David Brooks, Donald Trump and the Magic Mirror
I’m thinking of sending David Brooks of The New York Times a scholarship. I’d like him to attend Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College this summer. Of course, Brooks is not a lawyer; he is a columnist. But, given what he’s written recently about Donald Trump, he needs to learn about the “magic mirror.” Maybe then he’d understand the appeal of Donald Trump to so many voters.
Trump rumbles across the political landscape like some horrific storm, a tornado blustering his way across the plains, a thunderclap of rage. Those who enjoy the safety of viewing the fury from a polite distance are appalled by the spectacle.
“Donald Trump,” writes Brooks, is “an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship.”
Is Trump all that? Or is the problem what’s in the mirror into which Brooks, and the Trump-bashers, are afraid to look for fear about what it will tell them about themselves?
Gerry Spence talks about the “magic mirror,” an unspoken, visceral connection we have with others. If you dislike someone, they, in turn, just might come to disdain you. If you are dishonest, the other may turn from you. Beyond speech is the inchoate and primitive power of recognition, a secret, silent and powerful bond.
Find something that you hate in another and trace the roots of your antipathy back to its origins in your own psyche, the mirror teaches.
Why does Brooks, why does the political establishment, have fear and loathing for Donald Trump? Because Trump’s called their bluff: The politically correct simply can’t stand being beaten at their own game.
Consider Brooks: “[Trump] has shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible.” Really, David? Perhaps all he’s done is join the conversation.
We live in an era of both scarcity and identity politics. Wages stagnate, the one percent grow richer, and all but those at the very top of the economic heap struggle to make lives for themselves in a world of limited resources. The rhetoric of our national life promises equality and dignity for all; the reality of our day-to-day lives offers far less.
So we each retreat to our demographic caves and clans to clamor for our due. Black Lives Matter, the LGBT community demands recognition, Hispanics are ascendant, women are underpaid, Moslems require succor. The rhetoric of pluralism demands no less.
And from whom are these debts to be paid?
Donald Trump knows, although he rarely says it in so many words – the possessors of “white male privilege.” Trumps appeal to white working class males is simple: They are the identity which no longer dares to speak its name, assert its claims, or otherwise defend itself.
Thus Hillary Clinton at a recent rally telling “white people” what they need to do for others. Joe Six Pac needn’t be a white supremacist to feel as though his pocked is being picked. What is the talk of reparations, for example, but a call for a tax based on status?
What Donald Trump is saying to the likes of David Brooks and others in the political establishment is simple: If we’re going to play identity politics while professing regard for the equal rights of all, then the new pariah, the white male, matters, too.
Saying such things makes David Brooks’s skin crawl. It sounds racist, white supremacist, even. But it’s not. Trump supporters are angry because in the mad scramble for equal respect, equal dignity and a shared sense of integrity, they feel as though they are suddenly being cast as the bad guys on account of their accidents of birth – the very crime they are accused of committing.
Identity politics is a new and cancerous form of idolatry.
But it is not racist to have self-respect. The dream of a color-blind society was one in which we were judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin. Identity politicians want the differences to define us. Fine, Trump says: If you want to make it all about skin, here’s mine. Deal with it.
Candidly, I find that appealing, refreshing even.
I don’t know what lies on the other side of the demographic change that has some commentators gleeful about the fact that white voters as a block no longer have the clout they once had. I fear human nature – when yesterday’s slaves become tomorrow's masters, we know what that makes the former masters. Celebrating difference for difference’s sake is a bottomless well.
Trump plays to the fear of world without borders or boundaries. It is a real fear. He may do so in a visceral and artless fashion, but when our scribes – columnists and commentators – refuse to the see the obvious, it looks like willful blindness. Trump didn’t create the tidal wave he rides; he recognized it.
Tell me, David. If I get you a scholarship, will you go to learn the art of discerning what the magic mirror can teach? Or do you prefer hand-wringing?