David Brooks | Biden’s America Finds Its Voice – The New York Times

   Opinion Columnist

“The cameras mostly focused on Volodymyr Zelensky during his address to Congress on Wednesday night, but I focused my attention as much as I could on the audience in the room. There was fervor, admiration, yelling and whooping. In a divided nation, we don’t often get to see the Congress rise up, virtually as one, with ovations, applause, many in blue dresses and yellow ties.

Sure, there were dissenters in the room, but they were not what mattered. Words surged into my consciousness that I haven’t considered for a while — compatriots, comrades, co-believers in a common creed.

Zelensky and his fellow Ukrainians have reminded Americans of the values and causes we used to admire in ourselves — the ardent hunger for freedom, the deep-rooted respect for equality and human dignity, the willingness to fight against brutal authoritarians who would crush the human face under the heel of their muddy boots. It is as if Ukraine and Zelensky have rekindled a forgotten song, and suddenly everybody has remembered how to sing it.

Zelensky was not subtle about making this point. He said that what Ukraine is fighting for today has echoes in what so many Americans fought for over centuries. I thought of John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, George Marshall, Fannie Lou Hamer, the many unsung heroes of the Cold War. His words reminded us that America supports Ukraine not only out of national interest — to preserve a stable liberal world order — but also to live out a faith that is essential to this country’s being and identity. The thing that really holds America together is this fervent idea.”

“. . . .  American policy has oscillated between a hubristic interventionism and a callous non-interventionism. “We overdo our foreign crusades, and then we overdo our retrenchments, never pausing in between, where an ordinary country would try to reach a fine balance,” George Packer wrote in The Atlantic recently. The result has been a crisis of national self-doubt: Can the world trust America to do what’s right? Can we believe in ourselves?

Finding the balance between passionate ideals and mundane practicalities has been a persistent American problem. The movie “Lincoln” with Daniel Day-Lewis was about that. Lincoln is zigging and zagging through the swamps of reality, trying to keep his eye on true north, while some tell him he’s going too fast and others scream he’s going too slow.

Joe Biden has struck this balance as well as any president in recent times, perhaps having learned a costly lesson from the heartless way America exited from Afghanistan. He has swung the Western alliance fervently behind Ukraine. But he has done it with prudence and calibration. Ukraine will get this weapons system, but not that one. It can dream of total victory, but it also has to think seriously about negotiations. Biden has shown that America can responsibly lead. He has shown you can have moral clarity without being blinded by it.”

David Lindsay: Great column Mr. Brooks. Here are the three most liked comments:

Katileigh
New YorkDec. 22

At long last. A recognition that neither smooth oration nor tough talk matter. What both Biden and Zelinsky do is lead from the heart with competence, confidence, courage, and calm. It’s making all the difference. Thank you, David, for giving credit where credit is due.

20 Replies3296 Recommended

Jon commented December 22

Jon
San Carlos, CADec. 22

Joe Biden has done a great job given the cards he was dealt. He inherited a mess and has steadily just been cleaning up the mess. He has not gotten nearly enough credit for just being a good steward. Life gets a lot worse when there is bad stewardship.

11 Replies3113 Recommended

Kevin Leibel commented December 22

Kevin Leibel
Chapel HillDec. 22

I actually love President Biden with all my heart. He’s been doing the right thing since taking office, he has a team that earns my respect and his policies are leading the US in the right direction. The war in Ukraine is an existential fight between good and evil and I am so very proud we are on the right side.

10 Replies2394 Recommended

David Brooks | The Sad Tales of George Santos – The New York Times

“What would it be like to be so ashamed of your life that you felt compelled to invent a new one?

Most of us don’t feel compelled to do that. Most of us take the actual events of our lives, including the failures and frailties, and we gradually construct coherent narratives about who we are. Those autobiographical narratives are always being updated as time passes — and, of course, tend to be at least modestly self-flattering. But for most of us, the life narrative we tell both the world and ourselves gives us a stable sense of identity. It helps us name what we’ve learned from experience and what meaning our life holds. It helps us make our biggest decisions. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of.

A reasonably accurate and coherent autobiographical narrative is one of the most important things a person can have. If you don’t have a real story, you don’t have a real self.”

David Lindsay Jr.
NYT Comment:

Excellent and thoughtful, David Brooks. Thank you. How about a follow up and this crook. Is a recall possible, how would it come about, and what is needed if it is not available, for starters. It would also be interesting to hear you respond to to you many critics in the comments. You made impressive points about psychology, which is one of your beats that you cover.

InconvenientNews.net.

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 | Why on Earth Is Pelosi Supporting the Trumpists? – The New York Times

“The Democratic Party is behaving recklessly and unpatriotically. So far, Democrats have spent tens of millions to help Trumpist candidates in Republican primaries.

In Illinois alone, the Democratic Governors Association and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker spent at least $30 million to attack a Trumpist’s moderate gubernatorial opponent. In Pennsylvania, a Democratic campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads intended to help a Trumpist candidate win the G.O.P. gubernatorial primary. A political action committee affiliated with Nancy Pelosi worked to boost far-right Republican House candidates in California and Colorado.

They are doing it because they think far-right Trumpist candidates will be easier to beat in the general elections than more moderate candidates.

What the Democrats are doing is sleazy in the best of circumstances. If you love your country more than your party, you should want the best candidates to advance in either party. And in these circumstances, what they are doing is insane: The far-right candidates whom Democrats are supporting could easily wind up winning.

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.