This is nearly astounding. That is, here are three of the most consequential paragraphs David Brooks has ever written:
We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.
I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.
We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
The New York Times columnist has achieved some infamy in recent months for meandering conservative apologetics and generally incomprehensible reflections of his uneasy soul; his latest exhibit is a predictably disastrous, but remains significant for a couple of reasons.
What most seem to have noticed is his suggestion that Republican leaders “seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment”, and his declaration that, “People will be judged by where they stood at this time”. But there is also this reflection on the American narrative in general and masculinity in particular, which might well get lost between the discussion of declinism, Donald Trump’s pain, societal obligation, and, you know, by the time one reaches the sentence, “Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope”―yes, he really wrote that―the whole thing is simply agonizing, and only goes downhill from there, but along the way there are these three nearly magical paragraphs.
To the one, apparently spinning out occasional gems like that, even if he doesn’t know what to do with them, is enough to keep David Brooks on the NYT payroll. To the other, it is important to note that he is hardly a pioneer on the point of masculinity in crisis. Susan Faludi wrote an excellent book on the subject seventeen years ago, but such as things are, she is Susan Faludi, so nobody paid attention. Well, not men, anyway. And that’s the thing; maybe it takes seventeen years for such ideas to filter their way up to such rarified spheres as David Brooks’ inimitable genius pursues, but that’s seventeen years we can mark out in which no serious societal discussion of masculinity has occurred. The disappointment and resentment Brooks describes is seventeen years in which the perception of betrayal Faludi dissected has only festered.
Brooks, David. “If Not Trump, What?” The New York Times. 29 April 2016.
Shulevitz, Judith. “The Fall of Man”. The New York Times. 3 October 1999.