And we should also note a very important context. The “PBS NewsHour” is still a reflection of the way news was reported for many decades in this country before the rise of cable TV and partisan news. The “PBS NewsHour” has always practiced – and still practices – the Fairness Doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission that was introduced in 1949 that required the holders of broadcast licenses to present policy issues of public importance and to do so in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. When the FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine policy in 1987 under Republican Ronald Reagan, it precipitated a long slow decline of news quality and accelerated the flow of one-sided opinion, misinformation and disinformation that passes for ‘news’ today. Had the Fairness Doctrine remained in place, Americans would be much better informed, less polarized and much more willing to forge common political ground to move the nation forward with good old-fashioned boring public policy that is more than an empty basket of tax cuts. Shields and Brooks always represented respectful ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ perspectives. Restoring the Fairness Doctrine would be good for the country and our national sanity.

14 Replies1223 Recommended