Surprise: David Brooks Is Dead Wrong on the Women’s March

The New York Times columnist used the biggest protests in U.S. history as an excuse for another boilerplate centrist rant.

Adam Johnson January 25, 2017

Brooks claims an "alternative patriotism" was missing from the women's march. He is wrong. (Bonzo McGrue / Flickr)

This post first appeared at FAIR.

Where did Brooks come up with the idea these issues were unimportant to the working poor and middle class? Probably where he gets most of his suppositions: directly out of thin air.

David Brooks gets paid extreme­ly well, by an extreme­ly influ­en­tial media orga­ni­za­tion, to have extreme­ly banal opin­ions. This much is known.

What isn’t known is why the New York Times keeps allow­ing him to pub­lish the same banal opin­ions over and over again. For the tenth time in as many months, the Times let Brooks (1/24/17) take a cur­rent issue — in this case, the world­wide Women’s March — and jam it into his boil­er­plate griev­ance against what he per­ceives as inef­fec­tu­al, harm­ful iden­ti­ty politics.”

But these march­es can nev­er be an effec­tive oppo­si­tion to Don­ald Trump.

In the first place, this move­ment focus­es on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agen­das, but they were march­ing under the con­ven­tion­al struc­ture in which the cen­tral issues were clear. As the Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed, they were repro­duc­tive rights, equal pay, afford­able health­care, action on cli­mate change.”

These are all impor­tant mat­ters, and they tend to be vot­ing issues for many upper-mid­dle-class vot­ers in uni­ver­si­ty towns and coastal cities.

This is sim­ply untrue. Typ­i­cal of Brooks’ columns, he makes loaded, self-serv­ing asser­tions with­out both­er­ing to cite any basis for them. But doing one’s own home­work reveals these claims to be patent­ly bogus. Accord­ing to one study by the Ener­gy Pol­i­cy Insti­tute at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go and the Asso­ci­at­ed Press/​NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Affairs Research, par­ty affil­i­a­tion — not income or geo­graph­ic loca­tion — is the main deter­mi­nate in whether or not you see cli­mate change as an impor­tant issue.

While Brooks depicts equal pay as an upper-mid­dle-class” con­cern, a 2014 YouGov poll found that those whose fam­i­lies make less than $40,000 a year were about equal­ly like­ly as those from fam­i­lies mak­ing more than $80,000 to per­ceive men hav­ing more oppor­tu­ni­ties than women at work — 46 per­cent and 45 per­cent, respec­tive­ly. Respon­dents from fam­i­lies in the mid­dle income brack­et, $40,000 – $80,000, were more like­ly to see men hav­ing an advan­tage at work, at 53 percent.

On health­care, there is an asso­ci­a­tion between opin­ions and income lev­els, but it works the reverse of the way Brooks sug­gests: The Pew Research Cen­ter (1/13/17) reports that

while about three-quar­ters of those with fam­i­ly incomes of less than $30,000 per year (74 per­cent) say the gov­ern­ment should ensure cov­er­age, only about half (53 per­cent) of those with incomes of $75,000 or high­er say the same.

So where did Brooks come up with the idea these issues were unim­por­tant to the work­ing poor and mid­dle class? Prob­a­bly where he gets most of his sup­po­si­tions: direct­ly out of thin air.

From here, Brooks descend­ed into unin­tel­li­gi­ble, cen­trist woo woo:

With­out the dis­ci­pline of par­ty pol­i­tics, social move­ments devolve into mere feel­ing, espe­cial­ly in our age of expres­sive indi­vid­u­al­ism. Peo­ple march and feel good and think they have accom­plished some­thing. They have a social expe­ri­ence with a lot of peo­ple and fool them­selves into think­ing they are mem­bers of a coher­ent and demand­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Such move­ments descend to the lan­guage of mass therapy.

It’s sig­nif­i­cant that as march­ing and move­ments have risen, the actu­al pow­er of the par­ties has collapsed.

How the actu­al pow­er of par­ties” has col­lapsed is unclear. Is our cur­rent pres­i­dent not a Repub­li­can? Is he not backed by all but a hand­ful of con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans? Did par­ty choice Hillary Clin­ton not get the nom­i­na­tion? What does this even mean?

Brooks thinks peo­ple will think they have accom­plished some­thing” sim­ply by march­ing, but who has claimed that? Like most of Brooks’ tar­gets, it’s a total straw­man. Indeed, a cen­tral theme of the march’s speak­ers was par­lay­ing the mas­sive turnout into polit­i­cal action going forward.

He con­tin­ued:

On Sat­ur­day, the anti-Trump forces could have offered a red, white and blue alter­na­tive patri­o­tism, a mod­ern, for­ward-look­ing patri­o­tism based on plu­ral­ism, dynamism, growth, racial and gen­der equal­i­ty and glob­al engagement.

Instead, the march­es offered the pink hats, an anti-Trump move­ment built, odd­ly, around Planned Par­ent­hood and lots of signs with the word pussy” in them.

Again, this is a total fab­ri­ca­tion. If Brooks actu­al­ly attend­ed the march (he gives no indi­ca­tion that he did so), he will have seen dozens of appeals to patri­o­tism,” as well as a spe­cif­ic focus on the racial aspects of gen­der equal­i­ty. Whether or not these are good approach­es, the fact that Brooks claims things didn’t hap­pen that did hap­pen means Brooks had his screed pre-writ­ten, ready to jam in his white male grip­ing for one more post. Which he, per usu­al, express­ly did toward the end of the arti­cle, once the top­i­cal hook had worn thin (lean­ing heav­i­ly on an anti – iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics polemic by Colum­bia pro­fes­sor Mark Lil­la, dis­sect­ed here):

But now pro­gres­sives seem intent on dou­bling down on exact­ly what has doomed them so often. Lil­la point­ed out that iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics iso­lates pro­gres­sives from the wider coun­try: The fix­a­tion on diver­si­ty in our schools and in the press has pro­duced a gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­als and pro­gres­sives nar­cis­sis­ti­cal­ly unaware of con­di­tions out­side their self-defined groups, and indif­fer­ent to the task of reach­ing out to Amer­i­cans in every walk of life.”

Sure enough, if you live in blue Amer­i­ca, the march­es car­pet­ed your Face­book feed. But the Times’ Julie Bosman was in Niles, Michi­gan, where many women had nev­er heard of the march­es, and if they had, I sus­pect, they would not have felt at home at one.

Some of the biggest march­es were not in blue Amer­i­ca.” Thou­sands attend­ed march­es every­where from Colum­bia, South Car­oli­na, to Far­go, North Dako­ta, to Indi­anapo­lis, Indi­ana, to Salt Lake City, Utah. In deep red Alas­ka, in tem­per­a­tures reach­ing as low as neg­a­tive 20 degrees, thou­sands marched in Anchor­age and Fair­banks. Thir­ty-eight marched in Unalak­leet, a north­west Alaskan vil­lage of 700 peo­ple. Adak Island, pop­u­la­tion 326, had a march of 10.

To the extent they were in blue areas,” they were so large­ly because polit­i­cal march­es typ­i­cal­ly require con­verg­ing on the near­est munic­i­pal­i­ty. But the idea that they were sole­ly the purview of Chardon­nay-sniff­ing East Coast lib­er­als is a canard.

The one exam­ple Brooks cites — an anec­do­tal pro­file in the New York Times (1/21/16) of a small Michi­gan town shrug­ging off” the march­es — led to this scathing rebut­tal in Belt Mag­a­zine (as in Dis­patch­es From the Rust Belt”) that inter­viewed sev­er­al res­i­dents who attend­ed the women’s march ten miles away in South Bend, Indi­ana, and reject­ed their char­ac­ter­i­za­tion by the Times as unin­formed bumpkins.”

He end­ed the piece with a laugh­able pop cul­ture non sequitur:

If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a bet­ter nation­al­ism, with diver­si­ty coher­ing around a cen­tral mis­sion, build­ing a nation that bal­ances the dynamism of cap­i­tal­ism with bib­li­cal morality.

The march didn’t come close. Hint: The musi­cal Hamil­ton is a lot closer.

It’s not appar­ent what this means — that Broad­way musi­cals are a bet­ter mod­el for polit­i­cal change than mil­lions of peo­ple march­ing in the streets, which Brooks likens to mass ther­a­py?” It’s unclear. Because Brooks, despite hav­ing one of the most influ­en­tial spaces in Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism, keeps writ­ing the same dull polemic every month or so, both­er­ing only to change the top­i­cal hook depend­ing on what lib­er­al cause hap­pens to come across his desk.

Adam H. John­son is a media ana­lyst for Fair­ness and Accu­ra­cy in Report­ing and co-host of the Cita­tions Need­ed podcast.
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