David Brooks’ Block Party!

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you know I rarely write about politics.  That does not mean I am oblivious to the machinations of men aspiring to be President of the United States, or POTUS.  Handy’s got hundreds of Tee Vee channels; I watch a little bit of news from time to time.  I listen to the radio, I read a local newspaper, and I read news on the web.  I almost forgot Twitter, which I use as my news aggregator.  I “follow” several local news personalities and papers like The Boston Globe and The New York Times.  There are others I follow and this selection of “major media outlets” covers the spectrum from left to right in providing headlines.  Having now established my “credentials” as a news consumer, let us move on to the subject at hand.

On Friday, April 29, David Brooks wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times.  Please read it here.

Putting aside his “feelings” about Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee, he says citizens of all stripes need to “step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that.”  He says candidate Sanders and Trump have “reminded us how much pain there is in this country.”  Then he provides evidence of this pain by noting that the suicide rate has “surged to a 30-year high.”

He states that Trump is not the right response to this pain and death.

“The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.”

I scratched my head as I read the sentence.  I wondered who “the rest of us” were.  The essay’s introduction implies that there is an “us” and a “them.”  The “them” are killing themselves based on some vague and unknown pain sweeping across the hinterlands; the “us” must find the answers.

Then Mr. Brooks wrote two sentences that blew my mind.  He says “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata—in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.  It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable.”

I could sympathize for a moment; it’s natural to want to spend time with people you enjoy, people with whom you can be yourself…drop an “F” bomb with on occasion and maybe tell them how much you miss smoking cigarettes.  But where is this “bourgeois strata?”  He must mean his suburb of Washington, D.C.  Are there not doormen and cab drivers there?  Barber shops, nail salons, and maybe a Whole Foods?

His comment unleashed more than a few snarky commentaries across social media.  For me, I was most struck by the final sentence of his “bourgeois strata” paragraph.

“We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.”

I can’t share all the comments I penciled in the margin of my printed copy of the Op-Ed.  “Self-righteous silliness” was one of them, but maybe that was what someone else said about it.  Yeah, there were a few “F” bombs.  I know it’s not ladylike.

I’m sure David Brooks is a perfectly lovely person.  He’s accomplished certain things and checked off many of the boxes of life.  He has an outlet on a well-respected media stage, The New York Times.  I’m sure he has his own personal pain.  But seeing how other people live and understanding their pain is not some charity project or checklist.  I won’t even go into his six suggestions because, to use an overused cliché, they make my head explode.

He ends his article by implying he won’t waste his time on Trump.  He says “the time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.”

This op-ed has swirled around in my head all week and at times, I’ve looked out the window in my office and asked myself “I wonder what Wendell Berry would say about all this?”

Maybe David Brooks is giving a block party this summer in his quest to meet the neighbors who have become strangers.  He could always host a screening of The Seer at The Uptown Theater.  Maybe after the movie, everyone could “meet and greet” over gelato or something, but nothing too formal or planned.


I am snarky and cranky this morning; I should have written another post about daffodils or tulips.  Or maybe a commentary on Martha Stewart’s weeding woes.  Martha, I share your pain.

This entry was posted in Friday Pillow Talk and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to David Brooks’ Block Party!

  1. Jim says:

    Brooks is one of those American nonfiction writers that professional people read (like Thomas Friedman), and it makes them think they’re smarter than the rest. I’d also identify these readers as a certain kind of liberal, or possibly, moderate Republican. They also probably listen to NPR, and think public radio is journalism.
    There is no more journalism left.
    I know people that think Brooks and Friedman are brilliant. I consider them hacks, albeit very popular ones, with far larger audiences than some peon like me will ever have. That doesn’t mean I have to kowtow to their usual NYTimes-published duplicity.
    Glad Brooks is going to get outside his elite bubble a few times every month (for journalism!!) and rub elbows with the hoi polloi. What a giant.
    Seems a little like slumming to me.

  2. Loosehead Prop says:

    One might consider why Rod Dreher worships every word that dribbles from the mouth of David Brooks as if it was divinely inspired. Of all people who should know better….

    A week ago while picking up Canadian bacon, Elderberry syrup and fresh eggs from local farms I quizzed the local ladies about chili peppers, spicy Thai chilis, of which I’ve seen not a hint since moving (nearest Chinese store is Portland). There was a local farmer who grew them and came to the town market regularly, Bark-Eater, but no one knew quite where his farm was and being Amish we weren’t going to phone him. Through the week I asked my local experts, but drew blanks. Yesterday, doing my Saturday errands with my son, I saw a horse-drawn trailer parked under an awning with a few coolers and bags of greens, and the sign read “Bark Eater Farm.” I pulled an illegal turn and found my man with the chilis. A very engaging young man, he had already run a farm for ten years in the Adirondacks (Adirondack translates to Bark-eater) before moving here three years ago. He runs a CSA, too. I look forward to a lasting acquaintance (not too hasty with the word friendship) with him.

    Likewise, my daughter’s French teacher and I have been exchanging our herbal knowledge, and the co-op wants to give us room to rejuvenate the herbal section. I daresay the teacher is well ahead of me in some things, but I have an odd touch in others, such as my being led to large patches of coltsfoot and bloodwort in the woods last week. And the man renovating the house behind me used to teach English at the high school and then ran the library, and he knows the man who runs our computer networks at work, and the chief at work had actually stopped by Bark-Eater’s trailer just a few minutes before I had, and the little old lady next door introduced herself to me and my cat, whom she had dubbed “Lightning” for the speed with which it ran up a tree (did you see how slow it came down, I said, perhaps “Sloth” would be more appropriate). She missed her last cat greatly, but a small bite from it put her into the hospital for three months, and so she was very pleased that Bianca, her real name, came over and talked to her on the back steps and sniffed all around her back yard.

    And then behind the garage, in the moss where the sun never reaches, I saw a single coltsfoot.

    I think Berry would agree with your assessment: Brooks needs to get out more, yes.

    • There is beauty and things to wonder at all around us, you’re quite right there. It sounds pleasant in your new neighborhood and I’m glad to hear Bianca is finding her way around. I hope everyone is well.

      I found Dreher’s blog through his book “The Little Way of Ruthie Leaming,” which was his homecoming story. I did not read his Dante book and now he is busy on the new one. I can only surmise he spends too much time inside on the ‘netz. Likely it is what he must do to earn his shekels from “The Man” in our hustling culture.

Comments are closed.