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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo David Brooks.

Here are the three top comments.

Palo AltoFeb. 24

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

16 Replies2140 Recommended

Phocion commented February 24

United StatesFeb. 24

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

12 Replies1894 Recommended

Paul Wortman commented February 25

Paul Wortman
ProvidenceFeb. 25
Times Pick

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

11 Replies1804 Recommended

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

Opinion Columnist

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

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

Why are so many Americans driving irresponsibly?

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

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

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

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

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

David Brooks | Imagination Is More Important Than You Think – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato gave the impression that imagination is a somewhat airy-fairy luxury good. It deals with illusions and make-believe and distracts us from reality and our capacity to coolly reason about it. Aristotle countered that imagination is one of the foundations of all knowledge.

One tragedy of our day is that our culture hasn’t fully realized how much Aristotle was correct. Our society isn’t good at cultivating the faculty that we may need the most.

What is imagination? Well, one way of looking at it is that every waking second your brain is bombarded with a buzzing, blooming confusion of colors, shapes and movements. Imagination is the capacity to make associations among all these bits of information and to synthesize them into patterns and concepts. When you walk, say, into a coffee shop you don’t see an array of surfaces, lights and angles. Your imagination instantly coalesces all that into an image: “coffee shop.”

Neuroscientists have come to appreciate how fantastically complicated and subjective this process of creating mental images really is. You may think perception is a simple “objective” process of taking in the world and cognition is a complicated process of thinking about it. But that’s wrong.

Perception — the fast process of selecting, putting together, interpreting and experiencing facts, thoughts and emotions — is the essential poetic act that makes you you.

David Brooks | Democrats Need to Confront Their Privilege – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“One of the Democratic Party’s core problems is that it still regards itself mainly as the party of the underdog. But as the information-age economy has matured, the Democratic Party has also become the party of the elite, especially on the cultural front.

Democrats dominate society’s culture generators: the elite universities, the elite media, the entertainment industry, the big tech companies, the thriving elite places like Manhattan, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 2020, Joe Biden won roughly one-sixth of the nation’s counties, but together those counties generate roughly 71 percent of the nation’s G.D.P.

As the Democrats have become more culturally and economically dominant, many people at tippy-top private schools and super-expensive colleges have flamboyantly associated themselves with the oppressed. Thankfully, that has moved society to more aggressively pursue social and racial justice. Unfortunately, a tacit ideology — sometimes called wokeness — has been grafted on to this pursuit.

It includes the notions that society is essentially a zone of conflict between oppressor and oppressed groups, that a person’s identity is predominantly about group identity and that slavery is the defining fact of American history.”

David Brooks | Moderates and Progressives, Get Together! – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The Biden administration is in mortal peril. Hemmed in by circumstances, the Democrats bet nearly their entire domestic agenda on the passage of two gigantic bills, the trillion-dollar infrastructure package and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

Both are now in serious trouble because Democratic moderates and progressives aren’t close to agreeing on what should be in the bills, how much they should cost or even when they should be voted on. If these bills crumble, the Democrats will fail as a governing majority, and it will be far more likely that Donald Trump will win the presidency in 2024.

We don’t want that, so the question is, how can moderate and progressive Democrats create a package they both can live with? The best way to do that is to build on each side’s best insights.

The best progressive insight is that we need a really big package right now.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
While I have enjoyed many of the critical comments, David Brooks makes a number of good points. I particularly like his fear that the Biden team will not pass anything, if they aren’t careful. While the outcome eludes me,
I had a bad feeling when the Democrats refused to pass the first infrastructure bill, till they saw success for the 3.5 trillion package through budget reconciliation. The Republicans were outraged, and for once, I was sympathetic. My instincts tell me that the Biden Team should pass the infrastructure bill first and alone, as a clean win for the country, and for bi-partisanship. It also makes the process of trying for the second bill, in some ways simpler. If critical leverage is lost, someone please explain that.
What is needed, is probably all of both bills, but that does not mean they have to all be tied together. Mitigating climate change now, and preventing the return of Trump, are both very important. Just passing the infrastructure bill, will make the Biden team look like winners, and leave the 3.5 trillion bill on the table, to be passed in toto, or possibly in tranches. In the latter case, I would put all the climate change mitigation elements at the top of the to do list.
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.