The Tendentious Mr. Brooks: the Chickenshit Conformist of the NYT

Photograph Source: Jay Godwin – Public Domain

So eager to please, peer pressure decrees
Chickenshit conformist like your parents

– Dead Kennedys, “Bedtime for Democracy,” 1986

I have no clue…

– David Brooks, August 11, 2022

The Scary Orange Victim Narrative

The Republican New York Times moralist David Brooks is such a chickenshit conformist. Last Thursday, Brooks responded to the Justice Department and FBI’s search of the wannabe fascist strongman Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound by worrying that it could make Trump’s supporters angry and feed one of Trump’s leading “narratives” about the United States. It’s a narrative that for Brooks holds a big “core of truth”:

‘There is an interlocking network of highly educated Americans who make up what the Trumpians have come to call the Regime: Washington power players, liberal media, big foundations, elite universities, woke corporations. These people are corrupt, condescending and immoral and are looking out only for themselves. They are out to get Trump because Trump is the person who stands up to them. They are not only out to get Trump; they are out to get you.’

Brooks is worried that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s “raid” could set Trump’s violent base off and feed Trumpism’s victim storyline. If Trump is convicted while bidding to regain the White House, Brooks frets, “we would see widespread political violence from incensed Trump voters.” Brooks calls this “the most likely path to a complete democratic breakdown,” as if the US has any kind of remotely functioning democracy (it doesn’t). And Brooks fears that prosecution of the tangerine-tinted tyrant could “help Trump get re-elected.”

Think about that. Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz They Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump absconds to his private estate with classified, top-secret national security documents he likely means to sell to the highest bidders on the world stage. Meanwhile, the Orange Victim is being multiply investigated by the US House of Representatives, the US Justice Department, and the State of Georgia for his effort to overthrow what’s left of US electoral democracy and constitutional rule of law during a rolling coup attempt that culminated in a physical attack on the US Capitol – an attack Trump wanted armed with military assault rifles. But oh my, maybe we should let Orange Victim get away with it all so as not to upset, energize, and mobilize his cultists!

Brooks confesses that he has no solutions to offer to a great conundrum: “America absolutely needs to punish those who commit crimes. On the other hand, America absolutely needs to make sure that Trump does not get another term as president. What do we do if the former makes the latter more likely? I have no clue how to get out of this potential conflict between our legal and political realities.”

Whatever shall we do?

Bedtime for Democracy

What a cowardly buffoon. The onetime “socialist” Brooks is ready to let his fears of political violence and backlash make him complicit in the “bedtime for democracy” that the Dead Kennedys glimpsed in the days of Ronald Reagan’s “friendly fascism.”

The Amerikaner right has been threatening political violence if it doesn’t get its way for decades. Does Brooks seriously believe it become any less dangerous and belligerent if the Justice Department caves in to fear of right-wing terrorism?

If anything, it’s the opposite. As Brooks’ fellow Times columnist Michelle Goldberg argued on the same day that Brooks confessed craven cluelessness, Trump draws power and feeds his mob boss aura not from being subjected to the rule of law but rather from repeatedly escaping the rule of law. “What has strengthened Trump,” Goldberg, “has not been prosecution but impunity, an impunity that some of those who stormed the Capitol thought, erroneously, applied to them as well. Trump’s mystique is built on his defiance of rules that bind everyone else. He is reportedly motivated to run for president again in part because the office will protect him from prosecution.” That Brooks is willing to even consider furthering Trump’s claim to impunity is contemptible.

“The Same Dark Strain in Modern Politics”

Brooks might want to think about broader set of narratives wrapped up in Trump and Trumpism. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik caught much of the ideational Trump matrix in a May 2016 reflection titled “Going There with Donald Trump.” Gopnik described Trumpism as:

‘an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history…To associate such ideas too mechanically with the rise of some specific economic anxiety is to give the movement and its leader a dignity and sympathy that they do not deserve. In France, Jean Marie Le Pen’s voters are often ex-Communists, working people who also believe their national identity to have been disrupted by immigration. That does not alter, or make more sympathetic, the toxic nature of his program; the ideology that it resonates to is an ancient and persistent one, that thrives through good times and bad. That Trump can dominate an increasingly right-wing nationalist party with a right-wing, white-nationalist creed is neither surprising nor all that complicated. Anyway, the notion that a class cure can be had for a nationalist disease was the persistent, tragic delusion of progressive politics throughout the twentieth century.’

The name of this “formula” was, for Gopnik clear: “add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ …his personality and [Trump’s] program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics.” Gopnik got a very key point even if he left out some other key parts of the pathology: savage patriarchy, vicious national racism, a fearsome commitment to social hierarchy, virulent racial and ethnic Othering, obsession with borders, fear and hatred of multicultural cities, racialized sexual anxiety and paramilitary formation and violence allied with police and military power (e.g. Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha Militia, Charlottesville, border patrol gendarmes attacking Black Lives protesters in Portland, the execution of Michael Reinhol, “Proud Boys Stand Back and Stand By!,” Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Michael Flynn, and January 6, etc.)

“Something New”

The “dark strain of modern politics” is alive and well in the United States today. Red State moves to cancel popular presidential votes are combining with a Trump High Court that aims to eradicate a slew of hard-won human and civil rights (the undoing of women’s abortion rights is just the beginning even it is massively significant in and of itself) threaten to potentially “usher in” what my fellow CounterPuncher Eve Ottenberg calls “no mere political change in degree in the Exceptional Empire, but a change in kind.” The prolific dystopian novelist Ottenberg realistically imagines a near future in which “The last vestiges of democracy will vanish out the window.” The decisive cancellation of non-Trump (or non-DeSantis) votes in 2024-25 “would not be a one-off,” Ottenberg explains, “but would likely instead herald a new dystopian normal.” The “entrenched oligarchy” of the One Percent is already becoming “passé,” Ottenberg notes:

Something new is wanted by fanatics on the right. That something, fascism, has been knocking at our door for years in some states. Some say it knocked during the Trump presidency, others say it started earlier. Now the GOP appears poised to welcome it in…And quite eagerly. Republicans nationwide have vocalized support for negating elections they lose and replacing electors they don’t like” (emphasis added)

Count the present writer as a book-length oligarchy critic one who argues – also at book length – that fascism “knocked during the Trump presidency.” And as one who suspects that Trump’s failed putsch could well go into the history books – if Brooks’ fear wins out and if such books survive – very much like Adolf Hitler’s once widely mocked Beer Hall Putsch: as prelude to and training exercise for a later successful “constitutional” consolidation of vengeful far-right authoritarian rule.

You Can’t Dance Around Fascism

Brooks makes Trumpism sound like populist and working-class “flyover zone” suspicion of fancy big city professors and lawyers and globalist corporations. He’s wrong. It’s virulent authoritarian and militantly hierarchical neo-fascism, the natural late-stage outcome of the eco-cidal capitalist system he came to love so dearly under the inspiration of the soulless neoliberal Pinochet advisor Milton Friedman.

Fascism: you can’t dance around it. You don’t dialogue with it. You don’t work with it or around it. You don’t hear its “legitimate grievances.” You don’t give it economistic, faux-proletarian and populist, anti-elitist legitimation (see Gopnik’s reflection, quoted above), treating it as something that could be fixed with a nice Bernie Sanders speech. You don’t foxtrot with fascism. You don’t hope for previously normative and increasingly exhausted constitutional principles to magically prevail over mass demobilization and ruling class division and indifference. You sure don’t rely on the Democratic Party of “inauthentic opposition” and Weimar-like Hollow Resistance to fix things. You can’t vote it out, certainly not under the current right-tilted US electoral system of minority rule. You fight it in the streets and public squares and across the broad political culture. You mobilize masses against it. You burn its beer halls to the ground. You sweep it off the dance floor. And you use this struggle to set new political terms across the board: you make it clear to the ruling class that their society will not function until it is defeated and then you build from that to create a revolutionary movement for the kind of society where it can never again arise.

The center-right “moralist” and onetime “socialist” Brooks will not properly apply the F-word to the post-republic Republicans, of course: it sounds too pejorative, too angry, too radical, too confrontational, too polarizing, too real, and too truthful about what naturally became of the racist party he joined decades ago. Calling Republi-fascism what it is would mean having to get up off his privileged pundit ass and do something about it. It would mean standing up and being counted. And that’s most definitely NOT what chickenshit capitalist conformists like David Brooks are about.


Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).