New York Times’ columnist David Brooks is now clearly populating his landscape in the old broadsheet with fictional characters and made-up events, but is it yet another sign of the opioid crisis or just a midlife one?
By Mark Cromer
David Brooks has either made a calculated decision to dispense with trying to disguise that his columns now routinely feature fictional characters and made-up events that he hopes will be harnessed like a supply train bringing ammo to various partisans in America’s uncivil wars of codependence; or he is so bored with his gig at The New York Times and perhaps uninspired by life in the main that he’s simply phoning it in between his appearances on the soiree and salon circuit and collecting a check as he drifts through a midlife crisis.
If it’s the latter, well, a case of professional doldrums and existential pensiveness is nothing that the age-old tonic of an afternoon affair wouldn’t quickly cure for Brooks, with its subtle intrigues that build to clandestine entanglements amid the sheets in hotel rooms tucked far enough away from his day-to-day for him to navigate unnoticed. Some covert afternoon nooky could be just what the doctor ordered to restore some vigor in the veins of Brook’s 56-year-old life, a rejuvenating jolt that might quickly become evident in his prose as well, making it far less predictable.
A November fling, it has a nice ring.
But if it’s the former, if Brooks has simply decided to journo-jihadi up and go all in for the last ride together at The Times, discarding the nuances of actual reality in favor of stock characters that are summoned forth from his own central casting to write them into scenes that he has already storyboarded across a smooth narrative arc, then there’s nothing really to be done except perhaps read it and sleep.
Last week Brooks offered forth another dose of unvarnished elitist screed that was notable not so much for what his column contained, but rather for what it didn’t. Entitled How To Engage A Fanatic, Brooks opened his column with an umpteenth reminder that his elevated position in the Western world’s eastern seaboard command center affords him a most rarified vantage point. In this case, Brooks determined that “Everybody on earth is having the same conversation: How do you engage with fanatics?”
A writer of Brooks’ caliber should immediately question his own premise that ‘everybody on earth’ is pondering what he and his own circles happen to be talking about at the moment and it’s instructive that it didn’t occur to him that in America most people are thinking about many other, more reality-relevant things—from their work schedule to their kids’ schedule—and across the globe the vast majority of breathing vertical people are dedicating far more brain capacity to basic daily survival, of the food and potable water variety.
But for Brooks that would apparently be so, um, mundane.
So the devout neocon globalist dutifully laid out for readers (and perhaps his wife) his itinerary for the couple of weeks preceding the publication of his column, which saw Brooks bounce from the Beltway to North Carolina and then it was off to dusky Madrid before landing in London in time for tea with the bespoke crowd who no doubt plied him for news from their old colonial venture and this nasty business with the rogue Trump and the hordes of his unwashed minions known among elites simply as ‘the base’—like Al-Qaeda, but in red baseball caps.
That of course is who Brooks was writing about, the Trump nation, whom he’s now reduced from irredeemably deplorable to “high school educated” to now merely “the fanatics.”
And central to that assessment was an experience Brooks claimed he had suffered recently while attending a Washington National’s baseball game, a family outing to America’s national pastime that was polluted it seems by the presence of said fanatics. “A Trump supporter in the row in front of me unleashed a 10-minute profanity- strewn tirade at me, my wife and son,” Brooks reported, but essentially left it there at the top of his column, with no additional features to support the central proposition that Trump supporters (and he really means every anti-globalization populist who believes in sovereign nation-states over the cultish misnomers of ‘free trade’ and ‘open markets’ whether they support Trump or not) are fanatics.
Considering it was fundamental to his premise, one might think that Brooks would have included a little more detail about how he knew this person to be a Trump supporter, or how the verbal altercation that allegedly occurred started and, oddly enough, why Brooks thought it worth not only tolerating himself but allowing his wife and son to be subjected to what he claimed was a 600-second venomously threatening tirade?
What was actually shouted during the fanatic’s tirade?
Why didn’t Brooks quickly summon security to eject the fanatic that had accosted him and his family for a prolonged period and no doubt in full view of numerous witnesses? In fact, given official security at every major sporting event in the nation today that’s now supplemented with the omnipresent iPhone brigades, it’s hard to imagine the verbal assault wouldn’t have been captured at least in part on camera if not live Tweeted in progress at such a massive public gathering.
Why didn’t Brooks himself video the fanatic’s out-of-control, politically-driven tirade that publicly mauled his family, which he could have used to neatly substantiate his proof of concept?
Probably because it never happened.
There are no other substantive reports that document the incident in the media save for Brooks own account and two briefs about his column; one published in the conservative Washington Examiner that noted the publication—itself catching a whiff of something rotten on West 41st Street in Midtown Manhattan—had sought additional details from Brooks about his encounter with a Trump fanatic at the ballpark but that Brooks had not replied to his fellow journalists query (and apparently still hasn’t), and the second brief appearing in the progressive outlet The Raw Story that effectively repeated the encounter uncritically. (This writer worked with The Raw Story founder John Byrne during the 2004 election to expose GOP hypocrisy and particularly that of the powerful former Congressman David Dreier, a closeted public official with a long anti-gay voting record. Byrne had just launched The Raw Story and I was the Features Editor at HUSTLER.)
And it’s the pass-along play provided by The Raw Story that Brooks is ultimately looking for when he spins his one-dimensional tales of troglodytes and Trumpists that have to be socially engaged at least for the time being until they can be eliminated with less of a mess at a later date to be determined.
Brooks is peddling progressive truisms now and in his cloistered universe nothing is more true than the bromide that Trump voters and anti-globalists are fanatics, but it is curious why he chose to make up or at least radically gin-up an encounter with a zombie-like zealot when he could have likely found the real deal or something very close to it had he just tried at little harder or traveled a little further off his beaten path. To that end, he could have walked into a gun show with a T-shirt reading ‘The NRA Can Suck My NYT!’ and probably quickly provoked the sort of verbal altercation he felt he needed for his column, but then that wouldn’t have been nearly as tidy of a set-up as a random fanatic bellowing in the faces of his wife and son at a ballgame provided.
This summer Brooks had confronted a similar dilemma, wishing to hold forth on the subject of how dangerously unsophisticated the same demographic was (which he dubbed “high school educated” prior to their designation as “fanatics”) and yet apparently struggled to find the right exhibit to build his case around. So Brooks went to the fiction well again and hauled up a bucket of muddy invention as he told the tale of an unnamed, under-educated “friend” who had suffered a panic attack in a gourmet deli after being unable to decipher the fancy sandwich fare on the menu. In Brooks telling, he rushed her out of the bistro and into the nearest Mexican restaurant he could find, which quickly calmed her nerves.
Yes, David Brooks actually wrote that.
Of course, Brooks refused to name his friend in that column as well (who if in the extremely unlikely event was real was set up and used as an exhibit of someone who Brooks finds, to put it politely, lacking), nor did he provide any substantiating details surrounding that alleged event either—like the name of the chic bistro that triggered her culinary panic attack or the more proletariat-friendly Mexican eatery where he gave her refuge.
Still, that actually was a fine bit of unintended comedy writing by Brooks, but the relevant issue remains his Jayson Blair-like tendency to simply make it up as he goes along, perhaps content that no one at The Times particularly cares as long as it serves the newspaper’s editorial orthodoxy. (Blair’s own meteoric advancement at The Times and his reign of cranking out fictionalized and plagiarized news stories were also directly connected to the newspaper’s culturally correct dogma.)
Along with the prefab Trump fanatic, some other featureless cookie-cutter characters appeared in Brooks’ column last week as well, including students at the University of North Carolina at Asheville that he reportedly watched “engage in a heartfelt discussion over whether extremists should be allowed to speak on campus.”
Anyone who has paid even just somewhere south of scant attention to the nation’s college campuses over the past few years understands that precious little discussion has been going on in academia, heartfelt or otherwise. To the contrary, the campuses have been rocked by riots and the ransom-like demands of student groups that sound increasingly like hostage-takers and the genuflecting by administrative au pairs that indulge all the diktats that $60,000 in annual tuition will buy. The extremists already have the floor on most campuses today and are now bent on ensuring their ideological distillation process remains undisturbed by unauthorized voices.
But Brooks didn’t fill in any of the blanks with the students either, no detail on the precise nature of the campus forum—whether it was an open floor, free form, ‘say your thing’ style of gathering or something structured more to the tastes of the campus cultural Maoists that like to argue that the First Amendment and free speech are merely false constructs designed to advance white supremacy—and certainly nothing about the students beyond their general heartfeltedness; nothing say about what they consider would constitute an ‘extremist’ and who gets to decide and how?
With his stage props set, Brooks got down to the moral of his column, which was yet another patronizing opportunity to feature his own faux virtuous musings about the need, surprise, surprise, to “love the fanatics.”
And no, the Martin Luther King references were not a moment late at all.
It’s a sermon that, just like his set-up in the column, was pure Grade-A bullshit. Not that that message is inherently wrong or false—far from it—but Brooks is trying to sell something he clearly doesn’t buy himself. Brooks doesn’t love the 63 million people who voted for Trump. To the contrary, he has spent much of last year and virtually all of this year staking out just how clearly he despises them and, moreover, everything they represent.
And fair enough, but again, why is Brooks going through the motions of faking it, down to creating composite or straw man characters and placing them in events or situations that never happened?
Has the globalist beat finally got the better of him?
Cheerleading America’s never-ending involvement in perpetual warfare around the globe is perhaps more draining than one might imagine. Or maybe he is just bored and can’t find the passion that the thousands of dead American soldiers and the tens of thousands more grievously wounded and the trillions of American tax dollars being funneled into the corporate war machine used to stir in him, no matter how well it still pays.
Maybe this is how his columns read after the thrill is gone.
Or it could be that like his fellow traveler George W. Bush, Brooks looks at the map and just sees it reading: ‘Mission Accomplished!’ Three former nation states (Iraq, Syria and Libya) have been effectively erased in the Middle East and North Africa and at least three more in the region are teetering on the edge of collapse (Yemen, South Sudan and Lebanon) all while American combat forces are spreading across civil warzones in Africa even as they remain entrenched in Afghanistan with no end in sight.
And as catastrophe looms on the Korean peninsula, NATO continues antagonizing a Russia that has emerged full force to confront the relentless encroachment on her natural spheres of influence.
So it could be with perpetual war in the service of corporate empire going so well that Brooks is at something of a creative loss for the moment and his recent dalliances with fiction don’t require that much thought. Hell, he might even be having an editorial assistant write up the outlines of his columns and he just fills in the flourishes that give it that conceited Brooks feel before publication.
Brooks signed off his How To Engage A Fanatic column with a contrived “confession” that he hadn’t managed to exercise his patented phony noblesse oblige with “the Trump guy at the ballgame”—but vowed to try to do the right thing soon.
It’s an interesting premise, but unless and until Brooks starts writing about real people and actual events with an intellectually honest approach then it means about as much as the FrankenTrumper that he built last week, which is to say nothing.