David Brooks Says Trump was the Wrong Answer to the Right Question
Like many Skidmore students, David Brooks, a world renowned journalist who is currently a conservative writer at the New York Times, was surprised by Trump’s win. To get to the bottom of what happened, Brooks spent 18 months in “Trumpland” — what he calls the rural, non-coastal areas of America. What he found there were Americans who recognized Trump’s character flaws, but nonetheless recognized him as their “shot at change.”
In an October visit to campus, Brooks said in an interview with The Skidmore News that he realizes “people are usually pretty good at figuring out their own problems.” Not in the sense that they know how to fix them, but that they identify what their problems are better than those in their surrounding communities, let alone political elites in Washington.
Brooks emphasized that although the Trump phenomenon is surprising, it is not illogical. “Trump was the wrong answer to the right question” — namely, the question of how to respond to the corrosive side-effects of globalization. The result is an agenda reversal, in which the conservative heralding of globalization is forced to face the consequences of trade liberalization policies. According to Brooks, there is no longer a cleavage within the Republican Party, but “a surrender.” What we are witnessing is a 180 degree ideological turn towards protectionism, made possible by dominating societal divisions.
Trump is a billionaire from Queens. For those unfamiliar with the ethos of New York, his origin carries a special weight. Brooks, who grew up in New York, explained the competitive relationship between Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, and the sense of a “chip on their shoulder” attitude of non-Manhattanites. Despite his supposed wealth, Trump is a self-proclaimed outsider; which is why, to his supporters, it seemed like he was speaking their language. He clearly identified an enemy -- political elites -- and rallied blame. Soon, his supporters realized “I want to fight against those people too," said Brooks.
Clearly there are miscommunication problems, according to Brooks: “It’s so easy to just be in our world,” making it even more important to venture beyond our echo chambers without “assuming moral superiority.” This goal is further complicated by the difficulty in finding voices that productively communicate the perspectives of Trump’s base. Brooks points out that The Times itself struggles to find commentators to articulate these viewpoints.
Brooks seems to suggest that since the cause of the miscommunication problem is a lack of listening, perhaps the same principle should be applied to the identification of conservative news sources. Thus, Brooks takes the suggestions from his son, a Trump supporter, into consideration.
If there is one positive to come out of the chaotic upturn of American political life, it’s the revival of journalism. In a reality where anyone with an internet connection can add their voice, as unbalanced or unconstructive as it might be, to the news cycle, an acceleration of an opting for convenience has continued to snowball. At this point, popular blogs are being overtaken by the even more accessible Twitter.
It seems no corner of popular culture is exempt from the magnitude and salience of political conversation. In particular, late night comedians have found themselves at a center stage of these debates. This form of political commentary is a ratings builder, but many, like Brooks, find it cause for concern. There is a natural power or sense of superiority that can come from making fun of others, perpetuating a trajectory of polarization.
No medium speaks with the authority of the mainstream media, claims Brooks. Subscriptions are climbing as readership swells.
“Trump has given us all a reason to live. We thrive on bad times.”