What is this “America” David Brooks is talking about? Apparently, it’s an imaginary land of equal opportunity, “a capitalist meritocracy,” as Brooks recently claimed in another column. Each individual, or each group, races without interference toward the finish line where one joins the “elite” in living the American Dream. When things go wrong in American culture, “it’s more like bumper cars.” We no longer simply race, but get in each others way.
Mixing his metaphors, Brooks has Jeb Bush “swimming upstream,” though Hillary Clinton may win her race “through sheer determination” even though “she’s not a natural fit for this moment,” whatever that means. These two, and Joe Biden, are people who, by implication, are the best sort of Americans, those who run the race fairly, keeping inside the lines, starting when the gun goes off.
Not like Bernie Sanders who, in his bumper-car, “is swimming with the tide.” Or Donald Trump, “a narcissist who thinks he can solve every problem.”
What’s strange about today’s Brooks column is that Brooks’ criticism of Trump could be criticism of himself. He writes, “In the Trump mind the world is not divided into right and left. Instead there are winners and losers.” He ends the column, in fact, with an unintentional statement of his (unadmitted) affinity for Trump, who he sees as “deeply rooted in the currents of our time.”
Though he clearly wishes to see a Very Serious Person such as Bush or Clinton as president, Brooks can’t help himself: Whether he admits it or not, he loves Trump. In his column on meritocracy, he says it “encourages people to be self-sufficient—masters of their own fate…. The basic logic of the capitalist meritocracy is that you get what you pay for, that you earn what you deserve.” This is the logic of Donald Trump and the genesis of his narcissism. Trump is, in other words, the perfect exemplar of the type of society Brooks yearns for.
Like all of those Very Serious People who have been calling wrong the arc of the Trump campaign, Brooks writes that Trump “won’t be president.” I’m not so sure.
It would not surprise me to see Trump wrest the Republican nomination from the “deep” field of candidates. To go back to Brooks’ “rows of racers” metaphor, Trump showed up on a motorcycle while all of the others are on foot. He’s not in a bumper car, for he doesn’t care to meander around a track. He’ll kick someone else out of the way, certainly, but his eye is on the goal line and the race is a straight dash.
What the Very Serious People don’t understand (though Brooks should… he even writes it) is that Trump is in the game to win and that he doesn’t give a damn about the rules of decorum during the race. Trump must laugh every time he reads that he can’t win. He can, and there’s a good chance that he will.
And not just the nomination.
When (and if… I think there’s a good chance he will, but it is no certainty) Trump wins the nomination, the Very Serious People in the Republican Party are going to fall in line behind him. Among those will be David Brooks, who will probably breathe a sigh of relief, finally able to let his own “inner Trump” out and join in the fun.
We’re facing an extremely dangerous situation, here. If the Republicans can’t stop Trump (and, frankly, I don’t think many of them want to: they’re the one’s really in the bumper cars), the Democrats won’t be able to, either. Over the past generation, the Republicans have so stacked the electoral deck in the United States in their favor that it’s extremely hard for anyone to beat them in the Electoral College. The addition of Trump demagoguery to the mix they have created makes his candidacy particularly potent, much more so than anything even their Tea Party members can offer. They will have to fall in behind him or fall away—and there’s no other place for even those (unlike Brooks) who really can’t stand Trump to go.