David Brooks is the leader in the clubhouse.
In a column (The Case for Biden Optimism) mostly aimed at praising Joe Biden’s inaugural address, NYT columnist David Brooks engages in one of the most remarkable attempts at both-sidesing that I have seen:
What idea of America does Joe Biden call us to unite around? It’s the old one. As Walt Whitman understood, America was founded mostly by people fleeing the remnants of feudalism, the stratified caste societies of Europe.
Today we have homegrown feudalism. On the right, we have white supremacy, an effort to perpetuate America’s racial caste system, and Christian nationalism, an effort to define America in a way that erases the pluralism that actually exists.
On the left, less viciously, we have elite universities that have become engines for the production of inequality. All that woke posturing is the professoriate’s attempt to mask the fact that they work at finishing schools where more students often come from the top 1 percent of earners than from the bottom 60 percent. Their graduates flock to insular neighborhoods in and around New York, D.C., San Francisco and a few other cities, have little contact with the rest of America and make everybody else feel scorned and invisible.
Setting aside that I do not see how either example feeds into the notion of “homegrown feudalism” in any relevant way (this feels like Brooks wanting to use Whitman and then straining to make it work), this is one of the most remarkable “both sides” comparison I can think of.
On the one hand, we have white supremacists, but on the other, we have elite universities?
This is stunningly stupid.
There is no moral equivalence to be made here at all.
And, of course, the scale of the two are different by orders of magnitude.
(Indeed, it is an utterly bizarre couplet on some many levels).
Brooks correctly alludes to white supremacy’s desire to “perpetuate America’s racial caste system”–which is a centuries’ old problem that affects millions of persons across the country.
He then notes that elite university’s education more people from the top 1% than the bottom 60%. So, simply as a matter of scale this is a ridiculous comparison.
But fundamentally, this idea that elite institutions are some kind of left-dominated machine that is producing a left-oriented elite in “New York, D.C., San Francisco and a few other cities” can I remind him who mostly populates the top 1% of income earners? Does he think that because there are some leftist professors at those institutions that they produce a mutli-racial, left-leaning elite?
Who does he think gets into elite institutions, in the main? Does he think it is poor persons of color who were Young Pioneers?
Has he heard of, oh, I don’t know, Josh Hawley, for example? Or Ted Cruz? Both are alumni of elite schools, and both are helping the white supremacist wing of their party.
Brooks himself when to the University of Chicago, which is pretty elite and he is no leftist.
It is all so absurd.
This plague of both-siderism has got to stop.
Plus, I will admit to being so tired of hearing how “the left” has control of the universities and popular culture. Check out your typical economics department even at the “elite” schools that Brooks is focused upon. They are hardly rife with Marxists (you know, actually leftists). My general understanding, although I am happy to be corrected, is that they are dominated by neoclassical economists who focus on markets.
Beyond that, are we really operating under the assumption that elite business schools are all full of leftists? That the engineers and chemists are all sitting around musing on the plight of the working class?
People who make these endless claims about universities know a lot less about them than they think.
Of course, if one thinks having the geologists reject young Earth theories or the fact that the biologists teach evolutionary theory means they are “leftists” then the term has little useful meaning.
Yes, studies show that university faculty members vote Democratic far more than Republican. But that makes them “left” only in the most general of senses.
Quite honestly, Brooks is doing the same kind of linguistic simplism as we are seeing from Republicans of late (really, of always) wherein anything they don’t like is from “the left” (or is “communism” or “socialism”). See, e.g., Senator Rubio from Twitter this morning:
Honestly, “radical leftist” is a nonsensical formulation to use to describe pretty much any legislative proposal of significance that is likely forthcoming from the new administration. More likely, we are to see
a “moderately left-of-center” agenda.
But, of course, truth doesn’t inspire fundraising nor does it helps turn out the base…
Back to Brooks and the rest of the commentariat: it is not necessary to present every column or pronouncement with faux balance, so could we please just stop?