David Brooks’ “How America Got Mean” offers an ahistorical tale that obscures rather than illuminates – and provides fertile ground for a politics of reaction
Hello Thomas, have you read Steffen Mau et al. "Triggerpunkte"?
He's claiming, in short, there is no or less polarisation in Germany, but there is clearly polarisation in USA. He mostly argues with affective polarisation?
I think those arguements you made should be heard in Germany too
I’m getting sick of what’s called politics. It’s more watered-down Mumblety-peg. Watch out where the knife peg falls.
Excellent post. I’m reminded of Dr. King’s words about the “moderate” white American, “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice”, and thus is a greater obstacle to progress and civil rights than an extremist would be, as they allow extremism to be mainstreamed.
Very disappointing to see Chris Murphy fall for Brooks' claptrap, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Murphy is a centrist who believes that liberals need to "compromise" with the right (the same right that wants to murder liberals) by abandoning some of the principles upon which liberalism is founded, or as he put it, the "left" should accept “intra-movement friction on culture issues”. https://www.losangelesblade.com/2023/07/07/connecticut-senator-raises-eyebrows-with-culture-issues-tweet/
He has such a white male Christian gaze. Your work illuminates the flaws in this. Thank you!
This article is so well written. You answered every question that popped up in my head when reading the summery of Brooks’ 11000 word laziness.
One more point: My theory about Brooks is that he was a standard-issue apologist for Republicans up to and including the fiasco of the invasion of Iraq. After that, rather than apologize and admit that the left had been correct all along, he shifted from politics to armchair psychologizing and both-sides sociological "analysis." After all, if he acknowledged that the right has been terrible (and wrong) all along, what would become of his career? So we have this Sunday-sermon focus on "morals."
Great piece. Brooks could study the behavior of a certain group of men, and write how "...they seem incapable of finding meaningful employment; display a herd-like conformity in their dress; exist almost entirely in a world without women; cannot be troubled to make so much as a cup of coffee for themselves, let alone any of their own meals; and are content to do nothing all day except lift weights or engage in rudimentary outdoor exercise." You could read his entire essay on these Victims of Anomie without learning that the men in question are in prison.
I'm not a fan of his work because I don't like arguments that state an argument that has no point. Let's say everything he says is true. Ok so why are you telling this to the readers? Why is this important and relevant? I mean it's fine to write about observations in culture, op-ed type pieces, but it feels like in the beginning of his articles he's going to have a call to action or discuss why this is something the reader needs to "do something" and then leaves that part out. Like he has something more profound to say and then leaves the reader hanging.
There's a kernel of truth to what Brooks is saying, but a) it's got nothing to do with "moral formation" and more to do with the general decline of American communal institutions as a result of privatization of public spaces, white flight, and suburbia b) it's someone else's book (Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone")
I hate that guy. He never makes any good points. It's always, let me make some flimsy argument that pretends to be above the fray but inevitably supports conservative ends. Just like Douthat. Also, did he propose any solutions or was he just complaining?
David Brooks: sloppy, pedantic and dumb…typical NY Times
David Brooks regularly engaged in what I assume is unwitting self-parody, but self-parody nonetheless. He oozes an unearned & inauthentic sense of moral superiority, tsk-tsking actual victims of meanness while assuming the role of valiant defender of those who fully revel in craven, crass, cruel behaviors and language. He has lost whatever credibility & moral authority he may have once had. I don’t know how many deaths he has died to this point, but it ain’t but once.
Love this piece, in part because it touches on something that, as a non-American, I find fascinating: that penchant for idealized myth-making. Brooks is among a whole coteries of terrible awful pundits who fill the space with garbage. However, his claim to 'moral formation' is historically laughable for the many reason's Prof. Zimmer points out and those things are currently the very thing an entire party does not want discussed adding to the absurdity. Furthermore, how many recall he published a book called '“The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life”? This from a guy who left his wife for his 20 something research assistant. Spare us your musing on morality. The lack of self awareness is monumental. Brooks believes his own myth, that he's an important voice commenting on a nation's woes. He's not. Even that all aside, the lack of historical reflection on a nation also built on chattel slavery, racial abuse, and world leading crony capitalism is startling. He's entirely unserious when he laments about the lack of “institutions” that used to train people how to “restrain their selfishness,” and teach them “basic social and ethical skills,” while PragerU revisionism is being moved into schools. He doesn't want to talk about the structural problems that have been around for a long long time or why they have been wildly accelerated. He likes fables and he thinks he's Aesop, but they really serve the larger purpose of misdirection. 11,000 words of maudlin merda.
It’s so sad to me that they talk like this, like the civil rights era and equality is some kind of moral rot just because it doesn’t adhere to their version of Christianity. My moral center was entirely developed through reading Matthew in the Bible. Jesus as depicted there is nothing but compassionate to those who society mistreats, he was a radical thinker, the way he tells us to live is HARD and I don’t get it right a lot of the time. But the Brooks of the world never ever bother to see that some of us have a moral center - or don’t need religion to form one - and it is what drives us to want true equality.
Thanks for articulating why I couldn't even bring myself to read the Brooks article. Where does he place those guys who killed Emmet Till and the jury that found them not guilty? That was 1954, so right when they were all fully formed by all the moral-formation institutions available. Has he looked at the pictures of the mobs surrounding the Little Rock Nine? How nice were they?