NYT’s David Brooks: Elite Democrats Want Politics to Be All About Racial Fairness

David Brooks on PBS, 6/14/2019
(Screenshot/PBS)

Elite Democrats increasingly prefer to view American politics as all about race, according to David Brooks, an op-ed columnist at the New York Times.

The “essential truth … is that this segment is now more likely to see politics through a racial lens,” Brooks wrote in his June 25 column. These Democrats wants to sideline normal pocketbook issues — unemployment, wages, careers, housing — so they can instead talk about how blacks and Latinos compare to whites. According to Brooks:

The easiest way to describe the shift is to say that educated Democrats have moved steadily to the left. In 1994, only about a sixth of Democrats who had gone to graduate school said they were consistently liberal. In 2015, more than 50 percent did. In 1994, only 12 percent of Democrats with college degrees said they were consistently liberal. Twenty-one years later, 47 percent did, according to the Pew Research Center.

One of the results is that, as my colleague Thomas B. Edsall put it this week, there are now three Democratic Parties. The most moderate faction is the most nonwhite and focuses on pocketbook issues like jobs and taxes. The most left-wing segment is the most populated by whites. It focuses on issues like abortion, global warming, immigration and race and gender equity.

Brooks dodges the issue of why these post-graduate Democrats choose to talk about race instead of money. The graduate class may be noble or cynical, he wrote, adding, “For me, it’s a good idea to assume that people adopt their positions for honest, well-intentioned reasons.”

Yet Brooks made his career by dissecting the declared and private political views and snobberies of this semi-elite group — especially, the group’s not-so-secret desire for more wealth and social status amid the new wealth in Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

In 2001, he wrote a famous book about this group’s attitudes, Bobo in Paradise, which is neatly summarized in his 1996 article, “The Tragedy of SID,” or “Status-Income Disequilibrium.” Brooks wrote:

For journalists, writers, and politicos, the pain now is acute. Until recently, a person who went into, say, the media understood that he or she would forever live a middle-class life. But now one need only look at Cokie Roberts or David Gergen to see that vast wealth is possible. Once it becomes plausible to imagine yourself pulling in $800,000 a year, the lack of that money begins to hurt. Members of the Titled Class are good at worrying about their reputations. All their lives they’ve mastered the art of having other people think them smart and wonderful. But the person who suffers from Status-Income Disequilibrium can scarcely spare an hour worrying about his reputation because he has to spend all his time worrying about money

In 2001, the left-wing American Prospect summarized Brooks’ claims, saying:

This new code has been coming for a while. Some will find Brooks’s descriptions to be an extension of David Riesman’s idea that taste, not acquisition, is what’s at stake in today’s status wars. Others who suffered through Paul Fussell’s vicious 1983 book Class will recognize the ascension of his “X” class, those who achieve “personhood by a strenuous effort of discovery in which curiosity and originality are indispensable.” To expose how the new elite navigate today’s status wars, Brooks offers a “new set of rules and sumptuary codes.” In sum, luxury is vulgar; utility is admirable. Think GORE-TEX, Range Rovers, and e-businesses carefully exposing the steel and brick in factory lofts …

Brooks is dead-on as well with his diagnosis of “Status-Income Disequilibrium.” Those afflicted with SID have artistic or intellectual jobs–making, perhaps, $80,000 a year as a Nobel-track developmental biologist or an oft-quoted Justice Department civil rights lawyer. But these highly successful folks may lose perspective and feel downright deprived when those with whom they socialize–their fellows from college, say, or donors to their causes–make obscene amounts of money doing something crudely remunerative, like financial management or Frito-Lay marketing.

Ironically, conservative Brooks has embraced the snobbery of his progressive peers. In January 2018, for example, he wrote:

Over all, America is suffering from a loss of dynamism. New business formation is down. Interstate mobility is down. Americans switch jobs less frequently and more Americans go through the day without ever leaving the house.

But these trends are largely within the native population. Immigrants provide the antidote. They start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Roughly 70 percent of immigrants express confidence in the American dream, compared with only 50 percent of the native-born. …

Republicans’ problem is that since George W. Bush left town they’ve become the East Germans of the 21st century. They have embraced a cultural model that produces low growth and low dynamism. No wonder they want to erect a wall.

Progressives say Republicans oppose immigration because of bigotry. But it’s not that simple. It’s more accurate to say restrictionists are stuck in a mono-cultural system that undermines their own values: industry, faithfulness and self-discipline. Of course they react with defensive animosity to the immigrants who out-hustle and out-build them. You’d react negatively, too, if confronted with people who are better versions of what you wish you were yourself.

Updated for 2019, Brooks’ 2001 analysis suggests that post-graduate professionals have huge economic and snob incentives to support mass migration and racial politics.

Migration provides them with cheap commercial services — dry-cleaning, sidewalk coffee, cheap day-care –plus a comfortable alternative to the uncomfortable option of hiring African-Americans for domestic work.

Their voluntary decision to emotionally favor migrants also provides this semi-elite group with an obvious rationale to reject the unwelcome demand for civic solidarity from the many millions of ordinary Americans who are being sidelined by the establishment’s decision to import many millions of cheap-labor workers and renters.

This economic and snob pressure from post-graduate Democrats helps explain why Democratic politicians are displaying their eagerness to reject reasonable pleas from Americans.

Brooks used his New York Times column to dismiss this obvious convergence of economic and status incentives, saying:

The more cynical take starts with the observation that the creed of wokeness is mostly centered to the super-prestigious universities and the affluent progressive enclaves along the coasts. In this take, if you’re a rich white child of privilege you have to go to extraordinary lengths to prove you’re one of the good children of privilege and not one of the bad ones. In this take, white progressives don noble clothing to make themselves feel good without really dismantling the structures that keep them in lifestyle bubbles, and on top.

For me, it’s a good idea to assume that people adopt their positions for honest, well-intentioned reasons.

Other NYT columnists are breaking with their peers to follow the money, even if only a for short distance.

But Brooks may soon have to rewrite his column as the Bobo professionals react to the reality that they and their children are the next targets of the establishment’s investor-driven, high-migration/low-wage economic policy.

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