David Brooks. . . It’s Not About Race

Somewhere along the line, over the last five or so years, David Brooks became our national political analyst. I read him this morning in the New York Times, I listened to him on National Public Radio while making dinner, and in short order I’ll watch him on PBS’s NewsHour. The DB trifecta.

Unlike most of his NYT readers, I like Brooks’ work, which doesn’t mean I always agree with him. Today’s commentary wasn’t his finest moment. Before ripping him, I acknowledge it’s impossible to be lucid, let alone insightful, perceptive, and provocative a few times a week in print and several times a week on air.

Maybe when it comes to our NPA, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. In today’s essay he reads way too much into his anecdote of white tea party protestors eating at an African American family reunion.

I’m supposed to find more meaning in Brook’s mid-jog Beltway anecdote than the analysis of numerous African-American and other analysts who cogently argue recent events convincingly illustrate race still clearly matters?

David, beware the “Tom Friedman effect”. Friedman, Brook’s colleague at the Times and a Pulitzer prize winning author suffers from what might be referred to as an “entrenched elite echo chamber”.

Friedman travels the world reporting on geo-politics and writing books about all things global. I’ve read him closely and concluded he’s almost completely clueless about ordinary people’s lives in the places he travels to and reports from because he almost never comes into contact with ordinary citizens in any substantive way. He almost exclusively references elites, favoring business and political heavyweights. Sometimes he’ll quote his cab driver in a strained stab at psuedo-populism.

Here’s how I suspect the entrenched elite echo chamber evolves: 1) grow up in a privileged family; 2A) attend elite K-12 schools; 2B) pick up a few degrees at highly selective colleges and universities with a majority of people from privileged families that attended elite schools and 2C) participate in extracurricular activities with other elites; 3A) enter a profession which pays well with 3B) a majority of people from similarly privileged backgrounds; 4A) move into a mostly white, well-to-do neighborhood; 4B) form friendships with neighbors whose kids attend elite schools and participate in the same extracurricular activities; 4C) attend the same kid’s activities and dinner parties with the parents of your children’s friends in the same economically homogenous neighborhood. 5) Do everything possible to get kids into highly selective colleges and universities. 6) Repeat.

I’m not immune from the echo chamber although it’s probably not quite as elite as DB’s and TF’s. My neighborhood has some cultural, but minimal, economic diversity. In all honesty, I’m not friends with many working class or poor people; consequently, I can’t pretend to understand them.

By acknowledging those two things I’m not quite as susceptible to the “Tom Friedman” effect.

2 thoughts on “David Brooks. . . It’s Not About Race

  1. You are absolutely right about Friedman and I love the concept of the “Friedman effect.” I’m co-teaching a course with a Business professor about globalization. In my section (the first half of the course), we go through the various arguments of globalizaiton, including cultural, historical and economic. In his section they read three Thomas Friedman books, and some articles. My colleague is an admirer of Friedman. I told students I thought Friedman was not unlike progressives in the colonial era who would come back and say that empire was good for the colonies because they saw medicine being dispensed, people getting materials they had never seen before, and the people seemed happy to greet the Europeans. Imperialism, they argued, would civilize and teach the “primitives” and help them develop “worthwhile” lives. What that hid, of course, was the destruction of cultures and stable historical norms. We see the after effects from Nigeria to Rwanda and beyond.

    Globalization may not be as bad, but Friedman’s analysis is definitely very optimistic and limited in scope. But I’ll have to remember the concept now of the “Friedman effect.”

  2. Ron – Your point here about the echo chamber is appreciated. But I also think that it is possible to be empathetic to the point that experience matters less and the intergration of ideas more. This will require a necessary humility for all. Do check out my blog and the label “David Brooks.” I agree with your general analysis of him. Happy to have found your blog.

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