David Brooks: Rotting Down The Bones*


Seven years and several lifetimes ago, I raided the Elite Pundit's inner sanctum and vouchsafed to you, dear reader, the secrets of the temple I found therein.   Specifically. I explained in ten short rules exactly how to write a David Brooks column in a post I cleverly entitled "How To Write a David Brooks Column".   And since the final five rules were as follows --
6) Rinse and repeat. No matter what the subject, no matter how false or bizarre the equivalence, just rinse and repeat. Twice a week.

7) Every week.

8) Year.

9) After year.

10) After year.
-- I thought today would be an excellent opportunity to see how well the first five rules still hold up all these years later.

Rule 1:  Pick a subject. Any subject. From Tasseled Loafers to Torture, it literally does not matter.

Upswingers and Downswingers
The popular gloom notwithstanding, we’re actually living in an era of astounding progress...

Progress is real, but of course it doesn’t happen in a straight line. Often it happens in what Ruth DeFries calls the ratchet, hatchet, pivot, ratchet manner.
Rule 2:  Quote extensively from one person or group on the subject. It's OK to just more-or-less copy and paste in big hunks of what whatever-you-happen-to-be-reading-at-the-moment to flesh out your 800-word column. Here at the Times we call that "research"! (Note:  Mr. Brooks has slacked off the "quoting people" quite a lot stuff in recent years, often preferring to just make things up out of thin air based on his need for those things to exist to flesh out his Both Siderist column du jour):
During the mid-20th century the West developed a group-oriented culture to deal with the Great Depression and the World Wars. Its motto could have been “We’re in this together.
Rule 3:  Quote from some other person or group on the same subject who appears to hold a different opinion. If no actual opposition exists, just put on your Magic Green Jacket and invent an opposing opinion.
That became too conformist and stultifying. A new individualistic culture emerged (pivot) whose motto could have been “I’m free to be myself.” That was great for a time, but excessive individualism has left society too fragmented, isolated and divided (hatchet). Something new is needed.
Rule 4:   ...try to impute these fictional distinctions to the different hemispheres of the political Universe. So no matter how bigoted, reckless or just bugfuck crazy the Right behaves, you just go right ahead and blandly assert with no supporting evidence whatsoever that the Left is equally and oppositely bad in exactly the same qualities and quantities. Here at the Times we call that "seriousness"!  (Note: emphasis added)
Politics during the hatchet phase gets nasty. It tends to devolve into a fight between upswingers and downswingers. (I’m adapting the words from a deceased Iranian-American futurist who called himself FM-2030.) Upswingers believe in progress and feel that society is still fitfully moving upward. Downswingers have lost faith in progress and feel everything is broken.

Both right and left are dividing into upswinger and downswinger camps...

Among Republicans the upswingers embrace capitalist dynamism, global engagement and the open movement of people and ideas. The downswingers embrace ethnic and national cohesion and closed borders.

On the left it’s between those who believe the only realistic path is to reform existing structures and those who think they are so broken we need to start over.

The downswinger mind-set is similar across left and right. Because of the loss of faith in progress downswingers have a baseline mood of pessimism, protest and anger. They are marked by a deep social distrust and a bent toward conspiracy thinking. They disrespect codes of etiquette that traditionally regulate public life and crack down on opposing speech.

Politics gets nasty in these “hatchet” periods because downswingers have a tropism toward ethnic and identity politics...

Politics also gets nasty in these periods because personal grievance gets intermingled with social grievance...
Rule 5:  Discover in your final paragraph or two that -- amazingly! -- the precise midpoint between those two completely artificial positions on an imaginary spectrum just happens to be exactly the Right and Reasonable answer!
There are moments when society goes into decline. But there are many, many more transitional moments when some people just think society is in decline, when it’s really in a bumpy pivot. This is such a moment. It gets better.
In case you don't remember what was going on way back when I stole the Secret Formula to David Brooks' Success and shared it with the world, seven years and several lifetimes ago...

...the GOP was in full-tilt hysteria mode over the birth certificate of Barack Obama -- a "movement" which would become the racist rocket fuel powering the political rise of a crackpot New York real estate con man named Donald J. Trump...

...despite mountains of fact-checking, "Obama Death Panels Are Gonna Kill Your Sainted White Grandma" was still a thing because Republican voters are reprogrammable meatbags...

...New York Times' bold, new wingnut affirmative action hire and Emergency Backup David Brooks, Cardinal Ross Douthat, was boldly predicted a Return to Normalcy
A Return to Normalcy
The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grâce to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It’s hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner
This return to normalcy is good news for fans of bipartisan comity and centrism for centrism’s sake. And it might be good news for the country. In the end, some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice, and the productivity of this lame-duck December shows that cooperation between the two parties isn’t as impossible as it seemed just a few months ago...

...the unhinged racist ravings of Glenn Beck were a big thing...

...and mainstream media hacks and Republican collaborators were still giddily, knee-walking drunk on the delusion that the "Tea Party" was some brand new, grass-roots movement of previously-politically uninvolved Real Murricans, instead of the Koch-funded Republican rebranding scam that everyone on the Left knew it to be.

And seven years and several lifetimes ago I also wrote this ("The Persistence of Mediocrity"):

If he were just another local oaf, I wouldn't much care what he was up to, but by no virtue other than where he sits, Mr. Brooks falls into a very small category of multimedia bullshit force-multipliers, and so instead of just fouling his own nest, his words directly influence what a billion Chinese think of our country.

DFB casts a long and terrible shadow which deserves rebuttal.
And I have a strong, sad feeling that seven years from now, if I'm still behind this keyboard, I will be able to write exactly the same god damn thing.

* A reference to Natalie Goldberg's most excellent "Writing Down the Bones"