Brooks is, of course, horrified at Trump and his supporters, whom he finds childish, thuggish and contemptuous of the things that David Brooks likes about today’s America. It’s clear that he’d like a social/political revolution that was more refined, better-mannered, more focused on the Constitution and, well, more bourgeois as opposed to in-your-face and working class.
The thing is, we had that movement. It was the Tea Party movement. Unlike Brooks, I actually ventured out to “intermingle” with Tea Partiers at various events that I covered for PJTV.com, contributing commentary to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner. As I reported from one event in Nashville, “Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry — and they are — but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause. A year ago (2009), many told me, they were depressed about the future of America. Watching television pundits talk about President Obama’s transformative plans for big government, they felt alone, isolated and helpless. That changed when protests, organized by bloggers, met Mr. Obama a year ago in Denver, Colo., Mesa, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash. Then came CNBC talker Rick Santelli’s famous on-air rant on Feb. 19, 2009, which gave the tea-party movement its name. Tea partiers are still angry at federal deficits, at Washington’s habit of rewarding failure with handouts and punishing success with taxes and regulation, and the general incompetence that has marked the first year of the Obama presidency. But they’re no longer depressed.”
One of the most famous things about the Tea Partiers was that — as befits a relentlessly bourgeois protest movement — they left things cleaner than they found them. Rich Lowry reported from Washington, DC: “Just as stunning as the tableaux of the massive throngs lining the reflecting pool were the images of the spotless grounds afterward. If someone had told attendees they were expected to mow the grass before they left, surely some of them would have hitched flatbed trailers to their vehicles for the trip to Washington and gladly brought mowers along with them. This was the revolt of the bourgeois, of the responsible, of the orderly, of people profoundly at peace with the traditional mores of American society. . . .
Yet the tea party movement was smeared as racist, denounced as fascist, harassed with impunity by the IRS and generally treated with contempt by the political establishment — and by pundits like Brooks, who declared “I’m not a fan of this movement.” After handing the GOP big legislative victories in 2010 and 2014, it was largely betrayed by the Republicans in Congress, who broke their promises to shrink government and block Obama’s initiatives.
So now we have Trump instead, who tells people to punch counterprotesters instead of picking up their trash.
When politeness and orderliness are met with contempt and betrayal, do not be surprised if the response is something less polite, and less orderly. Brooks closes his Trump column with Psalm 73, but a more appropriate verse is Hosea 8:7 “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Trump’s ascendance is a symptom of a colossal failure among America’s political leaders, of which Brooks’ mean-spirited insularity is only a tiny part. God help us all.
People who are unhappy with the things Trump is saying need to understand that he’s only getting so much traction because he’s filling a void. If the responsible people would talk about these issues, and take action, Trump wouldn’t take up so much space.Okay, I have to admit, so far it’s not looking great.
And there’s a lesson for our ruling class there: Calling Trump a fascist is a bit much (fascism, as Tom Wolfe once reported, is forever descending upon the United States, but somehow it always lands on Europe), but movements like fascism and communism get their start because the mechanisms of liberal democracy seem weak and ineffectual and dishonest. If you don’t want Trump — or, perhaps, some post-Trump figure who really is a fascist — to dominate things, you need to stop being weak and ineffectual and dishonest. . . .
Likewise, it’s a bit hard to take people seriously about Trump’s threat to civil liberties when President Obama was just endorsing an unconstitutional gun ban, when his attorney general was threatening to prosecute people for anti-Muslim speech (a threat later walked back, thankfully) and when universities and political leaders around the country are making clear their belief that free speech is obsolete.
Hearing that Yale professor Erika Christakis won’t be teaching at Yale because of the abuse she received over a respectful but non-PC email, former DNC chair Howard Dean tweeted: “Free speech is good. Respecting others is better.” To his credit, CNN’s Jake Tapper responded: “Of course only one of them is enshrined in the Constitution.”
But Twitter humorist IowaHawk had the last word: ”With the exception of POTUS, the Atty General, both leading presidential candidates, the media, and universities, Americans love free speech.”
If you wish to hold fascism, or even just Trumpism, at bay, then we need elites who are trustworthy, who can be counted on to protect the country, and who respect the Constitution even when it gets in the way of doing something they want to do. By failing to live up to these standards, they have chosen their “Destructor.” Let’s hope that they haven’t chosen ours, as well.