David Brooks almost ruined my day this morning:
Don’t SAY that, David Brooks! https://t.co/ih1nvBd9aU
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) February 21, 2020
But then I read the column, and it was pretty good.
That’s because in setting out why he thinks this is so, he makes it clear why we must do all we can to keep the headline from coming true.
Let me see if I can excerpt enough of the argument without the Fair Use police coming after me (and I urge you to do what I do, and subscribe to the NYT — it’s worth it for the podcasts alone, not to mention the excellent op-ed stuff):
Successful presidential candidates are mythmakers. They don’t just tell a story. They tell a story that helps people make meaning out of the current moment; that divides people into heroes and villains; that names a central challenge and explains why they are the perfect person to meet it.
In 2016 Donald Trump told a successful myth: The coastal elites are greedy, stupid people who have mismanaged the country, undermined our values and changed the face of our society. This was not an original myth; it’s been around since at least the populist revolts of the 1890s. But it’s a powerful us vs. them worldview, which resonates with a lot of people.
Trump’s followers don’t merely believe that myth. They inhabit it. It shapes how they see the world, how they put people into this category or that category. Trump can get his facts wrong as long as he gets his myth right. He can commit a million scandals, but his followers don’t see them as long as they stay embedded within that myth.
Bernie Sanders is also telling a successful myth: The corporate and Wall Street elites are rapacious monsters who hoard the nation’s wealth and oppress working families. This is not an original myth, either. It’s been around since the class-conflict agitators of 1848. It is also a very compelling us vs. them worldview that resonates with a lot of people….
A couple of my interlocutors here tried to say earlier that in my support of Biden makes me the same as a Bernie Bros — other side of the same coin.
Nope. Bad use of a metaphor. The type who dwells in that plane, serving as the other side of the same thing, wears a MAGA hat. Biden is nowhere near that coin. Us-vs.-them is not his way. He doesn’t want to divide us; he wants to pull us all together — or at least give us all a hug. And let me stick up for the rest of the candidates on that score as well. Except for Elizabeth Warren, who essentially is pushing the Bernie myth, sans Bernie.
Why do more moderate, less divisive candidates struggle to get past Bernie? Because they “haven’t organized their worldview into a simple compelling myth.” With the emphasis on “simple.” Joe and Pete and Amy see nuance, and they don’t pretend otherwise. They want to lead us out of this morass of division, not further into it.
Brooks has been spending his time lately away from the rallies, observing actual people where they live, and he has seen people coming together to try to solve the problems they see in their communities. He sees people gathering, or trying to in the face of currents that pull us apart.
These gathering efforts are hampered by rippers at the national level who stoke rage and fear and tell friend/enemy stories. These efforts are hampered by men like Sanders and Trump who have never worked within a party or subordinated themselves to a team — men who are one trick ponies. All they do is stand on a podium and bellow….
And that must be defeated, wherever it crops up on the ideological spectrum.
This is yet another column where Brooks proves himself to be our most communitarian prominent public intellectual. And I believe as he does that the way forward involves pulling together around the things that unite us — whether they are our problems or our blessings.
The best political speeches try to do the same thing. See Bill Clinton’s 2012 convention speech, or … well, there was an Obama speech that I thought did many of the same things, and I’m having trouble finding it. But I appreciated that in that campaign, he offered us a clear choice between being pulled apart and coming together.
Those are the drummers we should listen to. And I’m for Joe because he marches to that beat.