Sunday, October 23, 2016

Response to David Brooks. New York Times.

In his recent opinion piece in the New York Times, The Governing Cancer of Our Times, David Brooks attempts to define American politics and present “anti-politics” as the inexcusable motivations of Trump voters.

Brooks first offers this definition, “Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.” In other words, Brooks defines our politics as being about legitimate compromise.

Bernard Crick is the first authority Brooks uses to bolster his defining premise. Crick was a Democratic Socialist who was born in London and passed away in 2008 at the age of 79. He was a political theorist and an acknowledged intellectual elite. Brooks mentions Crick’s book, “In Defense of Politics” that was first introduced in 1962 and subsequently placed on the reading lists in many universities. Crick also offered a definition of Politics, saying, “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

The 1828 Webster's dictionary disagrees and explains that politics is “The science of government; that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; comprehending the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.”

The current edition of Miriam Webster defines Politics as activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government.

One of the first people to define the word as we use it today was Aristotle. He essentially said that politics is an imprecise science that is more of a craft - a craft of noble actions rather than of production or words.

What all this means is that politics has long been defined and understood. What Brooks described wasn’t the accepted meaning of American politics. Instead, Brooks defined little more than a negotiation, which is often an element in politics but not the defining principle.

Aristotle also understood something that is often forgotten but is vital to effective politics. He believed politics presupposes an acknowledgment of human nature. It is this important point that David Brooks overlooks.  

Brooks believes it’s crucial to learn about people’s differences, saying that it's "an endless conversation where we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point." That's an effective idea in negotiations, but when it is applied to politics, it creates a schism. Politics is most successful at crafting a cohesive society when it appeals to our common ground rather than our differences. All people, no matter their language, ethnicity or culture are subject to their own human nature. It is our beautiful, ugly human nature that all Peoples share. It’s our common ground. We all get angry. We all understand a new mother’s soft smile. 

Like it or not, human nature exists... and it cannot be legislated. Only the fruits of human nature can be legislated. In other words, one cannot make a law saying it’s illegal to be angry but injuring or hurting other people or property does fall under the province of politics. Under classic Aristotelian thinking, Politics seems to be the system where the good of our human nature seeks to protect us from the bad of our human nature.

In the context of our inescapable human nature, division happens when you focus on dividing factors rather than unifying factors. Almost every troubled marriage shows us this simplified lesson. The more a couple focuses on their partner’s differences, the more resentful they became. Instead, they seek common ground to help rescue their marriage. Further, as the mother of a disabled child, I can tell you that my son’s differences, though I understand them well, are neither how I define him nor how I relate to him.

Next, Brooks pens himself in the midst of a distasteful group who wants to elect inexperienced people. Outsiders. These people are dismissed as nothing more than anti-politics rabble. He goes on to describe these disgusting people in hostile ways using phrases that suggest these people trample customs and cling to victorious doctrines but have little to offer except incompetent dysfunction.

Here he proves his idea of politics is invalid because he doesn't see how his own human nature tripped him up. Brooks is clearly disgusted at the Trump Voters. So disgusted that while he goes about the business of insulting these people, he completely ignores his own political definition that would charge him to “learn about other people and see things from their vantage point.” Instead, he attempts to marginalize this group of people and delegitimize their ideas and opinions. David Brooks certainly doesn't "walk his talk." 

As one of those Trump Voters, I can adamantly state that seeking an outsider who is not a career politician does not equate to "anti-politics." Further, I can personally verify that Brooks has displayed no knowledge or understanding of my motivations in his article. None. His explanation is pure fiction.

Nonetheless, Brooks is on a mission to shame these “political narcissists,” so he presses on into the Dark Realm of Authoritarianism… by, ironically, presenting us with an authority.

Matthew MacWilliams, a political scientist, believes Trump supporters are authoritarians. He believes this because of their answers to four questions about parenting styles. Let that sink in. Only four questions on PARENTING are enough for David Brooks to label an entire group of people – people who think differently than he - as “Political Narcissists” and to hysterically declare “Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide.”

Interestingly, neither David Brooks nor Matthew MacWilliams trouble themselves to describe the striking difference of an Authoritative parent versus Authoritarian regime.

David Brooks also mentions 33 pages of insults curated by The Times as further evidence of Trump’s unsuitability. He forgets that 95% of the time, Trump is returning an attack. People that insult Trump can say anything with impunity. It’s an ugly mentality that seems to say, "Hey, it’s just fun to attack people we don’t like… and then revile that person for fighting back."

That's not appropriate nor is it healthy for society. The way forward is to seek our common ground. To celebrate that which unifies us. So, perhaps surprisingly, my conclusion is that David Brooks is right about one thing. The answer to all of this IS politics. I mean, of course, the classic Aristotelian definition of Politics. Something that speaks of the preservation of safety, peace and prosperity for ALL citizens, not Bernard Crick’s 50-year-old Socialistic brand of politics that have failed the people of every country in which it has been applied.


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