Politco Magazine is carrying a Tim Alberta “exit interview” of Arthur Brooks that is a vital read for anybody interested in the intellectual side of conservatism and the Republican Party. It was especially fascinating to me coming to my attention just a day after finishing my read of the Zito/Todd book, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.” The sources reinforce each other quite nicely.
I want to focus on two quotes from Brooks. The first is when Brooks and Alberta are discussing the lack of civil discourse in our current culture. Says Brooks:
I have a book coming out next year called The Culture of Contempt. We’ve created a culture of not anger, not disagreement, it’s contempt. And we need to strike back. We’re the majority. We don’t want this. Americans are being held hostage and terrorized by the fringes. That’s what’s going on here. It’s not like 50 percent of Americans thinks one thing and 50 percent thinks another thing. No, 15 percent on each side are effectively controlling the conversation and 70 percent of us don’t hate each other. I can ask any audience, “How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically?” Every hand goes up. And yet, you’re willing to have somebody, some fringe person on your side of the debate, say that your brother-in-law or your mother or your aunt is evil and stupid.
That perfectly captures what I read as the undercurrent throughout “The Great Revolt.”
All the people in flyover country, you could almost feel it oozing from the pages of the book, are tired of the fights on the coasts and really tired of being treated with contempt. Frankly, Trump makes an enormous amount of sense when you consider that. All the vulgarity, all the tactless utterances, all the bombast, expresses that sense that people are just fed up with it. They play by the rules, they act with decency and kindness and are met with contempt. In light of that someone like Trump becomes almost inevitable.
Think of it on a smaller scale. I had one of “those” travel days yesterday. The source of the problem was the ugly storm that hit the northeast Tuesday night, but the travel problems were hugely compounded by the awful customer service from virtually all travel related services from the airlines to the rental car agencies to the parking lots to the airport vendors. I, and thousands of others, were the paying customers but the whole day felt like I was an inconvenience to all the employees that were trying to straighten the system out. There were countless temper flairs throughout the day from myself and a whole lot of other travelers. We had all paid for service that had been denied to us (like the Midwest voters playing by the rules) and to be treated so contemptuously by the people whose job it was was to help us (like the coastal elites) was just more than most could bear. And every flairing temper had a group of people behind it saying “Yeah!”
When you consider the contempt Brooks mentions and look at Trump like one of those flairing tempers it is not surprising there were a lot of voters behind him saying “Yeah!”
The other quote from Brooks:
I wish that conservative thinking had a claim to the heart. That’s different than what I often see today. I wish that we were a nation that had a soft heart and a hard head instead of a hard heart and a soft head.
Most of the interviews in “The Great Revolt” were people of faith and it was obvious that their thinking was tempered by their hearts. Soft-headed, hard-hearted conservatism is conservatism devoid of faith and a natural consequence of our efforts to follow the rules of engagement that the Left is working to establish, aided by the courts. We have to rely on our faith or we become hard-hearted, it is unavoidable.
The Alberta interview of Brooks is a vital read. Seriously, read it all. But I also want to make one final comment on “The Great Revolt.”
Over and over again in that book, people talk about being a part of something that is bigger than Trump and bigger than themselves. Another way to look at that is that Trump may be in front of the parade, but he is not leading it. Thus it is fairly easy to live with the bombast despite its less than desirable nature. Brooks talks a lot about cycles and self-corrections. I think we are seeing that and it is coming from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
I think this makes a point I have been making for a long time. The best way from the church to change the culture is from the bottom-up. Such is an effort of generations, not months or years. As such it takes lasting institutions, not the latest incarnation. It is time for “The Great Protestant Rethink.”