Saturday, April 30, 2016

David Brooks' Trump Crisis

David Brooks is so upset about Donald Trump's rise that he thinks we need to remake American in response:
We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. . . . what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. . . . The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST.
Has Brooks been unhinged by his divorce, or is he onto something? I go back and forth in my mind about this all the time. Are we in a moment of great crisis, as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz both seem to think, or is this a pretty decent time with no problems everyone doesn't have? This isn't Syria, or even Greece.

Is capitalist individualistic suburban life a workable system, or does it leave us lacking something crucial that our tribal, hunter-gatherer minds need – community, solidarity, danger, struggle – leading to an awful spiritual malaise?

The world economy is, I think, a machine so huge and complex that nobody understands it at all. So far it seems that a nation with enough hard-working, creative people can still thrive under a range of mixed systems, from half socialist to mostly capitalist. But why that is and what will happen as AI gets smarter and development evens out across the world seems to me anybody's guess.

A society of 300 million people is something even more complex and difficult to improve. Societies do change, but in unpredictable ways, and they always keep big baggage trains of junk from the past. Often the things we would most like to get rid of are the things that linger longest. How would you go about making a society more generous, or more friendly, or more trusting? How would you "change the definition of masculinity" – assuming we share one in the first place?

I think Brooks is asking for changes that can't be willed. I do agree with him, though, that electing Trump president would be a step in exactly the wrong direction


Dallas said...

Our model of masculinity is certainly long overdue for a thorough redefinition.

G. Verloren said...


"How would you go about making a society more generous, or more friendly, or more trusting? How would you "change the definition of masculinity" – assuming we share one in the first place?"

Simply put, if you want to promote certain values, you support the people who hold those values, and you incentivize those who do not to change.

This isn't the first time we've grappled with a national malaise. The Great Depression is probably a good model for comparison, and a great place to look to see how one can enact this sort of cultural change being discussed. It even grew out of similar conditions - inglorious overseas warfare, economic boom giving way to bust, and a general air of distrust in the system and in each other.

G. Verloren said...


Of course, probably the biggest hurdle to all these solutions is our highly polarized political system. But the answer there is ultimately straightforward, if in practice a bit difficult and thorny - reach across the aisle and try to make allies despite differences. This will come at a cost, and will necessitate compromise and even certain concessions. Pick your battles - give in somewhat on issues you can win back at a later date, in order to secure the support you need to accomplish goals you won't ever be able to manage alone. It's more important right now to bring the parties together to promote unity and jointly fix vital present concerns than it is to win battles for one's own cause at the expense of driving people further apart, both in congress and on the national scale.

G. Verloren said...

So I posed 3 comments, and the middle one got lost somehow. Then I posted a fourth comment about the middle one being lost, and now that's missing too.

Something is wrong with the comment system. This isn't the first time I've lost posts, but I always chalked it up to user error, clicking publish and closing the tab without making sure it went through, et cetera. But no, this proves posts are flat out disappearing somehow.

John said...

I agree that we could use a new definition of masculinity, but how does one go about creating such a change? Obviously not electing Trump would be a start, but after that?

Dallas said...

Right, so this begs the question, "What widely visible figure would be a good role model for the New Male?" I find this an extremely difficult question to answer, since most of the men I really admire scrupulously avoid the paths that end in visibility.

Random figures who came to mind (all problematic, in one way or another):

Harry Potter?
Steve Jobs?
Bill Murray?
Neil deGrasse Tyson? (maybe the most interesting of these)

Shadow said...

I've always felt role models you don't personally know are problematic. Public role models are two dimensional presentations, and you never know what's behind the glitter.

Dallas said...

Still, I think it's an interesting mental exercise. Tyson, who I do admire, would probably nominate his own mentor, Carl Sagan. And I would have a hard time arguing with that choice of a model.