A Short Chat Inside David Brooks’ Head

My buddy Elie Mystal ridicules the imaginary conversation, and it’s certainly open to ridicule for being imaginary. But it’s merely a rhetorical device used by David Brooks to make a point. Of course it’s not real, but then, neither are the vast majority of stories told these days, relying on the dishonest retelling of anecdotes that include what serves the cause and omits what doesn’t. At least Brooks admits that it’s merely a fantasy chat.

U.G.: We can’t have a productive conversation with Trump around. He lies with abandon. He slanders and insults. He pollutes the water near and far.

F.M.: We can’t have productive conversations if every time I open my mouth you call me a bigot. You may not realize this, but you have Trump supporters around you all the time. It’s just that we’ve learned to keep our mouths shut in your presence. The crushing climate of blue cultural privilege is too strangulating.

U.G.: O.K. I get it. You’re not the first person to spin the right-wing victim narrative in front of me. Why don’t we focus on impeachment? On rule of law.

The device is, at the same time, completely unsatisfying to either U.G., urban guy, or F.M., flyover man. And, indeed, it’s not really a talk between urban and flyover, both of which are presented as stick figures, stereotypes, which never quite exist.

Is it sufficient? Does it really do the job of covering the perspectives, the arguments, the concerns of either? There may not be a single person reading Brooks’ imaginary conversation who sees themselves in it, who sees the dialogue Brooks invented and says, “yeah, that’s me, that’s what I say.”

But that’s not the point of the chat. Neither may reflect the best the side has to offer. Neither may reflect what you, or any of us, would say if we were engaged in this talk. But Brooks writes for millions, and no one can encompass what goes through the minds of so many in a single conversation. The point is that it reflects some of the conflicts that exist and why, much to the incomprehensibility of those who can’t grasp how anyone can’t despise Trump could nonetheless not demand his ouster.

This could have been a shorter chat, perhaps, and made the same point. Trump is awful, but a personal level of utterly despicable awfulness. The alternative wants to destroy their world for the sake of their Utopian fantasy, which looks remarkably like enlightened self-interest when it’s not wrapped in a pretty pink bow of bullshit. They would rather live with awful than let their children starve, and while Trump may not be doing much to put food on their table, the alternative would take food away while smugly informing them of their privilege. They may hate the sight of children in cages, but they hate the sight of their own children going shoeless far more.

Most parents would do anything to protect their children, to save what they love about their life. Even suffer Trump.

Call them racist, sexist, fascist all day long, which may make you feel as if you’ve fulfilled your ally duty to the marginalized and vulnerable to buy off the debt of your own privilege, but you’ll convince no one to cry with you.

Does Brooks’ conversation convey any of these issues, or is it just a device to enrage you, to make you dig in even deeper into the righteousness of your passionate beliefs and the wrongfulness of the millions of Americans who just don’t get it like you do?

After all, it’s just a rhetorical device to try to make a point, and you can certainly rationalize your way out of hearing anything except how horrible everyone who supports that demon is. It’s not as if Brooks’ imaginary conversation is one you would have, as you would definitely win the conversation with your passion and righteousness because you are so much more right and they are so stupid and wrong.

This isn’t to say either side is right or wrong, but that both sides are absolutely certain they are, and neither will give an inch lest their concession be exploited. The worst thing about this conversation, ridiculous as it may be, is that there can’t be a real conversation. So we’re left with Brooks’ imagination, which satisfies no one.

14 thoughts on “A Short Chat Inside David Brooks’ Head

  1. Susan

    I’m really happy (but not surprised) you zeroed in on this article. I appreciate your perspective. As for Brooks and his device choice, I found it immediately lazy and akin to Thomas Friedman writing his latest article based on an observation he had and blowing it up to cover so much more than what actually was happening. A less lazy David could have done more with this and from real people. But, I’ll grant him that deadlines aren’t helpful in that regard.

    1. SHG Post author

      It was a “lazy” conversation. It could have been better on both sides, and even if it came from “real people,” it would fail to suffice. There is no conversation that would cover everyone’s views and arguments, so even though this falls short, at least it’s something.

    2. Sacho

      Relying on real people might leave you with Elie Mystal arguing one side, and noone wants to endure that amount of spittle thrown their way.

      1. B. McLeod

        It is remarkable that he ventures to criticize others who report the dialog between the voices in their heads.

  2. John Barleycorn

    Why Brooks gets so much downstream traction is still an enigma to me but there is a clever “three guys walk into a bar” joke to be had if one were to compare your take, Elie’s take, and Rod Dreher take via The Ballad of Flyover Man which posted yesterday at the American Conservative.

    And the three of you definitely should have a beer sometime…

    You are all “wrong”, of course, but nonetheless the beer might lead to you three hooking up to check out a fall festival somewhere and figuring it out in a parking lot campsite before or after the show….

  3. Rxc

    The worst aspect of this situation is that one of these groups is going to be very disappointed in November 2020, and we have no idea how they are going to react to this disappointment. Right now, neither one seems to be willing to graciously accept a loss.

    1. SHG Post author

      Neither believes a loss is possible because they are the majority and they are obviously in the right. Which means that if they lose, it has to be due to something nefarious and the other side “stole” the election.

      1. John Barleycorn

        So says your TeeVeeee set, your computer monitors news banner, and that newspaper you read everyday.

        Who knows reading more than the headlines may become fashionable again before the dust settles?

        Zappa wrote The Slime in 1973. Heck that was only 46 years ago….

        See you at the festival!

  4. JorgXMcKie

    The number of my politically elite colleagues who apparently presume that they exist on a higher moral plane than the people ‘represented’ by Flyover Man appalls me. They apparently also believe that they’ve been put on the earth to ‘correct’ the Wrongthink and bad habits of those who fail to agree with them.

    The conversation may be in Brooks’ head, but I’ve certainly heard both sides as monologues.

    I do not like where all this appears to be headed.

  5. James

    Another problem with Brook’s imaginary conversation, U.G. has to convince F.M. that this specific regulation is regularly and uniformly enforced against politicians of both parties.

  6. JMK

    I’m amazed that guy has the balls to ridicule anything, given he fits the “urban man” stereotype to a tee.

    “You call me a bigot everytime I open my mouth” gets reflected into literally calling the author a bigot by ostensibly reversing the trope… but instead of urban and flyover it’s black and white.

    You can always spot the racist in the room—they’re the people who make everything about race

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