Opinion | How Faith Shapes My Politics – By David Brooks – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

“Over the past few decades, whenever a Republican president puts up an important judicial nominee — especially a Catholic one — we go through the same routine. Some Democrat accuses the nominee of imposing her religious views on the law.

“The dogma lives loudly within you,” Senator Dianne Feinstein notoriously told Amy Coney Barrett in a 2017 confirmation hearing. Then Republicans accuse Democrats of being religious bigots. Then the nominee testifies that her personal opinions or religious faith will have absolutely no bearing on her legal judgments.

This unconvincing routine gets us no closer to understanding two important questions: How does faith influence a person’s political views? How should we look at religiously devout people in public life?

To the extent that I have answers to these questions it’s through my own unusual experience. I came to faith in middle age after I’d been in public life for a while. I would say that coming to faith changed everything and yet didn’t alter my political opinions all that much. That’s because assenting to a religion is not like choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat. It happens on a different level of consciousness.”

David Lindsay: The comments section is closed, but full of push back. I compliment David Brooks for his courage and insight in writing such an honest and thoughtful piece. I have a running disagreement with Mr. Brooks, for being too anthropocentric.

I am a Christian and a Pagan. The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes pagan as:

“Definition of pagan

1HEATHEN sense 1  especially a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods an irreligious or hedonistic person
3NEO-PAGAN   witches, druids, goddess worshippers, and other pagans in America today— Alice Dowd”
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I’ve rediscovered Christianity through the writing of Richard Rohr in his book “Eager to Love,”  where he introduced me to the religious beliefs of Saint Francis of Assisi and his partner Saint Clair. Rohr goes on to describe how disciples of these two have added to their world view over the centuries.
The main point is that these Christians believed all life was sacred, not just human life, and they were hard core Christian environmentalists. Humans who believe they are above all other species and other forms of life are in the process now of destroying the planet with overpopulation and pollution.

Opinion | When a Heart Is Empty – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“. . .  In his memoir, Carrère bears witness to the days of suffering and endurance that followed the wave. When Philippe tells his daughter and son-in-law about the death of their child, Juliette’s mother, Delphine, screams. Her husband thought, “I can no longer do anything for my daughter, so I will save my wife.”

Carrère had lamented that he had always been unable to love, but in those horrific days he and his girlfriend stayed with the family, searched among the corpses, enveloped the family with compassion and practical care. He observes how at mealtime Delphine’s hand shakes as she brings a forkful of curried rice to her lips

He is with Delphine when they come across a woman, Ruth, who was on her honeymoon and has lost track of her husband, Tom. For two days she sat outside the hospital, not eating or sleeping, convinced that if she nodded off Tom would never emerge alive from wherever he was.

“Her determination is frightening,” Carrère writes. “You can sense that she’s quite close to passing to the other side, into catatonia, living death, and Delphine and I understand that our role is to prevent this.”

Carrère’s memoir describes how a self-absorbed man is altered in crisis and develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others. The book is called “Lives Other Than My Own.”

I thought of that book this week because the sensitive perceptiveness Carrère displays is the opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, “Rage.”

Goldberg says Trump told people that he sees the war dead as “suckers” and “losers.” Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives — their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.

If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.

The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay Covid-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place.

This is not an intellectual stupidity. I imagine Trump’s I.Q. is fine. It is a moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people. It’s a stupidity that in almost pure clinical form, flows out of his inability to feel, a stupidity of the heart.

Opinion | The Future of American Liberalism – By David Brooks – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

“The United States just endured its worst economic quarter in recorded history. If this trend had continued for an entire year, American economic output would have been down by about a third.

So I’m hoping Joe Biden and his team are reading up on Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The New Dealers succeeded in a moment like this. Their experience offers some powerful lessons for Biden as he campaigns and if he wins:

Economic and health calamities are experienced by most people as if they were natural disasters and complete societal breakdowns. People feel intense waves of fear about the future. They want a leader, like F.D.R., who demonstrates optimistic fearlessness.

They want one who, once in office, produces an intense burst of activity that is both new but also offers people security and safety. During the New Deal, Social Security gave seniors secure retirements. The Works Progress Administration gave 8.5 million Americans secure jobs.

Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan is a perfect encapsulation of this mood of simultaneously longing for the safety of the past while moving to a brighter future.

Opinion | President Biden’s First Day – by David Brooks – The New York Times

David Lindsay:

This lovely endorsement of Joe Biden, by the conservative Republican writer David Brooks, makes a lovely end note to a week of exciting news for environmentalist like myself, tired of Trump’s degredations. See the NYT articles about what Nate Cohn has to say on the polls. (Politics) And there is the video on the Lincoln Project on Youtube, with die hard GOP conservatives organizing to topple Donald and his enablers in the senate, for trampling on the US Constitution and our allies. “Jennifer Horn Of The Lincoln Project On The Group’s Anti-Trump Coronavirus Ad.” Also in Politics. Last Sunday, Nicholas Kristof wrote a lovely piece on hope, and how from great decline, sometime comes renaissance. I’ve taken the liberty to post the entire Brooks essay, for the non subscribers.
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“The first thing you’ll notice is the quiet. If Joe Biden wins this thing, there will be no disgraceful presidential tweets and no furious cable segments reacting to them on Inauguration Day.

Donald Trump himself may fume, but hated and alone. The opportunists who make up his administration will abandon him. Republicans will pretend they never heard his name. Republican politicians are not going to hang around a guy they privately hate and who publicly destroyed their majority.

But there will be a larger quiet, too. For two decades American politics has centered on a bitter culture war between the white working-class heartland and university-bred coastal elites.

Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were all emblems of this university class, and it was easy for the Republican media wing to gin up resentment against them. In 2016, Trump beat Clinton among the white working class by a crushing 28 points.

But Biden is not an emblem of this coastal elite. His sensibility was nurtured by his working-class family during the postwar industrial boom of the 1950s and 1960s. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965 and missed the late 1960s culture war that divided a generation.

It’s very hard for conservatives to demonize Biden because he comes from the sort of background that Trumpian conservatives celebrate. He elides all the culture war divides. He doesn’t act superior to the “deplorables,” because his family taught him to despise status games of all sorts.

It will become immediately clear that in a Biden era politics will shrink back down to normal size. It will be about government programs, not epic wars about why my sort of people are morally superior to your sort of people. In the Trump era a lot of people who don’t care about government got manic about politics.

It will also become immediately clear that in a highly ideological age, America will be led by a man who is not ideological.

This week a few of us columnist types spoke with Biden about his economic plans. His most telling sentence was, “I’ve kind of tried to shed the labels and focus on the nuts and bolts of this.”

I asked him to describe the big forces that have flattened working-class wages over the past decades. Other people would have spun grand theories about broken capitalism or the rise of the corporate oligarchy. But Biden pointed to two institutional failures — the way Republicans have decentralized power and broken Washington and the way Wall Street forces business leaders to focus obsessively on the short term.

Biden’s worldview seems to come mainly from lived experience, not a manifesto somewhere. He has lived experience of a time when there were good manufacturing jobs, when unions protected workers, when the less affluent had a ladder to climb.

His economic agenda, promoted under the slogan “Build Back Better,” is about that, not some vast effort to remake capitalism or build a Nordic-style welfare system. The agenda is more New Deal than New Left.

In the two speeches he has delivered so far there are constant references to our manufacturing base — infrastructure, steelworkers, engineers, ironworkers, welders, 500,000 charging stations for electric cars. “When I think of climate change, the word I think of is jobs,” he declared.

The agenda pushes enormous resources toward two groups: first, African-Americans, who have been pummeled by deindustrialization for decades; and second, white working-class Trump voters. This looks like an attempt to rebuild the New Deal coalition and win back the white working class who should be a core of the Democratic base. Biden’s populist “Buy American” messaging is just icing on that cake.

Can he pull off this manufacturing revival and this political realignment?

I’ll be curious to see if it’s possible to create millions of manufacturing jobs — or if technology means there’s only a need for relatively few workers. I’ll be curious to see if he can tamp down the Democratic media and activist wings, with their penchant for wildly unpopular moral gestures like “defund the police” and “decriminalize the border.”

I wonder if the economic crisis will obviate all this. With mass unemployment the need will be to get money out the door immediately on Day 1. Launching infrastructure projects and clean energy industries takes a lot of time.

But I do know that if he can win a chunk of the white working class (44 percent of the electorate, according to Ruy Teixeira), he will realign American politics. I also know that from that first day the Biden agenda will put the surviving Republicans in Congress in an awful bind. Do they cooperate and work with Biden’s infrastructure and manufacturing plans? If they oppose him they give him a clear shot to win their voters while also inviting him to end the filibuster.

Everybody says Biden is a moderate, and in intellectual and temperamental terms that is true. But he has found a way to craft an agenda that could reshape the American economy and the landscape of American politics in fundamental ways.

Joe Biden may turn out to be what radical centrism looks like.”  -30-

Opinion | The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“We Americans enter the July 4 weekend of 2020 humiliated as almost never before. We had one collective project this year and that was to crush Covid-19, and we failed.

On Wednesday, we had about 50,000 new positive tests, a record. Other nations are beating the disease while our infection lines shoot upward as sharply as they did in March.

This failure will lead to other failures. A third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the Census Bureau. Suspected drug overdose deaths surged by 42 percent in May. Small businesses, colleges and community hubs will close.

At least Americans are not in denial about the nation’s turmoil of the last three months. According to a Pew survey, 71 percent of Americans are angry about the state of the country right now and 66 percent are fearful. Only 17 percent are proud.

Americans are reacting in two positive ways. We’re seeing incredible shifts in attitudes toward race. Roughly 60 percent of Americans now believe that African-Americans face a great deal or a lot of discrimination. People have been waiting for a white backlash since the riots, or since the statues started toppling. There isn’t much if any evidence of a backlash. There’s evidence of a fore-lash.

Second, Americans have decided to get rid of Donald Trump. His mishandling of Covid-19 hurt him among seniors. His racist catcalls in a time of racial reckoning have damaged him among all groups.

I’ll be delighted when Trump goes, but it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t only because of Donald Trump that Americans never really locked down, and then started moving around again in late April.

It wasn’t Trump who went out to bars in Tempe, Austin and Los Angeles in June. It wasn’t Trump who put on hospital gowns and told the American people you could suspend the lockdown if your cause was just. Once you told people they could suspend the lockdown for one thing, they were going to suspend it for others.

Our fixation on the awfulness of Donald Trump has distracted us from the larger problems and rendered us strangely passive in the face of them. Sure, this was a Republican failure, but it was also a collective failure, and it follows a few decades of collective failures.”

Opinion | America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises All at Once – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

“There are five gigantic changes happening in America right now. The first is that we are losing the fight against Covid-19. Our behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the reality around us. We just got tired so we’re giving up.

Second, all Americans, but especially white Americans, are undergoing a rapid education on the burdens African-Americans carry every day. This education is continuing, but already public opinion is shifting with astonishing speed.

Third, we’re in the middle of a political realignment. The American public is vehemently rejecting Donald Trump’s Republican Party. The most telling sign is that the party has even given up on itself, a personality cult whose cult leader is over.

Fourth, a quasi-religion is seeking control of America’s cultural institutions. The acolytes of this quasi-religion, Social Justice, hew to a simplifying ideology: History is essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed. Viewpoints are not explorations of truth; they are weapons that dominant groups use to maintain their place in the power structure. Words can thus be a form of violence that has to be regulated.

Fifth, we could be on the verge of a prolonged economic depression. State and household budgets are in meltdown, some businesses are failing and many others are on the brink, the continuing health emergency will mean economic activity cannot fully resume.

These five changes, each reflecting a huge crisis and hitting all at once, have created a moral, spiritual and emotional disaster. Americans are now less happy than at any time since they started measuring happiness nearly 50 years ago. Americans now express less pride in their nation than at any time since Gallup started measuring it 20 years ago.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
I love this column by David Brooks, even though most of the criticism in the comments are are either correct, or have some merit. Basically, I have to agree with Brooks in general, while specifically, he rushed his writing, went too lightly on his Republican party, and continued to leave out climate change and the 6th extinction. How could such a brilliant, well read, and sensitive man, sound so blind to our poisoning of our own environment? And yet, in his defense, you can’t say everything in 800 words. In Hamden CT, there are new members of the Town Legislative Council who have many of the ugly traits that Brooks describes in the the social justice and politically correct movement. There is a profound truth in Brook’s statement, that the real work will be hard, long and feel boring, like on C-span, rather than flash mudslinging and cancelling on social media like on Instagram. You have to actually learn the details of local and state government, not just tear things up.

Opinion | How to Do Reparations Right – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“This moment is about police brutality, but it’s not only about police brutality. The word I keep hearing is “exhausted.”

People are exhausted by and fed up with the enduring wealth disparities between white and black, with the health disparities that leave black people more vulnerable to Covid-19, with the centuries-long disparities in violence and the threat of violence, with daily indignities of African-Americans and stains that linger on our nation decade after decade.

The killing of George Floyd happened in a context — and that context is racial disparity.

Racial disparity doesn’t make for gripping YouTube videos. It doesn’t spark mass protests because it’s not an event; it’s just the daily condition of our lives.

It’s just a condition that people in affluent Manhattan live in one universe and people a few miles away in the Bronx live in a different universe. It’s just a condition that many black families send their kids to struggling inner-city schools while white families move to the suburbs and put on black T-shirts every few years to protest racial injustice.

The response to this moment will be inadequate if it’s just police reforms. There has to be a greater effort to tackle the wider disparities.

Reparations and integration are the way to do that. Reparations would involve an official apology for centuries of slavery and discrimination, and spending money to reduce their effects.

There’s a wrong way to spend that money: trying to find the descendants of slaves and sending them a check. That would launch a politically ruinous argument over who qualifies for the money, and at the end of the day people might be left with a $1,000 check that would produce no lasting change.

Giving reparations money to neighborhoods is the way to go.

A lot of the segregation in this country is geographic. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, early-20th-century whites-only housing covenants pushed blacks into smaller and smaller patches of the city. Highways were built through black neighborhoods, ripping their fabric and crippling their economic vitality.

Today, Minneapolis is as progressive as the day is long, but the city gradually gave up on aggressive desegregation. And so you have these long-suffering black neighborhoods. The homeownership rate for blacks in Minneapolis is one-third the white rate. The typical black family earns less than half as much as the typical white family.

To really change things, you have to lift up and integrate whole communities. That’s because it takes a whole community to raise a child, to support an adult, to have a bustling local economy and a vibrant civic life. The neighborhood is the unit of change.

Who has the expertise to lift up whole neighborhoods? It’s the people who live in the neighborhoods themselves. No outsider with a foundation grant or a government contract really knows what’s going on in any neighborhood or would be trusted to make change. The people who live in the neighborhoods know what to do. They just need the resources to do it.

A few weeks before the lockdown I was in and around South Los Angeles. In Watts I interviewed Keisha Daniels from Sisters of Watts, which helps kids and homeless people in a variety of ways. I interviewed Barak and Sara Bomani of Unearth and Empower Communities, which helps educate and nurture young people in nearby Compton.

Daniels and the Bomanis are experts in how to lift up their neighborhoods. If we got them money and support they would figure out what to do.

How can government focus money on formerly redlined neighborhoods and other communities?

National service programs would pay young people to work for these organizations. A National Endowment for Civic Architecture, modeled on, say, the National Endowment for the Arts, could support neighborhood groups around the country. A Social Innovation Fund would be a private/public partnership to fund such organizations. Moving to Opportunity grants and K-12 education savings accounts would help minorities to move to integrated schools. Collective impact structures could coordinate local action and use data to find what works.

In the progressive era, governments built libraries across the country, which remain vital centers of neighborhood life. We’re about to have a lot of empty retail space. Why can’t we build Opportunity Centers where all the groups moving children from cradle to career could work and collaborate?

It’s true this has sort of been tried before. The Great Society had a “Community Action” project that professed to redistribute power to neighborhoods. But it did it in the worst possible ways. A lot of what it did involved sending disruptive agitators to stir up conflict between local activists and local elected officials. The result was rancor and gridlock.

This tumultuous moment offers a chance to launch a new chapter in our history, and reparations are part of that launch. They offer a chance to build vibrant neighborhoods where diverse people want to live together, where the atmosphere is kids playing on the sidewalks and not a knee in the back of the neck.”     -30-

 

David Lindsay: -30- is an old journalist code, meaning, the end of the article.  David Brooks is my kind of conservative Republican, or former Republican. He has been on a journey over the last five years, involving an awakening, a transformation. And he is so smart and well read, he actually know how to get stuff identified that some future government might agree to, and which might actually work.

It is fun and rewarding to read the comments to this piece at the NYT, since most of the readers have long hated David Brooks, and are slowly admitting or recognizing that he has changed. Brooks still disappoints the Bernie Bros, but they never had a list of solutions that would be acceptable today to a majority of Americans, even it they are good ideas.

Opinion | If We Had a Real Leader – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

“This week I had a conversation that left a mark. It was with Mary Louise Kelly and E.J. Dionne on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and it was about how past presidents had handled moments of national mourning — Lincoln after Gettysburg, Reagan after the Challenger explosion and Obama after the Sandy Hook school shootings.

The conversation left me wondering what America’s experience of the pandemic would be like if we had a real leader in the White House.

If we had a real leader, he would have realized that tragedies like 100,000 Covid-19 deaths touch something deeper than politics: They touch our shared vulnerability and our profound and natural sympathy for one another.

In such moments, a real leader steps outside of his political role and reveals himself uncloaked and humbled, as someone who can draw on his own pains and simply be present with others as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers.

If we had a real leader, she would speak of the dead not as a faceless mass but as individual persons, each seen in unique dignity. Such a leader would draw on the common sources of our civilization, the stores of wisdom that bring collective strength in hard times.

Lincoln went back to the old biblical cadences to comfort a nation. After the church shooting in Charleston, Barack Obama went to “Amazing Grace,” the old abolitionist anthem that has wafted down through the long history of African-American suffering and redemption.

In his impromptu remarks right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy recalled the slaying of his own brother and quoted Aeschylus: “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.”

If we had a real leader, he would be bracingly honest about how bad things are, like Churchill after the fall of Europe. He would have stored in his upbringing the understanding that hard times are the making of character, a revelation of character and a test of character. He would offer up the reality that to be an American is both a gift and a task. Every generation faces its own apocalypse, and, of course, we will live up to our moment just as our ancestors did theirs.”

Opinion | The First Invasion of America – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“I was an American history major in college, back in the 1980s.

I’ll be honest with you. I thrilled to the way the American story was told back then. To immigrate to America was to join the luckiest and greatest nation in history. “Nothing in all history had ever succeeded like America, and every American knew it,” Henry Steele Commager wrote in his 1950 book, “The American Mind.”

To be born American was to be born to a glorious destiny. We were the nation of the future, the vanguard of justice, the last best hope of mankind. “Have the elder races halted?” Walt Whitman asked, “Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? We take up the task eternal.”

To be born American was to be born boldly individual, daring and self-sufficient. “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called, very Americanly, “Self-Reliance.”

To be born American was to bow down to no one, to say: I’m no better than anyone else, but nobody’s better than me. Tocqueville wrote about the equality of condition he found in America; no one putting on airs over anyone else. In 1981, Samuel Huntington wrote that American creed was built around a suspicion of authority and a fervent rejection of hierarchy: “The essence of egalitarianism is rejection of the idea that one person has the right to exercise power over another.”
I found it all so energizing. Being an American was not just a citizenship. It was a vocation, a call to serve a grand national mission.

Today, of course, we understand what was wrong with that version of American history. It didn’t include everybody. It left out the full horrors of slavery and genocide.

But here’s what has struck me forcefully, especially during the pandemic: That whole version of the American creed was all based on an assumption of existential security. Americans had the luxury of thinking and living the way they did because they had two whopping great oceans on either side. The United States was immune to foreign invasion, the corruptions of the old world. It was often spared the plagues that swept over so many other parts of the globe.”

Brooks ends with, “Something lovely is being lost. America’s old idea of itself unleashed a torrent of energy. But the American identity that grows up in the shadow of the plague can have the humanity of shared vulnerability, the humility that comes with an understanding of the precariousness of life and a fierce solidarity that emerges during a long struggle against an invading force.”

Opinion | Who Is Driving Inequality? You Are – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“Who is driving inequality in America? You are. I am. We are.

Did you read to your kids before bed when they were young? If you did, you gave them an advantage over kids whose parents were working the evening shift at 7-Eleven. Did you spend extra on tutoring or music lessons? Since 1996, affluent families have spent almost 300 percent more educating their young while everybody else’s spending has been mostly flat.

Did you marry before having kids and raise your kids in a two-parent home? The children of the well educated are now much more likely to grow up in stable families, and those differences in family structure explain 32 percent of the growth of family income inequality since 1979.

If you did these things, you did nothing wrong. You invested in your children’s flourishing as any decent parent would.

But here’s the situation: The information economy rains money on highly trained professionals — doctors, lawyers, corporate managers, engineers and so on.

Daniel Markovits, author of “The Meritocracy Trap,” estimates there are about one million of these workers in America today. They work really hard, are really productive and earn a lot more. In the mid-1960s, profits per partner at elite law firms were less than five times a secretary’s salary. Now, Markovits notes, they are over 40 times.”