Déjà Vu All Over Again

AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio

Early 2016 is reborn! From The New York Times:

No, Not Sanders, Not Ever

He is not a liberal, he’s the end of liberalism.

By David Brooks | Opinion Columnist | February 27, 2020

A few months ago, I wrote a column saying I would vote for Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump. I may not agree with some of her policies, but culture is more important than politics. She does not spread moral rot the way Trump does.

Now I have to decide if I’d support Bernie Sanders over Trump.

We all start from personal experience. I covered the Soviet Union in its final decrepit years. The Soviet and allied regimes had already slaughtered 20 million people through things like mass executions and intentional famines. Those regimes were slave states. They enslaved whole peoples and took away the right to say what they wanted, live where they wanted and harvest the fruits of their labor.

And yet every day we find more old quotes from Sanders apologizing for this sort of slave regime, whether in the Soviet Union, Cuba or Nicaragua. He excused the Nicaraguan communists when they took away the civil liberties of their citizens. He’s still making excuses for Castro.

To sympathize with these revolutions in the 1920s was acceptable, given their original high ideals. To do so after the Hitler-Stalin pact, or in the 1950s, is appalling. To do so in the 1980s is morally unfathomable.

There’s much more at the link.

David Brooks is yet another of the conservative #NeverTrumpers, and while liberals like Bari Weiss, a fellow Times opinion writer, and others have been spreading Mr Brooks’ message, much of the left have no use for him.

Mr Brooks wrote a similar article in March of 2016, with virtually the same title, “No, Not Trump, Not Ever.” His complain then, as now, is less about the individual than it is about populism.

Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups, but nothing in that definition naturally pushes it to the right or the left. Being an “us against them”, plebeians versus patricians type of philosophy, populism is somewhat defined by whom the elites happen to be. In 2016, for Donald Trump’s voters, as well as the Brexiteers, it was the liberal political establishment, while, in the same year, for the #BernieBros, it was capitalism and the economic elites.

The two articles by Mr Brooks are not mirror images of each other. In the newer, he claims that Mr Sanders is more revolutionary than he claims to be, and that his partisans are so disgusted with the system that they want to tear it down.

A liberal sees inequality and tries to reduce it. A populist sees remorseless class war and believes in concentrated power to crush the enemy.

Four years previously, he wrote:

Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.

In the older article, the author, noting Mr Trump’s stunning, unexpected electoral success, is explicit in his contempt for the American voters:

The voters have spoken.

In convincing fashion, Republican voters seem to be selecting Donald Trump as their nominee. And in a democracy, victory has legitimacy to it. Voters are rarely wise but are usually sensible. They understand their own problems. And so deference is generally paid to the candidate who wins.

And deference is being paid. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida is urging Republicans to coalesce around Trump. Pundits are coming out with their “What We Can Learn” commentaries. Those commentaries are built on a hidden respect for the outcome, that this is a rejection of a Republicanism that wasn’t working and it points in some better direction.

The question is: Should deference be paid to this victor? Should we bow down to the judgment of these voters?

He was less dismissive, explicitly, in the newer article, but it remains implied:

There is a specter haunting the world — corrosive populisms of right and left. These populisms grow out of real problems but are the wrong answers to them. For the past century, liberal Democrats from F.D.R. to Barack Obama knew how to beat back threats from the populist left. They knew how to defend the legitimacy of our system, even while reforming it.

Mr Brooks’ argument boils down to one simple thing, the old Wizard of Id cartoon in which the town crier yells, “The peasants are revolting,” to which the king replies, “You can say that again.”

Mr Brooks, whose net worth is estimated at $9 million, is definitely not one of the peasants. His political instincts are at least moderately conservative, but he was perfectly fine with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying that she was determined, industrious even though somewhat unimaginative. To him, Mrs Clinton, though she’d doubtlessly have been further to the left than he would have liked, would still be a safe muddle at least somewhat close to the middle. For the patricians, a muddle in the middle is just what they want. It keeps them nice and safe and protects their status. Had he been in the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, when Congress officially declared our independence, he would have voted against it.

But Mr Brooks, in his rhetorical question asking whether the judgement of the voters should be respected, at least recognized part of the problem:

Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how (Trump voters) would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

No, his cronies and he were not “socially intermingled” with Mr Trump’s supporters, as the dismissive attitude of the coasties expressed by the term “flyover country” so potently demonstrated. As I noted on September 6, 2016, Heather Long, now of The Washington Post but then for CNN Money, reported that “Most Americans think unemployment is a lot higher than 5%. Americans think the economy is in far worse shape than it is.”

The U.S. unemployment rate is only 4.9%, but 57% of Americans believe it’s a lot higher than that, according to a new survey by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

The general public has “extremely little factual knowledge” about the job market and labor force, Rutgers found.

It’s another example of how experts on Wall Street and in Washington see the economy differently than the regular Joe. Many of the nation’s top economic experts say that America is “near full employment.” The unemployment rate has actually been at or below 5% for almost a year — millions of people have found jobs in what is the best period of hiring since the late 1990s.

But regular people appear to have their doubts about how healthy America’s employment picture is. Nearly a third of those survey by Rutgers believe unemployment is actually at 9%, or higher.

I pointed out than that while the ‘official’ U-3 unemployment rate was 4.9%, the U-6 unemployment rate for August, 2016 was 9.7%,¹ not too far off of the ‘common people’s’ estimate that it was “9%, or higher.”

The esteemed Mr Brooks may have recognized his disconnect with the commoners in flyover country, at least back in 2016, but that doesn’t seem to have changed his vision: he really cannot see, cannot understand, what the voters are thinking and feeling.

In this, President Trump ought to be very concerned. It has been reported that Senator Sanders is the opponent most Republicans want to win the nomination, believing that the kooky commie would be the easiest to beat, but remember, Mrs Clinton wanted Mr Trump to win the GOP nomination in 2016, thinking that he would be the easiest candidate for her to defeat. These things don’t always work out the way people expect.
¹ – U-6 unemployment is defined as “Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force. Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.
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