When will David Brooks admit that conservatism paved the way for Trump?

David Brooks is the prodigal son of the Democratic Party. As an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago in the early 1980s, he identified himself as a Democratic socialist. But upon graduation he let himself be drawn into the spirit of Reaganism, starting as an intern for William F. Buckley Jr. Now, after more than three decades of being a formidable Republican backer, Brooks is set to return to the democratic fold.

In an essay from the January / February issue of Atlantic Originally titled “I Remember Conservatism,” Brooks concedes that the Republican Party is likely to remain enthralled by a certain version of Trumpism, a degraded and intimidating populism that threatens American democracy.

“A lot of my friends are trying to take the GOP back and make it a Conservative party again,” Brooks notes. “I encourage them. America needs two responsible parties. But I’m skeptical that the GOP is going to harbor the kind of conservatism that I soon admire. Having abandoned the Republicans, Brooks decided to “plant me instead on the right edge of the leftist trend – in the more promising soil of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.”

The gospel of Luke teaches that the prodigal son is to be greeted with joy. Charity demands that the repentant sinner be given a second chance. But before you kill the fat calf, it’s worth considering whether the stray rascal has really reformed. Did he really learn anything during his years of debauchery?

While Brooks has renounced the Republican Party, he remains steadfast in conservatism, an intellectual tradition he persists in seeing in literally romantic terms. “I fell in love with conservatism in my twenties,” Brooks enthuses. “As a political and criminal reporter in Chicago, I often found myself around public housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, which had been built with the best of intentions but had become nightmares. The planners who designed these projects believed they could improve lives by replacing the old run-down neighborhoods with a series of carefully ordered skyscrapers.

In this account of his conversion to conservatism, we can already see how little Brooks has changed. In response to Brooks’ essay, historian Rick Perlstein tweeted:

There is an upscale lakefront condo with the exact same design as a CHA skyscraper. Did they “disrespect residents by turning them into invisible passive spectators of their own lives” ?? How come the lakeside condominiums of this style haven’t become “national symbols of urban decadence” ?? Projects deteriorated because they were deprived of public funds when they became filing cabinets for blacks while taxes subsidized suburbs for whites, and deteriorated exponentially when White House conservatives Reagan and Congressional Generation David Brooks are celebrating as if the solons of some Olympus philosophers REDUCE THE FEDERAL HOUSING BUDGET BY 75%.

The bulk of Brooks’ essay is devoted to a selective and detailed account of some of the great conservative thinkers who captivated his young mind, teaching him the value of prudence and the organic evolution of society. His name call includes Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. A few eccentric intellectuals are added: Willmoore Kendall, Peter Viereck and James Q. Wilson, as well as Buckley himself.

This story is strangely devoid of complexity and uniqueness: Hamilton and Jefferson were enemies – and they surely influenced liberals as much as conservatives. Both were revolutionaries, just like Lincoln. Even Theodore Roosevelt was a reformer.

We get Burke the exalted nobleman of the ‘little platoons’ – but not the Burke who absurdly got enthusiastic about Marie Antoinette and the age of chivalry, the Burke who laughed at the ‘multitude of pigs’, or the Burke who advocated all-out war against France. Willmoore Kendall is just unnamed, without any mention of his support for Joseph McCarthy, his advocacy for a preemptive war against the Soviet Union, or his promotion of biological racism. James Q. Wilson’s reflections on morality are cited without reflection on his key role as promoter of mass incarceration.

On conservatism and race, Brooks writes: “To be conservative on racial issues is a moral crime. The American conservatives never thought of that. My beloved mentor, William F. Buckley Jr., made a fool of himself during his 1965 debate in Cambridge against James Baldwin. While I was working at National exam, 20 years later, explicit racism was not evident in the office, but racial issues were generally overlooked, and the GOP’s flirtation with racist dog whistles was casually tolerated.

This is a wash of a much meaner and more consistent story. The Buckley-Baldwin debate is the lesser of them. National exam celebrated Jim Crow in the United States and apartheid in South Africa and promoted the “Southern Strategy,” which polarized American parties along racial lines and paved the way for Trump. When Brooks was an intern in 1985, National exam still employed editor Joseph Sobran, whose overt anti-Semitism and racism were notorious. It took Buckley many years to berate Sobran, who was ultimately fired only for criticizing his employer.

Like To spy magazine reported in 1989:

Editors Sobran and Jeffrey Hart traded jokes about crematoriums and gas chambers. Race relations are also a popular topic. In November 1986, NR published a cover article, “Blacks and the GOP: Just Called to Say I Love You,” which described possible GOP strategies to attract black voters. Presiding over the traditional post-issue recap, Buckley joked, “Maybe it should have been titled” Just called in to say I love you, Niggah. “” During another editorial meeting, Jeffrey Hart pondered wistfully what a soap cake would be.

Buckley’s biographer Sam Tanenhaus reports that the National exam the editor has decided that Brooks cannot succeed him because he is Jewish. It seems to have caught Brooks off guard and even caused some hurt feelings.

The history of conservatism is much uglier than Brooks still admits today. Leaving the GOP is not enough. Before organizing a feast for this prodigal son, he must honestly reckon with his life of antics with a debauched ideology.


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