MARCH 22TH, 2018 | by Dylan James Harper

David Brooks needs no introduction. His whiney fretting over college students using scary no-no words like “appropriation” or “equality” has been a mainstay at the New York times in what feels long enough to warrant suspicion that Brooks is the universe’s most boring immortal.


Usually, as I am one to do, when someone forwards me one of his articles, I save myself from reading through his insufferable attempt at writing to an audience he clearly detests and just respond to whatever points he’s making that he transparently signals with his horrific headlines that I’m sure he blames on the editors.

Brooks latest masterwork in shrill, ideological hollowness, which above all else asks the question of how one could conceivably use a digital article as college-football-outhouse toilet paper, is so bafflingly wrong in virtually every point it makes that it’s coerced me into taking precious time out of busy schedule of playing Overwatch and complaining about losing at Overwatch to go line by line and vent my ceaseless rage.

Brooks starts, as he’s one to do, by offering up what he must have thought was a pithy observation about the narratives around election cycles.

Every election cycle we say that so and so is fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party, or the soul of the Republican Party. And, of course, most of the time it’s not true.


Fascinating stuff Dave. Do you have a word minimum you have to hit?


Most of the time the fight is over whether the party in question should go to the left or the right on some policy issue, which is important but not really a matter of a party’s soul.


I said the phrase ideological hollowness at the top and this is what I’m talking about. What the fuck is a political “party’s soul” if not its core positions on policy issues? This is like Pittsburgh Steeler fans who, despite having a team built entirely around a passing game, still think that the franchise’s “soul” is about stout defense and a strong running game. A football franchise is a collection of players and staff. It has no soul beyond that, and neither does a political party. The Democrats and Republicans in particular stand for literally nothing other than their positions on policies. They’re names are so meaningless however that both parties have gone through multiple ideological shifts so dramatic that people often describe them as “switching platforms” at one point.

Brooks is clinging to a hollow idea here that some how being a Democrat or being a Republican means something. It does not. The parties are nothing more than a filter to allocate funding and political resources to various candidates with virtually no accountability as to what positions they actually hold. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat serving in the senate from Missouri, has voted with Trump in nearly half the opportunities she’s had to; yet she will undoubtedly receive the party’s full support over her lone left leaning challenger, Angelica Earl. Why? Because the Democrats, as laughably as this may sound, are about one thing and one thing only: winning. They aren’t good at winning, but that’s their bottom line. They have no other core belief. They have no soul.

But this year it actually is true.


I’m convinced that David is actually cribbing from essays leftover from some eighth grade English class.

The crucial issue of this election cycle is whether the Democratic Party will retain its soul — remain an institution committed to the basic democratic norms — respect for truth, personal integrity, the capacity for deliberation and compromise, loyalty to nation above party or tribe.


THIS IS ALL MEANINGLESS. You couldn’t come up with a list of vaguer terms if you were Steve Carrell’s character in The 40 Year Old Virgin trying to describe sex that he’s never had. You know how we all know this is empty garbage? Because you could ask literally every single person that is now or will ever run for political office if this list describes them and they would say yes. Everyone will say they are for democratic norms, truth, integrity, and loyalty. I will give him compromise though, if the Democrats have any soul at all, compromise is a part of it (if by compromise you mean completely caving in at every opportunity and asking nothing in return).


These fundamental issues are on the table because Donald Trump put them there.


I loath when people compare Trump to Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is truly a piece of shit, but it’s such an obvious derailment to compare him to Trump. The only thing more embarrassing is the liberals that some how keep falling for it and defend Bill instead of just hand waving the issue away because who gives a shit about Bill Clinton? All that said, it’s hard to find a legitimate way of looking at David’s list of vague ideals that Trump somehow is challenging not think Clinton basically did the same thing. I mean, sure, Clinton nearly got run out of town for violating the imagined sanctity of the office of the president, while Trump is definitely going to finish his term, but still, it seems pretty ahistorical to claim that Trump is somehow the first president who lied, or lacked integrity, or loyalty, or anything else poached from some Tony Robbins motel conference room wanna be list of attributes.


Trump is a revolutionary figure not because he changed the G.O.P.’s position on trade or international engagement. He’s morally revolutionary.


He’s definitely not. Again, I hate when people are like “well actually so and so president did this bad thing too” because who the hell cares, but we’ve had multiple presidents personally kill people. It sounds quaint now, but Nixon’s actions against political opponents hardly represented any sort of moral vision that Brooks would likely cling to.


In the decades before Trump, the Republican Party stood for an idea:



character before policy.

I certainly do agree with the statement that Republicans don’t care about policy, but what fucking character? John Kerry, boring and useless as he is, was basically everything republicans crave from a character standpoint and easily lost to a draft dodger. Republicans don’t give a shit about character, and never have.

To Mitt Romney, John McCain,


Neither of whom were president. If we’re not just talking about presidents here take eight seconds and Google “republican arrest” and behold the party that prioritizes character over policy.

the Bushes and Ronald Reagan, personal character and moral integrity were paramount.

Isn’t Reagan the guy who, when illegally given Jimmy Carter’s debate prep materials, kept them and used them? I mean, there are probably better examples of his immoral character, like Iran Contra or his lack of response to HIV or his economic policies leading to the deaths of untold millions, but those are policies, which David clearly thinks are somehow different than character. For the record, Gore also illegally received Bush’s debate prep material and, like a coward, called the FBI and turned it in, refusing to use it. Would have been nice to get a jump start on dealing with climate change with that win, but thanks for the integrity Al.

They stood for the idea that you can’t be a good leader or a good nation unless you are a good person and a good people.


Too bad no Republican in modern history apply that logic to other nations, given the laundry list of horrendous people the United States has forcibly placed in a leadership role for other countries. I mean, they don’t apply that anywhere outside of David’s imagination, but the point still stands.


Trump asked the G.O.P. to reverse those priorities. He asked the Republican Party to accept the proposition that it doesn’t matter if your leader is a liar, a philanderer and a narcissist.




It doesn’t matter if he is cruel to the weak and bigoted toward the outsider.

The republicans spent this millennium creating ICE, enforcing the war on drugs, bombing multiple countries into submission, applying then defending torture, opposing even the most basic civil liberties like same-sex marriage, and have targeted people of color, women (especially single moms), and the poor with virtually every disenfranchisement policy they could think of. In what fucking world are none of those things being “cruel to the weak?” Only in an imaginary, fantasy world where what you think power should be used for and your outward friendliness are two distinct things is this the case. This is literally the guy from that old Tumblr post that’s nice to the date he wants to have sex with, but screams at the waiter for taking too long to deliver his water.

What David really means here is that he got to live in a world where, despite holding views that when applied would or did lead to the literal and incidental torture and murder of millions, he could just be polite and personable and people would like him. Now that Trump is making the GOP’s outside match their inside, he has to endure the consequences of that in his personal life. He has to explain away how he could support horrendous policies also supported and endorsed by a man who admitted to sexual assault on tape, tried to pay a porn star hush money but was too lazy to sign the contract, and is just generally uncouth.  That’s what David and everyone like him (so the entire New York Times editorial section) loath so much. Not Trump’s policies, which mirror the policies of the GOP, but the fact that they have no friendly face to put on them.

What matters, when you’re in a deathmatch in which the survival of your nation and culture is at stake, is having a bastard in charge who understands and is tough enough to win.

If only there was some sort of system where republicans could choose who represents them. Some sort of way where they could choose what member of the party they think is best fit to lead. That way we would know for sure what kind of person the republicans think embodies what they want politically. Oh well.

The central Republican bet is that Trump’s moral nature won’t matter. You can be a bad person and have a successful presidency. You can have a good nation without good moral norms. Trump asked for the party’s soul, and he got it. That was the story of 2016 and 2017.

The bet is that people will assign all the damage Trump does to Trump the man because of the person he is rather than the republican party, who supports and endorses all of it. Also that the democrats are inept and will lose (and that is a bet they will win).

The question of 2018 is whether the Democrats will follow suit.

How? Not to bring up Bill Clinton, but do the Democrats have a single person who could realistically run for office who has a personality as detestable as Trump’s?

The temptation will be strong. In any conflict the tendency is to become the mirror image of your opponent.

Which is why Trump and Obama have such similar personalities.

And the Democrats are just as capable of tribalism as the Republicans, just as capable of dividing the world in self-righteous Manichaean binaries: us enlightened few against those racist many; us modern citizens against those backward gun-toting troglodytes. Listen to how Hillary Clinton spoke in Mumbai last weekend.

No they literally aren’t. That’s why they lost. That’s why they will continue to lose. The left, not just the democrats but anyone who considers themselves left of center to any degree, needs to be spoon-fed the perfect candidate and situation to do anything. Bernie lost.

There’ll be a tendency this year to nationalize each of the congressional races, to focus on Trump and not the country’s actual problems, to push the tribal hot buttons that excite the passionate Resistance in the great culture war.


Remember that clip that circulated for awhile during the election of W. Bush’s response to 9/11, where he says sorta nice things about the international Muslim community before murdering several Muslim children for the rest of his presidency? That’s what David wants. He wants a nice, friendly looking white dude who will say all the right things while also sticking with the same foreign and domestic policy positions that the republicans have been endorsing for years.

And yet Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania this week gives at least a glimmer of hope that the Democrats may go the other way.

Conor Lamb is a pretty tepid guy. He doesn’t seem to believe anything all that interesting. He pays some lip service to student debt and healthcare (falling short of endorsing the growing medicare for all push), but it’s mostly vagaries. He hasn’t actually done anything honestly.

Lamb is a military veteran. I’ve met several vets running in both parties this year, and they all put nation ahead of party.

Lol sure Dave. Trump is bad because he’s a draft dodger who doesn’t put his nation before his party. John McCain, who is a veteran, puts his nation before his party by voting with Trump over 80% of the time?

In an era where the very preservation of our democratic structures is under threat from tribalism, that is the most important issue.

Tribalism is the cute buzzword that people with little to know ideology love to throw around when people disagree with them. It’s never properly defined because it basically has no definition beyond “people hold me accountable for the views I hold.”


That’s all this faux concern about tribalism really is, it’s a desire to go back to a time when one could support policy that harms women, people of color, the queer community, the poor, and and of course support a war mongering foreign policy, but still be accepted in polite society.


If the GOP abandons all efforts to mask those policies under a thin veil of politeness, people like Brooks can’t go to a dinner party with their forward thinking friends without being held accountable for their harmful policy positions any more than one could wear a Make America Great Again hat without being viewed as endorsing all that Trump represents.

He emerges from a serious moral tradition. He is a Catholic who attended a parochial school run by the Christian Brothers. “They really make an effort to go out and be with people on the margins,” he told The New Yorker’s Eliza Griswold.

They be with people on the margins. They don’t vote for them, or for policies that would move them off the margins. They’re just “with” them.

He campaigned in a way designed to bridge divisions, not exacerbate them. “There was a lot of foolishness in this election and a lot of really cartoonish campaigning,” he told reporters. “And I think by the time of the president’s visit last weekend, people were kind of tired of that entire approach.”

Lamb literally campaigned around the idea of working together with republicans to get the job done, citing his time in the Marine Core as evidence of his ability to bridge divisions. The same republicans who keep endorsing all of Trump’s policy ideas and pushing them through somehow should be supported because that would bridge divisions.

He embraced issues that grabbed from each political persuasion, for universal health care, against the tax cuts, but also for fracking, against the assault weapons ban, skeptical of the $15 minimum wage. He opposed both Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan in congressional leadership races.

Cure divisions by keeping poor people poor.

Now it’s obvious that you would run to the center as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district.

Oh is it? Because Brooks is treating it like it’s new or interesting and not something that has been going on literally all throughout history.

But it’s not obvious that you would keep your integrity in such a tight campaign.


How did he keep his integrity in a way that’s unique or interesting? What I think Dave means here is that he’s not outwardly racist but also doesn’t call anyone racist. That’s the American way.


It’s not obvious that you would put real but unsexy issues like opioids first, above the cable TV symbolic ones.


What? Seriously? Has David watched a single second of cable news the last few years? Or even read the publication he writes for? Jan Hoffman wrote about the Opioid Crisis less than two weeks before Brooks’ article was released. It’s very much a nationally discussed issue.


It’s not obvious that you would be restrained by democratic norms, when the president comes into your district and shreds them.


Lamb ran an ad specifically targeting Paul Ryan by name.


Moral character is always the same essential things. Putting a higher love, like nation, over a lower love, like party. Going against yourself — feeling that urge to lash out with the low angry insult, and instead rising upward with the loving and understanding response.


When they go low, we go high. A strategy that always works and never once failed in the most embarrassing way possible.


Conor Lamb is wrong on a bunch of stuff,


Is he? How could he be? He allegedly puts nation over party, district over headlines, and is filled with that veteran integrity. How could he possibly be wrong on anything?


but he is a breath of fresh air for this country.

I can’t wait until the first time he votes with Trump and David explains that this is actually good because you have to sometimes vote with people that don’t put nation over party because that’s true integrity. ​


This year, restoring character and shared moral norms matters most. Policy is secondary.


Policy is secondary. I can’t think of a better summation for someone so untouched by reality who has somehow found themselves in a position to talk about politics on a national stage.

Policy is everything, you absolute fucking moron. Policy is what gets people killed. David Brooks’ dream is for a world where he can politely turn a blind eye to every instance of injustice, cruelty, and harm being done in the world because those inflicting it are polite and personable. Brooks’ dream is to not have to care or think about police murdering members of the black community, or US drone strikes killing children, or trans individuals murdered for using the wrong bathroom, or some single mom orphaning her kids because she died getting a back alley abortion, and all that’s really hard to do when someone like Trump speaks in a way that’s representative of the policy he and his party supports.

Trump has brought about a new golden age of transparency to the office of Presidency, in that he literally is incapable of not just spewing out every single thought like a Fox News grandpa at Thanksgiving. Brooks wants to some how bottle back up the revelation that everyone seems to have had in 2016 that maybe it’s impossible to support harmful policy while not being a harmful person. He’ll never achieve this, it’s out now, but we’re all going to have to suffer for the next several years while he tries to convince everyone around him that the dead child isn’t his fault, he just voted for the guy with the gun.

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