essay on David Brooks from 2019

Unbeknownst to me, David Brooks recently wrote a book—The Second Mountain—about something of a midlife crisis and his ensuing search for ethics and morality in its context. I will not pretend to have read it; I have no time to read such a book and imagine it would be an excruciating experience given how consistently unbearable his 400-word columns are. Nonetheless I read a review by David Wallace-Wells in the New Yorker that I think found the book pretty loosely substantiated and suggested Brooks is apparently close to self-identifying as a Christian—it was sort of hard to tell from the tone of the essay. In any event, what I already knew was that Brooks recently got divorced and married his research assistant, 23 years his junior—I am fairly certain alleged war criminal and proven Iraq war cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg was one of his groomsmen, along with a host of other similarly useless, socially parasitic older-middle-aged men. 

It’s hard to see what Brooks is going through ‘spiritually’ as much other than a justification of an extremely run-of-the-mill midlife crisis—except with any serious clarity of judgment, someone who had existed in such an inexplicable position as Brooks would experience a more turbulent moral reckoning than he undergoes now. Underlying this process is the fact that like many other mainstream ‘conservatives,’ Brooks feels essentially forced out of conservatism in the Trump era, neglecting the obvious fact that Trump is the inevitable end product of everything he’s championed his entire career. It doesn’t really matter. Brooks obfuscates, and has a seemingly unique talent, if one can call it that, for twisting what should be the pangs of a guilt-stricken moral compass into abstract platitudes about moral fiber & fortitude.

Indeed these vaguely moralistic columns are clearly Brooks’ hallmark, and what seems to endless infuriate myself and other masochists who compulsively read his imbecilic drivel (I don’t do it so much anymore; I’m quitting) is a uselessly vague ‘ethics’ coupled with zero structural knowledge of anything he’s talking about. Brooks couldn’t be just a fifty-five year old piece of shit who’s been consistently wrong his entire career, perhaps latently detests himself, and decided to leave his wife and marry a younger woman (and become a Christian, which I won’t even get into)—instead he’s a man on a quest, a man of spirit, on an ethically regenerative cleanse—or so he says.

This repackaged vacuousness is what is so odious and pathetic and ultimately infuriating about Brooks, as he remains, inexplicably, at the top of the media status quo, and is paid presumably six figures a year, and granted innumerable speaking spots, to churn out this garbage. The man is boring, interminably boring, he has nothing to say, his prose is cartoonishly bad. (Reflecting on this sentiment, I suddenly suppose that these qualities ultimately make him an ideal contemporary media personality. After all, he is not exactly an ‘outlier’ at the paper of record, as the editorial board is almost exclusively staffed by politically obtuse, tepid, mediocre writers almost indistinguishable from one another in content and form. So not much to say there, no point in expecting more from them now).

To leave off I return to the last Brooks column I read, written just after Biden announced, which felt like a sigh of relief from Brooks and was expressed as a paean to Biden, who, according to Brooks, is not just a good candidate, but a good guy. Biden’s harassment of women, the racism expressed in his opposition to busing, ‘leadership’ on the 1994 crime bill, and comment that Obama was a ‘clean’ black man, certainly others—very basic barometers for what might constitute decency, separate even from his atrocious neoliberal policies that Brooks naturally supports—remain uninterrogated. Which gets at the heart of the absence of Brooks’ commentary: Joe is good because Joe is vaguely an everyman; an everyman is some sort of decent meaningless abstraction of person, culturally and politically in the ‘center’—also an uninterrogated concept—further conversation not needed. For Brooks (and so many others, but most platonically and emptily, probably Brooks) Joe Biden exists as a generalized personality on a bland, mainstream cultural/media landscape, and that’s enough for Brooks to write an entire column in defense or even praise of the ‘morality’ of this position.

Indeed, Brooks does not even try to reconcile his signature social critique, the breakdown of social bonds, the vague accusation of ‘tribalism’ we so often hear from the impotent center, with any structural consideration of the period in which he declares social breakdown has been happening. It’s a matter of personal, individual morals, of character.

So Brooks meanders through life with this platitudinous perspective, perpetually unable to understand what’s really happening, perceiving politics on a day-by-day basis and constitutionally unable to reflect on his position in the media ecosystem. 

All this said—I went into that Biden column with a sort of seething fury—and yet I was left at the end feeling less angry than profoundly sad. The intense pressure and presence of Brooks’ worldview, its utter emptiness, hit me hard and I thought: this is how this man actually sees the world? This is what he thinks will fix things?

It is sad—Brooks is perhaps most of all a deeply sad character—and yet from his wholly undeserved position he continues to produce this insufferable pablum. What is one to do?

“U.S. Stocks Have Their Worst Day Since 1987 Crash”

“Wednesday was an unsettling day on global financial markets, and not just because the stock market fell sharply enough to bring a decade-plus bull market to an end.

Underneath the headline numbers were a series of movements that don’t really make sense when lined up against one another. They amount to signs — not definitive, but worrying — that something is breaking down in the workings of the financial system, even if it’s not totally clear what that is just yet.

Bond prices and stock prices were moving together, not in opposite directions as they usually do. On a day when major economic disruptions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic appeared to become likelier — which might be expected to make typical market safe havens more popular — many of them fell instead. That included bonds of all sorts and gold.

And there were reports from trading desks that many assets that are normally liquid — easy to buy and sell — were freezing up, with securities not trading widely. This was true of the bonds issued by municipalities and major corporations but, more curiously, also of Treasury bonds, normally the bedrock of the global financial system.”

from nyt


excerpted from old essay on Paul Krugman

What Krugman basically sees is a political divide between Liberals and Conservatives, with competing generic ideologies. Liberals seek government intervention, amelioration of the (worst) excesses of Capitalism; Conservatives seek to accelerate Capitalistic processes, which are best summed up by Private Enterprise, rendering a rabid and irrational hostility toward government itself. (The inherent validity of Capitalism is of course unquestioned). This simplistic dogma overlooks a lot: most obviously, the consistent bipartisan commitment to Empire, but also the darker and more complex intricacies of neoliberal capitalism, particularly in the overlap between State and Private Sector; not to mention their absolute ecological destructiveness. What it really ignores is the hegemonic approach to reality that seemingly underlies all mainstream ideology these days, implicitly suggesting that the effects of Capitalism are (still) malleable, a rather compromised position on the effects of economic processes that a Nobel Laureate might recognize as objectionable (admittedly, it does raise severe questions about the supposed objectivity of the “science” Economics). To be sure, every critique of Neoliberalism points out the obvious truths that Krugman spends each column diminishing, rendering into mildness, non-absolutes.


In any case, Krugman’s consistent anti-Bernie columns and blog posts (Sanders over the edge, Varieties of Voodoo, Who Hates Obamacare?, The Truth About the Sanders Movement, Bernie’s Bad End, Weakened at Bernie’s)— based never so much on fact as on liberal political commentating orthodoxy— neatly mutated into anti-Trump columns, who, it should be noted, was lumped into the same “demagogue” category as Sanders. All columns were asterisked with the same defense of the beneficent Hillary Clinton, who was only, Paul Krugman repeatedly reminded us, after twenty five years in the public spotlight, a little misunderstood. In the general campaign Krugman wrote column after column attacking the media— aligned pretty much 99% with the Clinton campaign— for being completely unfair to Clinton, and spouting over and over, in the same 3-4 sentences, a banal and uninformed defense of Clinton’s record and objectives (“realistic,” “left-leaning,” “most progressive platform in decades,” “most qualified candidate in history.”) His characterization (this characterization, one seemingly dreamed up as a Clinton talking point and repeated ad nauseam by all sympathetic political commentators) stank of unbelievability and demonstrated a thin and selective reading of words and expressions with a staggering blindness; i.e. no consideration of the evident ideological approach underlying the Clinton political program. Virtually nothing he wrote acknowledged the myriad and obvious flaws of Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic political agenda, which were visible well before the election. These columns were beyond useless, indeed were probably unhelpful to Clinton (who in God’s name could they have convinced who was not already?) and most aesthetically problematically, were written in the graceless pseudo-conversationality that increasingly defines the style of all NYTimes ed board writers (though the imbecilic & delusional pablum of David Brooks remains a world unto its own).