An American pundit reviewed from Sweden

Writer and columnist David Brooks is an archetypal pundit designed for mainstream media in (what we call) a free society. He masters the English language eloquently, has the right opinions on every issue and embeds the reader into a safe and coherent environment with his well chosen words. Everything with Brooks is what we over here call typically bourgeoisie.

Once I was susceptible for the soft confidence and protection from inconvenient truths that these kinds of texts offered. The few things I read before age 20 was of that sober character. Then came the 1960s and with it a flood of enlightened books and papers which opened my eyes to a world of new information and appalling truths about our own societies and the conditions for mankind. And once you have seen the reality in bright light you cannot make it unseen again.

Last month Brooks wrote a much read and linked column in NYT that raised some eyebrows here and there. It seemed as if he suddenly had experienced some light. Under the rubric The Moral Bucket List he described a number of virtues he obviously hoped to acquire before the end of his days. These virtues included things like humility, mature temperament, do good and be good, pursue empathetic understanding, defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception.

Among exemplary models he named Dorothy Day and Frances Perkins, two individuals that represent something completely contradictory to the republican ideology that Brooks normally is bathing in. Nevertheless his last sentence reads: “Those are the people we want to be.”

The Readers Comments in NYT were more at the point than the column itself. The most recommended comment (>2500) just listed a number of policy issues that the author thought Brooks should confront to reach the higher moral level he obviously craved:

Speak out against the nasty right, the tea party conservatives, the chicken hawks, the anti-regulators, the union busters, the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd who stomp on the rights of women, the oligarchy, the 1%, the bankers who never went to jail after causing the fiscal disaster of 2008, the Christians who bash gays, the rich who refuse to raise the minimum wage, the overwhelming incarceration of blacks, the NRA thugs who won’t allow us to regulate at all even after children are massacred, Citizens United, the disaster of global warming, the voter suppression of minorities by the right, the lack of equal pay for equal work for women, the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Start here and maybe this will make you into the person you want to be.

The mystery is how right-wing pundits can be so blind to the immoral consequences of their ideology and policy. Presumably they don’t see themselves as lacking empathy or compassion. Maybe some of the inconsistency comes from the widespread misreading of Adam Smith, saying that everyone serves the common good best by being an egoist. If the baker just bakes and maximizes his profit, and everybody else does their job in the same way, the invisible hand sees to it that the entire community benefits optimally. (But for those who have read the whole book - Wealth of Nations - it’s completely clear that Adam Smith wasn’t that naïve at all.)

It soon turned out that David Brooks wasn’t really converted. In his recent column it sounded like he more or less blamed the young blacks for being killed by police. Freddie Gray lived in a neighborhood where Baltimore authorities had invested huge resources to improve living standards, but Gray “was not on the path to upward mobility” and “his mother was a heroin addict who… couldn’t read”. “He was arrested more than a dozen times.”

So, more money to alleviate poverty is not the solution. Instead Brooks hopes for some diffuse changes in society to do the trick. But the overall feeling one gets from reading the column is that Freddie Gray and young men like him should pull themselves together, as a way to avoid being killed by the police.

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