An Intertextual Excoriation of David Brooks’ March 18 NYT Op-Ed: “No, Not Trump, Not Ever”

David Brooks’ recent Op-Ed is a flaccid and flailing attempt to denigrate democracy without denigrating democracy. The ghost of Eddie Bernays’ circular sophistry permeates this snoot-fest like a cheap uninterrogated suit. We recall Mr. Ed in one of his more breathtaking loopty-loops:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”–from Propaganda 

The impudence!

Brooks is no Lippmann. If this is the best they’ve got in the centennial run-up to Public Opinion, then NASCAR Nation might be in the driver’s seat, even in the battle of ideas. Scary much? My intertextualisms appear in italics.


The voters have spoken.

Well, they’re not voters yet, not in a formal Constitutional sense, simply participants in a primary process that both parties hold in barely concealed contempt. Premature confabulation.

In convincing fashion, Republican voters seem to be selecting Donald Trump as their nominee. And in a democracy, victory has legitimacy to it.

Seem to, yes. Passive construction conceals passive aggression. Short of a coronation or a coup, there is that legitimacy thing to it.

Voters are rarely wise but are usually sensible.

God love ’em, they try their best at wisdom. But Harvard can’t take everyone. Faint praise indeed, Mr. Brooks. As happens in financial markets, the crowd, almost mystically, equilibrates into an aggregated wisdom. See prediction markets and The Wisdom of Crowds.]

They understand their own problems.

There is an argument that engaged and perceptive journalism can articulate the problems of others. Hence, the erstwhile appeal of newspapers. That was before media became a thoroughly captured reflecting pool for its self-besotted owners. Then, again, there’s nothing like job loss to get your arms around job loss.

And so deference is generally paid to the candidate who wins.

More seething passivity. Generally, yes, we in America have a tradition of acceding to the electoral victor. Are we hinting at huffy coups again, Mr. Brooks?

And deference is being paid. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida is urging Republicans to coalesce around Trump. Pundits are coming out with their “What We Can Learn” commentaries. Those commentaries are built on a hidden respect for the outcome, that this is a rejection of a Republicanism that wasn’t working and it points in some better direction.

A hidden respect? Given that you’re pointing it out, can we drop the nefarious adjective?

The question is: Should deference be paid to this victor? Should we bow down to the judgment of these voters?

More huffy histrionics. In lieu of deference what would Mr. Brooks suggest? Four years of Ivy League civil disobedience? Bowing down? Jeez! What’s really ailing Brooks is that the potential victor is not an Eddie Bernays tautological placeholder. Now we’re really getting to the nub of the disdain. Democracy unassisted by elite-vetted choices is a dangerous step towards, well, democracy. “If he’s not our man, you can forget about us bowing down. Why the hell do you think we invented manufactured consent?”

Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.

Yes, naturally. How generous of Mr. Brooks to note that some real pain animates the phenomenon. This is about far more than a NASCAR rally gone bad. More and more thoughtful Trumpsters emerge from the shadows every day.

Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation.

The fear of hunger confounds consistency of expression. Some people lie down and die. Others throw bricks. Alienation? Job loss and shattered dreams warrant more than a bloodless Latinate. But then, Mr. Brooks is a good distance from the pain. Abstractions are the best pain reliever he has in his drawer. He’s already confessed to his utter incomprehension, so we probably shouldn’t rub it in.

We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

“Socially intermingled”? Eewww! “Must I really brush amongst the grubbies and sweaties to perform this job effectively? That’s hardly the nation my Latinates signed up for.” But wow, the unexamined naivete of the 1%. I thought Brooks KNEW he wasn’t accurately reporting on this nation. Such encompassing blindness wed to unquestioning entitlement truly frightens this intercontextualist.

And yet reality is reality.

Well, if you insist. And a horse is a horse.

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn.

Uh oh!  Here comes the epic jugular attack. Trump plans to ignore Brooks’ best bud cadre of advisors and policy analysts, you know, the same ones who swore he would never get this far in the first place; indeed the very ones whose deft handling of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine all but demands their continued expertise. Suddenly, and on behalf of his friends, Mr. Brooks is smelling…job loss. And when it hits your social circle, boys and girls, a Latinate will not do.

His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.

Hey, it was Dick Nixon’s office too! Besides, Trump has probably bought thousands of sofas over his career. Like many reasonable Americans, I defer to his sofa purchasing prowess.

Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.

Whoah, bub! Hillary Clinton is in our lifetimes. Need we recount your colleague, Bill Safire’s emblematic summation of Ms. Clinton’s congenital veracity issue?

This week, the Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked 4.6 hours of Trump speeches and press conferences. They found more than five dozen untrue statements, or one every five minutes.

When all else fails, hit ‘em with damned statistics and empirical rigamarolitis. Studies show four out of five dentists lie through their teeth.

“His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources,” they wrote.

He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12. He surrounds himself with sycophants. “You can always tell when the king is here,” Trump’s butler told Jason Horowitz in a recent Times profile. He brags incessantly about his alleged prowess, like how far he can hit a golf ball. “Do I hit it long? Is Trump strong?” he asks.

In some rare cases, political victors do not deserve our respect. George Wallace won elections, but to endorse those outcomes would be a moral failure.

How crucial frankly is your withheld respect to the functioning and outcome of the democratic process? Talk about unacknowledged narcissism, Mr. Brooks.

And so it is with Trump.

History is a long record of men like him temporarily rising, stretching back to biblical times. Psalm 73 describes them: “Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. … They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.”

And yet their success is fragile: “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed.”

The psalmist reminds us that the proper thing to do in the face of demagogy is to go the other way — to make an extra effort to put on decency, graciousness, patience and humility, to seek a purity of heart that is stable and everlasting.

A psalmic defense is the last bastion of a scoundrel and Ted Cruz is a scoundrel.

The Republicans who coalesce around Trump are making a political error. They are selling their integrity for a candidate who will probably lose. About 60 percent of Americans disapprove of him, and that number has been steady since he began his campaign.

Isn’t it a greater moral abdication to vote for someone on the basis of his prospects for victory? Comfort in numbers is a horrible substitute for e pluribus unum bottoms-upness. Are we not contributing our one vote to the greater good of a democratic outcome or are we attempting instead to lay bets on the bandwagon effect?

Worse, there are certain standards more important than one year’s election. There are certain codes that if you betray them, you suffer something much worse than a political defeat.

What are those betrayed codes exactly? The abandonment (or as some might argument, the resumption) of unmanufactured democracy?

Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship.

Zero-sum fallacy. An affront relative to whom? Which Joan of Arc do you have in mind, Mr. Brooks?

He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised.

Well, yes, we do share the atmosphere with our children. And our dogs. And our enemies. Gratuitous rhetoric.

He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible.

Unlike the Move-On road block that sought to facilitate freedom of assembly?

In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all.

No, Mr. Brooks. When 99% of the population is asked to make do with 50% of the nation’s wealth, that’s dog eat dog. Perhaps you fear joining the dog pound, Mr. Brooks.

As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.

And the 1% oligarchy is the culmination of all that our Founding Fathers sought? As for the promise of resumed gainful employment, where will the demagogic hijack of our wondrous experiment end??

Trump’s supporters deserve respect. They are left out of this economy.

Believe me, Mr. Brooks, they would gladly trade your respect for a job. Your overweening self-esteem precedes you yet again. As for respecting our vote, that’s a bridge too far for the Lippmann-Bernays-Brooks brigade to even contemplate.

But Trump himself? No, not Trump, not ever.

Mr. Brooks might have saved the Gray Lady some ink by beginning and ending things with this edict. But that’s probably not a good way to keep an Op-Ed job.

Norman Ball can be reached at Visit his blog Full-Spectum Domino to keep abreast. An excerpt of his latest book Between River and Rock: How I Resolved Television in Six Easy Payments is available at the Museum of American Poetics (MAP). He also has an eBook out on the impending currency reset Eye Am Eye Press, 2015. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Norman.