Today’s explanation for Trump: Idolatry

Smart people keep struggling to figure out and explain why other people would do such a dumb thing as make Donald Trump president of the United States of America.

Here’s an excerpt from David Brooks’ effort today, headlined, “When Politics Becomes Your Idol:”

When politics is used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness, it’s harder to win people over with policy or philosophical arguments. Everything is shaped on a deeper level, through the parables, fables and myths that our most fundamental groups use to define themselves.

For years, the meritocratic establishments in both parties told an implicit myth. The heroes of this myth were educated, morally enlightened global citizens who went to competitive colleges, got invited to things like the Clinton Global Initiative, and who have the brainpower to run society and who might just be a little better than other people, by virtue of their achievements.


David Brooks

Donald Trump tells the opposite myth — about how those meritocrats are actually clueless idiots and full of drivel, and how virtue, wisdom and toughness is found in the regular people whom those folks look down upon.

Trump’s supporters follow him because he gets his facts wrong, but he gets his myths right. He tells the morality tale that works for them.

It should be said that people on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol. Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics….

Yep. A lot of that going around.

Brooks ends with a thought or two from the perspective of us moderate communitarians:

To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.


103 thoughts on “Today’s explanation for Trump: Idolatry

  1. Claus2

    In all of your ancestry research, have you found out if you’re related to Rachel Maddow or any of the cast of The View?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ha! Who knows?

      Of course, I don’t even know who’s on The View. I’ve never seen it. I probably wouldn’t know who Rachel Maddow was except that she interviewed me once.

      But if they’re white, they’re probably descended from Charlemagne, too, so it’s just a matter of digging to find the relationship.

      Some living famous people I’m related to:

      • Both George Bushes — But only if I’m really descended from Strongbow, which I’ve started to doubt (because of the Betty Crowley problem.) The one president I’m sure of my relationship to is John Tyler — as in “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” He was a 4th cousin five times removed.
      • Patty Hearst — I didn’t know this back when she was in the news, I don’t think, but she’s a 5th cousin once removed. Which means I’m related to the original inspiration for Citizen Kane. The Hearsts were in South Carolina for awhile before they went west.
      • Queen Elizabeth II — I just did this for the challenge, and to brush up on my knowledge of British monarchs. I knew we were both directly descended from Owen Tudor (1400-1461), so I took an hour or two one weekend to figure out all the steps and put them on the tree. She’s my 16th cousin once removed.
      • Tim McCarver — By marriage. He’s my wife’s first cousin.

      Since you asked…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Actually, one of Wydeville’s granddaughters — Catherine Woodville (this was long before consistent spelling was a thing), Duchess of Buckingham and my first cousin 17 times removed — married one of my Tudor ancestors: Sir Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, Earl of Pembroke.

          But here we find a little family scandal. Sir Jasper is my 14th-great grandfather, but Lady Catherine is NOT my direct ancestor. I’m descended from Jasper’s concubine, Myvanwy verch Dafydd. Yeah, she was Welsh….

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, he had 18 children, including the illegitimate ones. I’m descended from at least two of the legitimate ones.

              But people just use Charlemagne as an example. You could pick anybody in Europe that far back, and all Europeans are descended from that person. As the story I linked to explains, “Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today…”

  2. Doug Ross

    ” It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments.”

    If you think using government to multiply and balance your attachments is going to improve this country, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. What we need is LESS government so people reach out individually either for assistance or to help… THAT is what will drive a better community. Instead, we have a society in America that is based on taking from others (whether you’re at the bottom or the top). Creating laws that establish dependency at the bottom or provide economic advantage at the top is a recipe for what we have today.

  3. Doug Ross

    I love going back in time to see what experts like Brooks, Maddow, etc. predicted prior to Trump’s victory last November. Their arrogance and absolute certainty is amazing — amazing in that they continue to feel qualified to opine on ANYTHING.

    Today, the Consumer Confidence Index reached its highest point since 2000. Meanwhile, on November 2, 2016, two “expert” “economist” ran there advanced stock market models and came to this prescient conclusion:

    “”If we were to go in 70/30 [for Clinton], and we think the market is 10 percent higher under Clinton than Trump, if Clinton wins it should be up about 3 percent and if Trump wins, it should go down 7 percent,” said Eric Zitzewitz, economics professor at Dartmouth College. He and Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan studied the market effect of the first debate in a Brookings paper. Clinton’s odds in the prediction markets had been closer to 80 percent, and at that level, a Trump victory would have triggered an 8 to 10 percent sell-off, he said.”

    Now, why in the world would any student take classes from these professors? These are EXACTLY the people Brooks thinks should be held in high esteem to explain things to the rest of us peons.

    1. Doug Ross

      And just to be clear, these two economists were paraded around all the liberal media prior to the election to spout their predictions. Nothing like injecting fear into the voting public a few days before the election. But that’s okay because they’re American!

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, those people are idiots. But then, you know how I think assigning numerical values to probabilities and other things that are not numerical is idiotic. Of course, every time I try to tell y’all that, y’all think I’m idiotic…

      Bottom line, as I said over and over, from the moment Trump got the GOP nomination, there was a significant danger of his being elected.

      You get either party’s nomination, and you’re already most of the way to 50 percent, thanks to all the automatons who vote for the party no matter how grossly disqualified the nominee is.

      (As I recall, I mostly said this to people like Bud who thought it would be GREAT for the GOP to nominate Trump because he’d be so “easy to beat.”)

      Once you have that nomination, you just need a couple of small things to break your way. The Democratic nominee being Hillary — the most hated woman in America — pushed him even closer, which meant he needed even fewer things to break his way…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That’s why the Russian smear campaign, and Comey’s last-minute announcement, meant so much — their impacts may have been small, but small boosts were all Trump really needed to pass her…

        1. Claus2

          Isn’t this politics as usual? You don’t use your good stuff until right before people go to the polls? You don’t think Clinton would have used both barrels if she had anything to use?

        2. Doug Ross

          It all balanced out. The amount of fear mongering and disinformation disseminated by Democrats was equal to or exceeded that of Republicans/Russians/Aliens.

          The key point I go back to all the time is that the Democrats never said anything that was released from the DNC emails was untrue how could they?) — they only went after the messenger. The truth hurt them more than the perception that the Russians were involved in any way. Are we supposed to say “if only the American public was unaware of all the things Democrats were doing to rig the primary!” That would be better??

          1. Doug Ross

            And Comey’s letter would never have been an issue if Hillary had been open and truthful about the email server from day one. She created the environment that led to Comey’s letter. She learned from the master stonewaller/obfuscator/liar – Bill Clinton.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            “It all balanced out. The amount of fear mongering and disinformation disseminated by Democrats was equal to or exceeded that of Republicans/Russians/Aliens.”


          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            First, not everything the Russians were putting out was true. This was, if you’ll recall, the origin of the phrase “fake news.”

            But even if it was — truth is no defense here.

            If people dig through the emails of pretty much anyone, they’ll find things that, presented in a twisted context, could be embarrassing. And that’s what happened here. You had, for instance those emails that supposedly “proved” that the Democrats were anti-Catholic. Except those emails proved no such thing. But all people remembered was the allegation.

            Also… and I apologize if I’m remembering this wrong (if so, please correct me)… I seem to recall reading that the Russians hacked both sides. But they only put out the stuff that, properly cooked, could hurt the Democrats, not the stuff on Trump and the Republicans. (I’m having trouble finding this. My search terms are too broad I think. Anyone remember specifics on this?)

            You think that’s OK? How?

            Anyway, you may not think that deceptively intervening (through bots, fake accounts, leaks to Wikileaks) in the election with the intention of electing the biggest idiot ever to capture a major presidential nomination is a hostile act, intended to harm the United States. But it most certainly was. And is. They’re still engaging in this kind of behavior

              1. Claus2

                So what’s going to happen if all this is true? Is Hillary going to be President? Do you think this can be drawn out for the next seven years, and if so and true… “what difference does it make”?

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Umm. No. Hillary Clinton is never going to be president.

                  Wait a sec — I just realized something. Is that why Trump and his followers keeping bringing her up? Is that why they keep saying, “What about Hillary?” Do y’all think the election’s still going on, and she’s running?…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  But to take the question at face value… what should happen is that Trump should be impeached or resign, and be replaced by the vice president. That’s how it works…

                3. Mark Stewart

                  Except if in this case collusion by the campaign is proven – and the President impeached – Congress should probably continue on and impeach the VP, too.

                  That still wouldn’t make Hillary Clinton President, as feared by the Trumpkins. It is amusing that they do seem to think this would be the outcome. No; we’d end up with earnest Paul Ryan in the White House.

              2. Doug Ross

                So was their expectation to have the U.S. economy at its highest peak in 17 years?

                I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument about what exactly the Russians had to fear with Hillary. The few Russians I have spoken to laugh when the subject of Putin wanting Trump in the Oval Office comes up. They say Putin doesn’t care. And I would agree.

                1. Doug Ross

                  So if two “respected” U.S. economists claim a Trump victory would lead to a 10% drop in the stock market and a Hillary win a 7% gain, that’s not fake news?

                  Every single day from about February on, there was more negative news about Trump pumped into the media pipeline than any of the DNC emails ever registered. And, sorry, but I don’t think fake Twitter spamming had any impact on the election. Most voters don’t have Twitter. And here’s the process you have to agree happened:

                  1. Someone has a Twitter account and is planning to vote for Hillary
                  2. They read a tweet that says something negative about Hillary (from someone they FOLLOWED or in a reply to someone they FOLLOWED)
                  3. They accept the information provided in the Tweet as truthfu without any further research — because we all know that whatever @notaguyfromRussia says on Twitter is meaningfull
                  4. They decide the information is enough to change their vote from Hillary to Trump or to not vote at all

                  Is that how it worked? Tens of thousands of people across the country were duped by Twitter spam and disregarded all the anti-Trump news that was on 24×7 across the rest of the media world.

                  Sure.. that’s what happened.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “Every single day from about February on, there was more negative news about Trump pumped into the media pipeline than any of the DNC emails ever registered.”

                  Yep, and all of it was true. And if anyone had any doubt at the time, Trump has busted a gut doing everything he can to prove it was true every single day since…

                  I’m just not following you here.

                  You think what was said about Trump was untrue because a couple of idiots made predictions about the stock market, of all things? I mean, who would take stuff like that seriously? (And besides, that’s not “fake news.” They said it. What they said was reported. That’s on them.)

                  The negative things about Trump (what I was reading, anyway) all bore on the fact that he is a grotesquely unfit individual — ignorant, proud of his ignorance, with an unstable personality based in petty resentments and a desire to lash out childishly at anyone who stirs those resentments — who should never, ever be allowed anywhere near the most sensitive, powerful job on the planet.

                  And every single day, we’ve seen just how true that is.

                  Why do you not grasp this? Why do you bring up irrelevancies? The stock market? Really?

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  If I had encountered someone who said he was going to vote for Hillary because he thought Trump might make the stock market go down, I’d have looked at him like he was mad. Really? You can’t come up with a hundred better reasons than that?…

                4. Doug Ross

                  You understand that your view of what was said about Trump is limited to the sources you follow and not those that others might follow, right?

                  Every day from April on, sites like HuffPo, Slate, and MSNBC, CNN, etc. spewed out anti-Trump bile. Every late night comedian used Trump as fodder for jokes. It was nonstop — and he still won. I know you can’t wrap your head around that but its because your views may not be in sync with a good portion of the country. You (and I) are products of our own biases and experiences.

                  Every day that Trump doesn’t blow up the world is a bad day for you.

                5. Brad Warthen Post author

                  First, I don’t watch TV “news.”

                  Second, you think my problem with Trump and his supporters is that our “views may not be in sync?” Wow, that is a mild way of putting it…

                  And Trump does blow up the world every day. This country degrades, is dragged through unprecedented shame and humiliation, every single day.

                  It just absolutely floors me that this is going on right in your face, every single day, and you act like it’s not happening.

                  Let’s try looking at it from a different angle. The Post’s editorial board did, just today. Read their piece headlined, “What a presidential president would have said about Mueller’s indictments.

                  The contrast to the unbelievably petty, childish, shockingly off-point way that Trump reacted should be striking.

                  Oh, but wait — it’s just words, right? If nuclear bombs aren’t popping off all around us, everything’s fine, right?

                6. Richard

                  So what I have figured out, the Republicans had Russia working to help Trump win the election and the Democrats had the mainstream media in this country working to help Hillary win the election. If we’re going to investigate the Russians, shouldn’t we also be investigating the mainstream media? Or is this like racism… where it only works one way?

                7. Brad Warthen Post author

                  … You actually believe that truthful, accurate coverage of Trump — which will unavoidably show what a jackass he is (the only way you can avoid that is to be totally in the bag for him) — is the same as the Russians trying to undermine our electoral system….

                8. Richard

                  “And Trump does blow up the world every day. This country degrades, is dragged through unprecedented shame and humiliation, every single day.”

                  I guess… if you’re a Clinton supporter who’s still upset that she lost. The country is degrading, shamed and humiliated on a daily basis… I guess I don’t see it where I work. Things are better now than they have been in the previous decade.

                9. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “I guess… if you’re a Clinton supporter who’s still upset that she lost.”

                  See, if that’s what you think it is, then you have a reading comprehension problem. You must have never read:

                  1. Anything I’ve written about Trump.

                  2. Anything I’ve written about Hillary Clinton.

                10. Richard

                  “The contrast to the unbelievably petty, childish, shockingly off-point way that Trump reacted should be striking.”

                  You seem to be obsessed with every move Trump makes. Do you work at this or is it just a habit of yours that’s now your new normal?

                11. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Actually, I’m mostly ignoring him.

                  In any given day, he’ll do maybe a dozen outrageous things — and at least one or two things that would have politically destroyed any previous president.

                  In a given week, I might devote posts to two or three of them. Seriously. Look at the past week. This is the only post ABOUT Trump, and it’s not off the days news — more of a step-back kind of thing. The Graham post earlier was indirectly about Trump — but again, not off of anything he’d done in particular.

                  Basically, I’m hardly writing about him at all, and mostly ignoring the daily madness.

                  Which means I’m contributing to normalizing him.

                  So I should probably step it up…

                12. Doug Ross

                  It is just words. I looked at the facts – Manafort was on Trump’s campaign for all of two months. His indictments were about activities that occurred when he had nothing to do with Trump, right? So why is that big news?

                  That you don’t watch TV news is why you don’t understand the people who vote for Trump (or for that matter, Hillary). Your bubble is a whole lot different than the bubbles of the typical American voter. They are largely uninformed, easily duped by media (on both sides), and driven by self-interest.

                  Just as you can’t believe someone would vote for Trump, I have the same difficulty understanding how anyone could vote for Hillary — and I didn’t vote for either of them. Hillary is just a different form of degrading the process and would have been equally as polarizing as Trump has been. But you also want to live in a fantasy world where the President is some kind of superhero Boy Scout. Sorry, but history tells us that few lived up to that standard in real life. I was just as baffled how people turned Ronald Reagan into some type of mythical figure when all he was was a really good actor.

                13. Doug Ross

                  “In any given day, he’ll do maybe a dozen outrageous things — and at least one or two things that would have politically destroyed any previous president.”

                  As I’ve said before, the more you go off into hyperbole mode on Trump, the more sane HE looks.

                  Doing things is not the same as saying things. Out of the first 300 days of his Presidency, which things has he done that would have politically destroyed any other President (and let’s use Watergate as the high bar and Monica Lewinsky as the low bar example of what a President CAN get away with)

                14. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Here we are once again…

                  Most of the job is SAYING THINGS. That’s true of people at the top of many large organizations, but its truest of the presidency.

                  But since words are meaningless to you, you miss that. Far as you’re concerned, the president might as well be lying in a coma until he sends U.S. troops into war or something — something that, by the way, is still about WORDS. The president says or writes or signs words, and things happen. He doesn’t DO those things.

                  Words, and choosing the right ones at the right times, are what the job is about…

                15. Brad Warthen Post author

                  How can you say that? I’ve been hearing all about that. And you know where I heard about it first? On NPR.

                  And here it is in the NYT. And here in The Washington Post. And here in The Chicago Tribune. And on and on and on.

                  It’s just a total lie that media are “being quiet about this.”

                  Of course, that won’t bother you, since you choose “facts” to fit what you want to believe.

                  These hucksters TELL you the media are ignoring a story (a story they most likely wouldn’t know about except for the MSM reporting it), and you BELIEVE them. How can you let yourself be duped that way?

                  I know it’s hard for you and other Trumpistas to wrap your heads around this, but journalists live by a code in which a fact is a fact, no matter what you might WANT the facts to be.

                  Maybe if you were an editor YOU would edit the news to fit your prejudices. But MSM editors don’t do that — and they know that they’re being watched by their colleagues who would jump on them with both feet if they did. (As an example of that, here you have NPR being trashed on Poynter for “fumbling its sexual harassment mess.”)

                  But you’ll never believe that because The Big Idiot tells you otherwise…

                16. Barry

                  The media isnt being quiet about the NPR news thing. I listen to NPR every day. They have covered it extensively themselves.

                  Don’t make up lies.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oops, I only glanced at your comment before, and thought it was saying something very different from what it was saying.

        Sorry. I’m sure my response seems pretty strange — but it was a GREAT response to something you didn’t say…

  4. Harry Harris

    Interesting 3-way hijack you guys are having. On Brooks point about the idolatry stuff, I think he’s partly right, but mostly wrong. I do think that political polarization has helped destroy our sense of community in this country. I think it got its big push in the 1980’s and continued under the Clintonian view of economic man and accelerated further with the “uniter” (ha ha!) George W Bush. There was, I think, a muffled call under Obama for community and common purpose, but the voices of polarization and narrowed interests prevailed. Our main idol is materialism.
    Where I think Brooks missed badly is in the idolatry claim. Most people among whom I associate do not get their moral guidance from politics. Most view politics as a main tool to leverage their moral views into public policy and the character of society. Most get their ethics from their religion, and some from their non-religious philosophy. Many who I know unwittingly advocate for theocracy, and some seek legal and public shaming means to forward their moral views. A few get their moral leanings from some demagogic political or religious manipulator, but that slice of the populace has been around much longer than Brooks acknowledged. I think Brooks ignores the long history of politicians being able to get sizable slices of the voting public to go against their own self-interest as well as the community well-being through simplistic sloganeering, slanderous straw-man, deception, and the power of purchasing mass megaphones.

    1. Barry

      People are looking for political answers for spiritual problems.

      They won’t find those answers with politicians, especially a serial womanizer, adulterer, and assaulter like Trump.

  5. bud

    It should be said that people on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol.

    No it should NOT be said. This is an idiotic column even for David Brooks. I don’t know a single person on the left, not one, who thinks of politicians as idols. I liked Bernie Sanders in the primaries because of his ideas and views on the issues. He’s not my idol. In fact I would have preferred a younger candidate to carry his ideas forward. Liberal want the country to work better and become safer and more prosperous. Liberal politicians give us the best chance of achieving those goals. But saying that doesn’t make me some kind of Bernie Sanders groupie. Sure the DOW is cruising along fine for now mostly because the Republicans have proven so inept at getting their terrible policies passed. But on virtually everything else the country is getting worse off – Doug’s rants to the contrary not withstanding. Violence against certain religious groups is up. The immigration polices of the administration are creating a huge amount of mental trauma for dreamers and others. White nationalist groups are on the rise. Thanks to the administration’s preemptive attacks on the ACA health insurance coverage is down. As a result we continue to slip in life expectancy rankings. We had our first negative job creation month in 7 years. Consumer debt is at record levels. Violent crime is up. Our risk of nuclear war is higher than at any time since the cold war, maybe since the Cuban missile crisis. Secretive foreign interventions are on the rise. The threat of global warming running amok is now almost a certainty thanks to Scott Pruitt.

    These and many other issues are not a matter of idol worship but rather pragmatism. Brooks is wrong about liberals on this but so are all the other false equivalency crusaders who continue to fight that battle.

  6. David L Carlton

    Take a look at this Will Wilkinson piece criticizing Brooks:

    I’d say Wilkinson is much closer to correct than Brooks is. I’ve never, in fact, seen politics so driven by ethnocultural identity; it’s akin to the nineteenth century. Party lines are rigid and determined by your group. Just look around SC. If voters are white, they’re overwhelmingly Republican; if black, Democrat. the picture is muddied a bit by cross-cutting identities (People in education are more likely to be Democrats, e.g.). But the only difference between this and the Jim Crow South is that blacks are actually allowed to vote, and the white party used to be the party of Lincoln. There is, of course, yuuge overlap between white SCans and the evangelicals WW is concerned about; but the overwhelming evangelical support for Trump can’t be explained by his faithfulness to evangelical doctrine; it’s ethnocultural (or, to put a nastier spin on it, tribal. As Wilkinson points out, Brooks’s allegiance to the old conservative line that it’s mass anomie that leads to the Trumps of the world is just a hoary cliche. Brooks just doesn’t understand the country, and is flailing about for an explanation drawn not from empirical observation but conservative intellectual concepts that just don’t work.

    1. bud

      Brooks just doesn’t understand the country, and is flailing about for an explanation drawn not from empirical observation but conservative intellectual concepts that just don’t work.

      David I think you’ve stumbled onto an explanation of why Brad regards Brooks in such high esteem. Both recoil at the notion that empirical observation is a useful way to analyze issues. Instead it is best to trust your intuition and instinct.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      See, now, I read what Brooks was saying differently from the way Wilkinson did.

      I read it not as “conservative intellectual concepts” (which Wilkinson, feeling the liberal imperative, is obliged to tear down), but through a communitarian filter. I see Brooks that way, and consequently am drawn to his musings in ways that I wouldn’t expect Bud, or others who use a left-right filter, to see.

      I think what he’s saying is that the breakdown of communities with shared assumptions leads people to cling to a political identity in a way that could be termed idolatry.

      Not only do we not live in communities — and by “communities,” I mean pluralistic, diverse communities of people who have a shared life —
      with shared standards and values. It’s worse than that. We no longer have shared FACTS.

      This is largely because of the way new media — as much as I enjoy them, particularly Twitter — tend to pull us apart, causing each of us to live in a cocoon in which we are fed (by various algorithms) only information that affirms our own inclinations and prejudices.

      No long ago, we had a few, shared information sources — curated information sources, sifted by professionals (like myself) so that only things that met tests of accuracy went to press or on the air. People had different opinions based on those facts, but the facts were the facts. And everyone was working off the same SET of facts.

      That is no longer the case, as we see all around us. So people, having the urge for community of some kind, take advantage of another convenience of interactive media — the ability to form communities with other people who embrace the same facts they do.

      And to me, that’s what the column is about.

      The “idolatry” part reminds me of something from 35 years ago: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on nuclear weapons, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” At the time, I was part of a delegation sent from my parish to a workshop in Memphis in which we studied the document. I don’t recall whether this was in the original letter or the study materials, but one thing has stuck in mind more than anything else. It was the idea that Americans were making idols of nuclear weapons. They were putting the trust that they should only place in God in these Doomsday devices with names from pagan mythology — names like Titan and Atlas and Poseidon.

      These were the things that were going to save us — or lead to a Götterdämmerung.

      I think back to that proposition sometimes when I see the trust some folks place in firearms. And I was reminded of it in reading the Brooks piece…

      1. Doug Ross

        “sifted by professionals (like myself) ”

        Sifted through a sieve of your own personal opinions and biases… each distribution point of the “facts” picks and chooses what to highlight. Now we just have more outlets.

      2. bud

        I think what he’s saying is that the breakdown of communities with shared assumptions leads people to cling to a political identity in a way that could be termed idolatry.

        Brooks can SAY anything he wants. But saying doesn’t mean he has any kind of legitimate point. We’ve never had these “shared assumptions”. This is an example of a weasel term that is so very off putting to me. We all make different assumptions and always have. And that’s fine. Let’s not try to pretend our political discourse was somehow based on values that have been destroyed by social media that has infected left and right EQUALLY. I would maintain that my left-right filter is really just an observation that the right has become an alt-right movement that has no shame and does not see facts as facts. Trump is a manifestation of that shift. The left is pretty much where it’s always been.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “We’ve never had these ‘shared assumptions’.”

          Yes, we have. But the biggest problem is that we don’t even have shared facts anymore, as I explained.

          Oh, and thanks for calling me a “weasel.”

  7. Doug Ross

    In the absence of anywhere better to put this, I’ll pass along this first person account from Donna Brazile about her time as the head of the Democratic Party last year. She basically admits the primaries were rigged for Bernie and uses the term “unethical” to describe the actions of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, This is classic “throw everyone under the bus”.

    Anyone who can read this and still support Hillary is beyond hope.

    1. Doug Ross

      Some short quotes from Brazile:

      “Debbie was not a good manager.”
      “The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary’s campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.”
      “If I didn’t know about this, I assumed that none of the other officers knew about it, either. That was just Debbie’s way. In my experience she didn’t come to the officers of the DNC for advice and counsel. She seemed to make decisions on her own and let us know at the last minute what she had decided, as she had done when she told us about the hacking only minutes before the Washington Post broke the news.”

      “Under FEC law, an individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 directly to a presidential campaign. But the limits are much higher for contributions to state parties and a party’s national committee.

      Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the thirty-two states’ parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn.
      “Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”
      Gary said the campaign had to do it or the party would collapse.”

      So much to process — I hope Brad doesn’t get bored since it talks about money.

      1. Doug Ross

        “Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment? I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials.”

        Democrats – you could have had Bernie in the White House today had you not fallen victim to the Hillary Machine. Single payer would have been ON THE TABLE TODAY.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Just not a guy who gives a damn about the rest of the world, period. I know that you (and Bernie) think only “war hawks” care about our relations with the rest of the world, but you’re wrong.

              Remember how upset Bernie got when debate organizers decided they should shift the emphasis in a debate to international affairs after the terror attacks in Paris? He does NOT want to talk or think about such things.

              Even though he’s not a Democrat, he’s an extreme example of a problem in the Democratic Party in recent decades: They think the presidency is all about thinking up and advocating nifty domestic social programs….

              1. Doug Ross

                But he is competent and qualified? Two traits that you say distinguished Hillary over Trump.

                You can misstate my opinions on the United States relationship with the world all you want – just as with Trump you have to hyperbolize it. You translate “less” into “none”. You translate “end the useless war in Afghanistan” into “hates the military”. You translate “ask other nations in NATO to do their part” into “isloationism”. I want our role in the world to be less than it is now in favor of focusing on issues related to Americans first. I think Bernie is in the same boat.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “But he is competent and qualified? ”

                  No, and no, if you’re talking about Bernie. When have we ever seen Bernie be in charge of anything? He’s spent his political career off in his own little corner, muttering about the “billionayuhs” running everything…

                  And if you think I’m misrepresenting you, I’m sorry. I certainly don’t mean to. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like say “end the useless war in Afghanistan” means “hates the military.”

                  But I have, based on many things you’ve said, come to believe that you have a strong anti-military streak (like millions of others post-Vietnam). You often evince distaste for the role the military plays.

                  Am I wrong in picking that up from you?

                2. Doug Ross

                  I’m against the missions, not the military. That’s pretty easy to understand. The military is just following orders.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  All of the missions? Because if you oppose them all, you’re against the military existing. Unless you think we should spend all that money to no purpose…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No one with open eyes could say that “Hillary would have been great for this country.”

          It would have been gut-wrenching having her in the White House, and a Republican Congress at war with her from Day One. She was the second-most hated politician in America (Trump being the first). The partisan bitterness would have been way, WAY worse than the Bush and Obama years.

          The only thing that could possibly be worse than that was the alternative, and that’s what we have now.

          We found ourselves in a horrible situation with her as the only sane, qualified person standing between us and the lunatic. But that’s what she was — the only alternative we had to this utter fiasco.

          Had she won, the political atmosphere in this country would have been poisonous, extremely unpleasant, and I’d have been among the people very unhappy about it — but at least we’d have a competent person in the White House…

          1. Doug Ross

            Competent and unethical. That’s not a better option.

            I’ll take Trump day by day over Hillary. The new tax plan looks good to me and benefits everyone while making it a little more simple for the average person to file his taxes. Some folks won’t like the caps on state tax deductions but my thought on that is why should you get a tax break at the federal level for choosing to live in a state with higher income and property taxes? It means those who live in no-tax or low-tax states subsidize at a federal level those who live there. I’d eliminate that deduction (and mortgage interest too).

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “I’ll take Trump day by day over Hillary.”

              That’s why we can’t agree on anything. Anyone who could possibly take Trump over ANY qualified, competent politician — whether Hillary or Kasich or Jeb or Rubio or Biden or take your pick — is never going to be able to connect with anything I have to say on national and international affairs.

              Acknowledging Trump’s complete unfitness for office is sort of a prerequisite to a meaningful conversation. And once we agree on that, we can talk about which qualified person we prefer. My choice, last year, was Kasich. If Joe had run, it might have been Biden…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                … but what we ended up with was the second-worst candidate the Democrats could have put up.

                The worst, of course, by a long shot, would have been Bernie.

                There’s an interesting thing going on here…

                People act like it’s awful that the Clinton campaign did everything it could to get the party to nominate her and not Sanders.

                But personally, I think it’s awful that the Democratic Party in SC was unable to prevent Alvin Greene from becoming its nominee for the U.S. Senate.

                I also think it’s awful that there was no one in the GOP able to stand up and keep Trump from becoming their nominee.

                If parties can’t make sure that marginal, extreme people don’t capture their banners, then parties are of no use to anyone, period…

                1. Doug Ross

                  “People act like it’s awful that the Clinton campaign did everything it could to get the party to nominate her and not Sanders.”

                  You like to rationalize a lot of bad behavior to support your opinions. I suppose Enron was just trying to make some money.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Did you not read the rest of what I said?

                  What’s a party for if not to produce qualified candidates who reflect the party’s mainstream thought and can go out and have wide-enough appeal to win elections?

                  I can argue it the other way, up to a point: I can say, what did all those critics want to Carol Fowler to do about Alvin Greene? Forbid him to run? That doesn’t seem appropriate. But if you’re going to have a party, you need to do what you can, within reason, to ensure that the person who best reflects the party (and puts it in a better position to win) is the one who gets the nomination.

                  Our society has become obsessed with direct democracy (shudder) and populism. But when parties had a purpose, that was for the party leadership to decide who’s going to get the nomination. That’s scandalous now, but basically we abandoned the one useful function of parties when we pulled the decision-making out of the smoke-filled rooms.

                  I’ve referred to this before, and I wish I could find the original column, but…

                  Wait! I found it! Or at least, I found another column in which David Broder tells the same story:

                  Years ago, Milton Rakove wrote a wonderful book about the Chicago Democratic machine called, “We Don`t Want Nobody That Nobody Sent.“ The title came from the rebuff a ward boss gave a young man who showed up offering to work in a Chicago campaign without a letter of recommendation from his precinct captain. It captured the essence of a closed political system, in which you had to be vouched for even to get your foot in the door.

                  When Ehrenhalt asks, “Who sent these candidates we see nowadays?“ the answer is obviously that they nominated themselves for the honor of running. That`s true of every single one of the men now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Every one of them is in the race primarily because of his own ambition.

                  None represents a cause or constituency. None has an issue or a faction he can call his own. Each is a self-propelled political missile.

                  At the time, Broder was talking about the uppity candidates who were offering themselves for the presidency in 1992.

                  But the ultimate candidate that nobody sent — who sent himself because NO ONE with any sense would have asked him to run — is of course Donald Trump.

                  And for that matter, Bernie Sanders — a guy that NO party luminary would have asked to run, because among other things he wasn’t even a Democrat.

                  When I first read that, I disagreed with Broder’s premise that we needed stronger parties like in the old days. But he did have a point that at least back then, parties served a purpose

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  This is all raving nonsense to Doug, who rejects experience and qualifications, and cheers the Ayn Randian hero who decides himself, owing nothing to anyone, that HE should be the one to lead us.

                  But that way lies fascism and other forms of extremism…

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I liked the ending of that Broder column, too:

                  Ambition already plays too large a part in our unstructured politics. Without political parties or any other institutions to ask, “Who sent you?“, credentials disappear as a criterion for political success. And government, as Ehrenhalt shows, often suffers the consequences.

                5. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oh, and in case I didn’t make it clear, in response to “You like to rationalize a lot of bad behavior to support your opinions.”

                  … I don’t think a party leader trying to see that the party nominates the best candidate is necessarily “bad behavior.” Again, that’s the point of being a party leader…

                6. Doug Ross

                  More hyperbole. I would have voted for Romney and Sanders. Two completely un Randian candidates. I don’t vote for liars.

                7. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Whom would you call Randian? I’m not sure there’s been anyone in our politics lately that perfectly fits the John Galt model.

                  My point is that I think you would gravitate to someone who decides on his own to go for it, whether a party or anyone else wants him to or not…

                8. Doug Ross

                  Rand Paul naturally would be the most Randian politician (or his father).

                  Anyway, although I find many things I can agree with in the underlying philosophy of Rand’s two major works (Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead), that doesn’t mean I’m in the cult. She was an atheist. I’m not. That alone would be enough to break any connection to her.

  8. Bart

    For all who disagree with Brooks, read the article again and understand he is talking about “politics” becoming an idol, not necessarily any one particular politician. But to be fair, I have observed that when it comes to certain politicians, they do become idols. Obama and Reagan are perfect examples. Reagan conservatives idolized him and still do and Obama liberals give him the same tribute. If they could have been contestants on “American Idol” during their peak, no one would have come close to their vote count.

    I have met people who idolize Hillary Clinton and can see nothing negative about her, same with Trump. So yes, Brooks is more right than wrong, too many Americans do idolize politics and by fiat, certain members of the political party or political ideology they worship.

    Brooks only observed what most are blind to in our current heated political atmosphere. When anyone, Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian believes only their political party is right and the other is wrong is guilty of idol worship. Deny all you want but the truth is the truth. One member of the blog community truly believes only Democrats have the answer to everything and Republicans are the perfect example of evil incarnate. Once that belief is ingrained and resistant to anyone or anything outside the Democrat party, the person is worshiping at the Democrat altar. The conclusion is backed up based on the history of posted comments by the member.

    Look at the celebrity worship so prevalent in our society and tell me idol worship is not real and pervasive. Consider the Kardashian’s and what have they contributed to the improvement of our society? Yet, they are followed by millions who hang onto their every minute move or word. Consider the almost cult-like devotion to one’s alma mater and the sports team, football or basketball. How many will spend money they cannot afford to spend just to go sit in a crowded stadium in any weather conditions and watch the team play whether they are good or not?

    In closing, I agree with Brooks, politics has become an idol to all too many Americans.

  9. Doug Ross

    This should make Brad’s day:

    The one thing I like about President Trump, he understands that we’re in a religious war,” Graham told Fox News, adding, “here’s what I like about President Trump – the gloves are off.”

    Graham went on to say Trump “is right to make sure when somebody comes into the country from a place where radical Islam flourishes … we’re going to ask extra hard questions.”

      1. bud

        That ship sailed about 2 decades ago. Lindsey is not quite as awful as Trump but apparently they’re having a bit of a bromance.

    1. Doug Ross

      What a Yankee?

      I’ve spent most of my adult life in South Carolina. 27 years here. By choice. But I’ve also spent more than three months working in a dozen states in that time. Every corner of the country.. East, West, North, and South.

  10. Doug Ross

    Andrew Sullivan on the state of the Democratic Party in 2017.. he’s a Trump hater but has the right take on Democrats.. this is at the end of an analysis of the Virginia governor’s race where the Democrat has lost his double digit lead to Ed Gillespie:

    “I can only hope it’s a wake-up call to the Dems. In 2017, they are either useless or actively counterproductive in the struggle to resist right-authoritarianism. They have learned nothing from 2016. Their intelligentsia seems determined to ensure that no midwestern whites ever vote for the party again. Their public faces are still Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. They still believe that something other than electoral politics — the courts, the press, the special counsel — will propel them back to power. They can’t seem to grasp the nettle of left-populism. And they remain obsessed with a Russia scandal that most swing voters don’t give a damn about. They think they are “woke.” They are, in fact, in a political coma.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Andrew Sullivan! Haven’t heard from him in awhile.

      And he’s completely right. Reminds me of a piece by Ross Douthat that I meant to write about last week. I might go back and dredge that up…


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