This week the New York Times published an op-ed by David Brooks titled, “When the World Is Led by a Child.”
In it the NYTs columnist begins by saying that President Donald Trump is not a budding authoritarian and rabble-rousing populist, neither a corrupt Nixon-type politician, nor a big business corporatist. Instead, Brooks claims, one can tell by the way Trump answers questions in long interviews that he’s basically just a big baby. (Brooks used the term “infantalist,” by which he meant “a big baby.”) But his analysis of Donald Trump as an exemplar of immaturity and impulsivity appears to be little more than name calling to rile up readership disguised in the form of some staggeringly unsophisticated analysis.
As you’ll see — if you bear with me through this rebuttal of the article’s three main points — the problem with Brooks’ criticism of Trump is that he frames these character flaws as unique to Trump, when they are not unique to Trump at all. In fact, the criticisms that Brooks makes apply equally to every major establishment politician in recent times, including at least the last two presidents before Trump.
The way Trump speaks in interviews is not evidence that the billionaire real estate mogul is mentally slow and has a short attention span. In fact, the way he speaks is precisely the meandering, evasive, vague, soundbite-oriented way of talking to the media that will benefit a politician the most in today’s media environment! And that’s the media’s fault — political dysfunction begat by journalistic dysfunction. Politicians do it because we reward them for talking that way. Trump isn’t uniquely bad, just worse.
His interview style doesn’t exemplify immaturity. He’s the exemplar of the shifty, never-straight-talking politician of our dysfunctional era in media and politics. He isn’t a dimwit- he’s cracked the code. He isn’t impulsive. What Brooks describes is actually almost inhuman discipline in his message control. Trump will sidestep questions, steamroll right over the interviewer, and yes, say exactly what enough people want to hear whether he has the policy to back it up or not. Fueled by the unscrupulousness of a partisan audience, and the fear of losing press access to the president for more of these lame interviews, the New York Times and the rest of our country’s mostly passive, sycophantic, decadent news media created this.
What’s perverse in our politics is the blind rage and unreasonableness of partisanship, and its necessary, accompanying bouts of willful amnesia at the right times to avoid seeing how the problem is not “the other side,” but systemic dysfunctions baked right into the system itself. What’s bizarre is that the vast analytic powers of the entire journalistic world are unable to grasp the simple reality that Donald Trump’s campaign and administration are not an aberration from politics as usual. They are its exemplar. What’s perverse is the political perfection of Donald Trump.
In fact, Trump has mastered the art of modern dysfunctional politics with deft skill and won the presidency by embodying all these criticisms that the New York Times writer attributes uniquely to Trump, but are in fact the characteristic flaws that are rewarded by our decadent political system.
If Trump’s critics keep misunderstanding him and continue to criticize him in the same narrow-minded ways, writing him off as dimwitted or emotionally stunted, they’re unwittingly setting this country up for something even worse than what they’re criticizing.