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.”

Opinion | The Age of Coddling Is Over – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

“Over the past decades, a tide of “safetyism” has crept over American society. As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt put it in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” this is the mentality that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The goal is to eliminate any stress or hardship a child might encounter, so he or she won’t be wounded by it.

So we’ve seen a wave of overprotective parenting. Parents have cut back on their children’s unsupervised outdoor play because their kids might do something unsafe. As Kate Julian reports in “The Anxious Child and the Crisis of Modern Parenting” in The Atlantic, parents are now more likely to accommodate their child’s fears: accompanying a 9-year-old to the toilet because he’s afraid to be alone, preparing different food for a child because she won’t eat what everyone else eats.

Meanwhile schools ban dodge ball and inflate grades. Since 2005 the average G.P.A. in affluent high schools has risen from about 2.75 to 3.0 so everybody can feel affirmed.”

“. . .There’s absolutely no self-glorification here, just endurance. I’m reminded of Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s 1931 memoir. When hiring doctors for his hospital in the African jungle, he wrote, he never hired anyone who thought he was doing something grand and heroic. The only doctors who would last are those who thought what they were doing was as ordinary and necessary as doing the dishes: “There are no heroes of action — only heroes of renunciation and suffering.”

I’m also reminded of the maxim that excellence is not an action, it’s a habit. Tenacity is not a spontaneous flowering of good character. It’s doing what you were trained to do. It manifests not in those whose training spared them hardship but in those whose training embraced hardship and taught students to deal with it.

I’m hoping this moment launches a change in the way we raise and train all our young, at all ages. I’m hoping it exorcises the tide of “safetyism,” which has gone overboard.

The virus is another reminder that hardship is woven into the warp and woof of existence. Training a young person is training her or him to master hardship, to endure suffering and, by building something new from the wreckage, redeem it.”

Opinion |  Screw This Virus! – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

Screw this virus. Screw this virus that is already ravaging families, burying people in the hard isolation of the same four walls, leaving waitresses in anguish about how they’re going to pay the rent. If you don’t have a little hate in your heart toward this thing, you probably aren’t motivated enough.

While we’re at it, screw certainty. Over the past few weeks I’ve been bingeing on commentary from people predicting how long this is going to last and how bad it’s going to be. The authors seem really smart and their data sets seem really terrible.

I’m beginning to appreciate the wisdom that cancer patients share: We just can’t know. Don’t expect life to be predictable or fair. Don’t try to tame the situation with some feel-good lie or confident prediction. Embrace the uncertainty of this whole life-or-death deal.

There’s a weird clarity that comes with that embrace. There is a humility that comes with realizing you’re not the glorious plans you made for your life. When the plans are upset, there’s a quieter and better you beneath them.”

“. . . . .Through plague eyes I realize there’s an important distinction between social connection and social solidarity. Social connection means feeling empathetic toward others and being kind to them. That’s fine in normal times.

Social solidarity is more tenacious. It’s an active commitment to the common good — the kind of thing needed in times like now.

This concept of solidarity grows out of Catholic social teaching. It starts with a belief in the infinite dignity of each human person but sees people embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together, and to the nth degree.

Solidarity is not a feeling; it’s an active virtue. It is out of solidarity, and not normal utilitarian logic, that George Marshall in “Saving Private Ryan” endangered a dozen lives to save just one. It’s solidarity that causes a Marine to risk his life dragging the body of his dead comrade from battle to be returned home. It’s out of solidarity that health care workers stay on their feet amid terror and fatigue. Some things you do not for yourself or another but for the common whole.”

Opinion | Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…DeAgostini/Getty Images

“Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart. These are crises in which social distancing is a virtue. Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection.

In “The Decameron,” Giovanni Boccaccio writes about what happened during the plague that hit Florence in 1348: “Tedious were it to recount how citizen avoided citizen, how among neighbors was scarce found any that shewed fellow-feeling for another, how kinfolk held aloof, and never met … nay, what is more, and scarcely to be believed, fathers and mothers were found to abandon their own children, untended, unvisited, to their fate.”

In his book on the 1665 London epidemic, “A Journal of the Plague Year,” Daniel Defoe reports, “This was a time when every one’s private safety lay so near them they had no room to pity the distresses of others. … The danger of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another.”

Fear drives people in these moments, but so does shame, caused by the brutal things that have to be done to slow the spread of the disease. In all pandemics people are forced to make the decisions that doctors in Italy are now forced to make — withholding care from some of those who are suffering and leaving them to their fate.”

Opinion | Biden’s Rise Gives the Establishment One Last Chance – By David Brooks – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“I don’t know about you, but the election results this week filled me with more hope than I’ve felt in years. It felt like somebody turning down the volume.

The angry and putrid shouting that has marked the last four years — and that would mark a Trump vs. Sanders campaign — might actually come to an end. Suddenly we got a glimpse of a world in which we can hear each other talk, in which actual governance can happen, in which gridlock can be avoided and actual change can come.

But the results carried a more portentous message as well. For those of us who believe in our political system, it’s put up or shut up time. The establishment gets one last chance.

If Joe Biden wins the nomination but loses to Donald Trump in the general election, young progressives will turn on the Democratic establishment with unprecedented fury. “See? We were right again!” they’ll say. And maybe they’ll have a point.

If Biden wins the White House but doesn’t deliver real benefits for disaffected working-class Trumpians and disillusioned young Bernie Bros, then the populist uprisings of 2024 will make the populist uprisings of today look genteel by comparison. “The system is rotten to the core,” they’ll say. “It’s time to burn it all down.” “

David Lindsay:  Thank you David Brooks for another deep and elequent column. I decided not to post this one, because I couldn’t put my finger on its strength. But a day later, I dove into the recommended comments by order, called Reader Picks, and was astonished. For the the first time in memory, the popular comments were not tearing Brooks down, but acknowledging the extraordinary event we all witnessed.

Brooks wrote: “Democrats are not just a party; they’re a community. In my years of covering politics I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what happened in the 48 hours after South Carolina — millions of Democrats from all around the country, from many different demographics, turning as one and arriving at a common decision.

It was like watching a flock of geese or a school of fish, seemingly leaderless, sensing some shift in conditions, sensing each other’s intuitions, and smoothly shifting direction en masse. A community is more than the sum of its parts. It is a shared sensibility and a pattern of response. This is a core Democratic strength.”