Monday, January 1, 2018

Readings about tribes and tribalism in America — #23: David Brooks on “The Philosophical Assault on Trumpism”

NYT columnist David Brooks continues to provide deep critiques along with contingent hopes about America’s current condition. In this column — “The Philosophical Assault on Trumpism” (October 2017) — he points out that Trumpian populists have fallen for “a tribal story”. That fits with what TIMN theory says is happening from a social-evolution perspective. Then Brooks says this tribal story looks more to the past than the future, and is more about walls, divisions, and fences than frontiers and horizons. That fits with what the STA:C framework says to watch out for, from a cognition-and-culture perspective. So not only does Brook make solid points, his piece is a double-whammy for the two theories — TIMN and STA:C — I think help make sense of the world.

Brooks’ argument is not only that pro-Trump populists have fallen for the tribal story told by Trump, but also that it “is a deeply wrong and un-American story”, for America is “not a tribe” but “a universal nation”:
“The only way to beat Trump is to beat him philosophically. Right now the populists have a story to tell the country about what’s gone wrong. It’s a coherent story, which they tell with great conviction. The regular Republicans have no story, no conviction and no argument. They just hem and haw and get run over.
“The Trump story is that good honest Americans are being screwed by aliens. Regular Americans are being oppressed by a snobbish elite that rigs the game in its favor. White Americans are being invaded by immigrants who take their wealth and divide their culture. Normal Americans are threatened by an Islamic radicalism that murders their children.
“This is a tribal story. The tribe needs a strong warrior in a hostile world. We need to build walls to keep out illegals, erect barriers to hold off foreign threats, wage endless war on the globalist elites.
“Somebody is going to have to arise to point out that this is a deeply wrong and un-American story. The whole point of America is that we are not a tribe. We are a universal nation, founded on universal principles, attracting talented people from across the globe, active across the world on behalf of all people who seek democracy and dignity.”
Brooks goes on to point out that “The core American idea is not the fortress, it’s the frontier. … The core American attitude has been looking hopefully to the future, not looking resentfully toward some receding greatness.” As I noted above, these are crucial observations about what it means to be American, cognitively and culturally.

Ever the Republican, Brooks reminds his readers what Republicans used to envision and champion for our country: in particular, social mobility. “The original Republicans were not for or against government, they were for government that sparked mobility; they were against government that enervated ambition.” Thus he lauds past government programs that built our schools and roads, for example.

But now the fearful Trumpian populists seek to amplify division instead of mobility, to favor fences over frontiers, all in contradiction to what the Republican Party is supposed to be:
“Today, the main enemy is not aliens; it’s division — between rich and poor, white and black, educated and less educated, right and left. Where there is division there are fences. Mobility is retarded and the frontier is destroyed. Trumpist populists want to widen the divisions and rearrange the fences. They want to turn us into an old, settled and fearful nation.
“The Republican Party is supposed to be the party that stokes dynamism by giving everybody the chance to venture out into the frontier of their own choosing — with education reform that encourages lifelong learning, with entitlement reform that spends less on the affluent elderly and more on the enterprising young families, with regulatory reform that breaks monopolies and rules that hamper start-ups, with tax reform that creates a fair playing field, with immigration reform that welcomes the skilled and the hungry.”
Against this background, Brooks urges those of us who still believe in the American dream to go “say no to tribe, yes to universal nation”:
“It may be dormant, but this striving American dream is still lurking in every heart. It’s waiting for somebody who has the guts to say no to tribe, yes to universal nation, no to fences, yes to the frontier, no to closed, and yes to the open future, no to the fear-driven homogeneity of the old continent and yes to the diverse hopefulness of the new one.”
I’m enthused by what he says here, from both TIMN and STA:C standpoints. And my wish for the new year is that you all too will come to believe in the importance of quadriformist evolution and triplex cognition.

To read, go here:

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