Excerpted from the introduction to Robert Heinlein's The Happy Days Ahead (1980)
"It does not pay a prophet to be too specific."
—L. Sprague de Camp
"You never get rich peddling gloom."
—William Lindsay Gresham
The late Bill Gresham was, before consumption forced him into fiction writing, a carnie mentalist of great skill. He could give a cold reading that would scare the pants off a marble statue. In six words he summarized the secret of success as a fortuneteller. Always tell the mark what he wants to hear. He will love you for it, happily pay you, then forgive and forget when your cheerful prediction fails to come true—and always come back for more...
By stacking the cards, I'm about to follow the advice of both Bill Gresham and Sprague de Camp. First, I will paint a gloomy picture of what our future may be. Second, I'll offer a cheerful scenario of how wonderful it could be. I can afford to be specific as each scenario will deny everything said in the other one (de Camp), and I can risk great gloom in the first because I'll play you out with music at the end (Gresham).
For almost twenty years, The New York Times has paid Mr. David Brooks a princely sum for cranking out the same 3-4 columns over and over again. This farcically hackneyed strategy has succeeded astonishingly well and has paid Mr. Brooks huge professional dividends because he been very careful to never strayed too far from his single-minded adherence to de Camp's and Gresham's advice.
One of Mr. Brooks' perennials (and perennially wrong) columns has been his confident quarterly prediction that Better Days were just around the corner for the Republican Party and/or that the Republican Party had Turned a Corner and from now on it was going to be nothing but fair skies and following seas.
And for more than sixteen years I have been regularly documenting that fact that, each and every time Mr. Brooks has predicted that Better Days were just around the corner for the GOP, they weren't, and each and every time he confidently predicted that the GOP had Turned a Corner, it hadn't. Or, rather, it had, but it had cornered in exactly the opposite direction of Mr. Brooks' predictions and now things were so much worse.
None of those thousands of posts I've written on on Mr. Brooks' truly staggering record of being completely wrong about everything from the Iraq War to deficits to Obamacare to Rubio to Trump has mattered very much because until we were well into the first year of the Trump administration, the elites who comprise David Brooks' core audience simply refused to believe that the GOP was as fucked-in-the-head as we on the Left had always warned that they were.
And while the shocking news that the Republican Party was full of Republicans did cause Mr. Brooks to fumble around for an explanation that did not involve him and people like him being fascist-enabling Quislings who helped build the monster factory that the GOP had become, he soon found a Conservative Silver Lining to peddle to his audience of credulous boomer shut-ins.
From me, just three short years ago:
So imagine my complete lack of surprise when I opened The New York Times this morning and...A Renaissance on the RightBy David BrooksWhat’s bad for the gavel is good for the pen. The Republican Party is in the midst of a cataclysmic transformation. But all the political turmoil is creating a burst of intellectual creativity on the right...And who shall lead this Imaginary Conservative Renaissance Which Is Definitely Just Around The Corner?A bunch of toddlers you have never heard of, and...(emphasis added)...Other conservatives are rising to defend that order, including National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, who later this month comes out with his epic and debate-shifting book, “Suicide of the West.”Yes, the field marshal of Mr. Brooks' New Conservative revolution is the same shitbag who wrote "Liberal Fascism"
And against what mighty foe shall Jonah Goldberg be unleashing his portion of this "burst of intellectual creativity on the right"?
You guessed it:Goldberg is right to fight tribalism on the left and the right
So take heart, kids: the Irrelevant Beltway Conservative Renaissance is at hand!
And Doughy Pantload shall lead them...
All it took for Mr. Brooks to get right back in the business of peddling arsenic-laced giggle-juice to his readers was to expand the definition of "renaissance" from the explicitly political to the more broadly ideological. Just skip right over the fact that he had been been completely wrong all along about the GOP and instead focus on an imminent Conservative intellectual renaissance that was (sing it with me now) just around the corner and powered by (sing it with me now) Both Siderism,
Except Mr. Brooks' Conservative intellectual renaissance never showed up. And so, having once again run around the same corner all by himself, Mr. Brooks once again found himself right back where he started: facing the simple, stark fact that his Republican Party and his Conservative movement are what's wrong with this country. That they are a full-blown, home-grown white-supremacist cult -- rotten with fascism and delusion right down to the marrow that must consigned to the ash heap of history if America is to survive as a democracy.
And once again Mr. Brooks adapted by first simply ignoring his own, perfect .000 batting average when it comes to predicting renaissances and instead selling his readers on an Even Newer and Bigger Renaissance which is no longer either political or broadly ideological but it instead national/territorial.
The American Renaissance Has Begun
Mr. Brooks then goes on to describe a bunch of stuff which all sound great and may or may not happen now that the nation is re-opening after more than 600,000 deaths and more than a year in lockdown in an economy which has been kept in the equivalent of a medically-induced coma:
After decades in which consumption took preference over savings, Americans...
The biggest shifts, though, may be mental. People have been reminded that life is short...
Already, this era of new creation seems to be rebalancing society in at least three ways:
First, power has begun shifting from employers to workers. In March, U.S. manufacturing, for example...
Workers are in the driver’s seat, for now, and they know it. The “quit rate” — the number of workers who quit their jobs because they are confident they can get a better one — is at the highest in two decades. Employers are raising wages and benefits to try to lure workers back.
Second, there seems to be a rebalancing between cities and suburbs...
Finally, there seems to be a rebalancing between work and domestic life.
As always, one should be extremely cautious of any predictions made by a mope whose understanding of what's going on in "America" has always been limited to what he overhears in the Acela Corridor Gossip Car, but all of these thing sound just fine to me and if they are harbingers of our future, well that's just dandy.
Except all of his rosy predictions are based on Mr. Brooks -- whose only formal degree in anything is a bachelors degree in history from the University of Chicago -- drawing wildly wrong historical comparisons between the post-WWII economic revivals of Japan and German --
In 1982, the economist Mancur Olson set out to explain a paradox. West Germany and Japan endured widespread devastation during World War II, yet in the years after the war both countries experienced miraculous economic growth. Britain, on the other hand, emerged victorious from the war, with its institutions more intact, and yet it immediately entered a period of slow economic growth that left it lagging other European democracies. What happened?
-- and the post-COVID-19 renaissance he is predicting for the United States.
Something similar may be happening today. Covid-19 has disrupted daily American life in a way few emergencies have before. But it has also shaken things up and cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival.
Right out of the gate drawing any conclusions about how America will fare post-COVID-19 by comparing the post-WWII growth England and that of Japan and German is just weird and stupid on its face. If you're using the post-WWII world to prophesy what happens next for the United States, why bring England into it at all? The United States came roaring out of WWII faster than any other nation on Earth because every other major economy on Earth was in ruins, their factories in rubble, and their adult populations either dead or starving or otherwise in chaos. This was not the case in America, where we had a robust manufacturing base, abundant natural resources and a trained workforce all geared up and ready to meet the world's pent up, post-war consumer demand. In other words, we had the only intact lemonade stand left on a thirsty Earth, so of course we prospered.*
Second, take special note here of the bizarrely detached, evasive language Mr. Brooks uses to describe the aftermath of WWII, which was a global fight to the death between democracies (yes, I know the USSR was the furthest thing from a democracy) and an axis of genocidal totalitarian states that ended up killing 75 million people and shattering entire countries.
In his book “The Rise and Decline of Nations,” Olson concluded that Germany and Japan enjoyed explosive growth precisely because their old arrangements had been disrupted...
This is where Mr. Brooks' column stops being being merely wishful and infantile to becomes actively offensive. Because those those "old arrangements" he refers to were indeed "disrupted" ... by Allied troops, tanks, artillery. naval armadas, fleets of aircraft large enough to blot out the sun, and two atomic bombs. Because it is impossible to understand why Germany and Japan needed to get back on their feet in the first place without understanding exactly what those "old arrangements" were and exactly how they got "disrupted". And once you understand those whys and wherefores it becomes equally clear why Mr. Brooks has dropped the words "Republican" and "Conservative" from his vocabulary altogether when making his cheerful predictions about the Better Days Ahead.
The reason Japan and West Germany had to be rebuilt after WWII -- the reason there was a WWII at all -- was because, after years of disruption and escalation racist totalitarian regimes were able to sweep to power. Regimes which then moved quickly to do what all such regimes always do: irreversibly consolidate all political power into their hands, turn the media into an tool of state propaganda, demand ideological purity, keep the population numbed under a constant barrage of lies and terror while eliminating any reference to external realities that may contradict the party line, escalate fear of internal enemies and build a semi-divine cult of personality around the leader
Does this sound familiar? Remind you, perhaps, of an American political party about which we have talked about on this blog several thousand times?
And while these totalitarians states were arming themselves and testing to see how far the nations of the world would let them go, the world's democracies looked away and tried to shrug and bargain and appease their way out of the catastrophe that was coming.
And because the nations of the world would not rouse themselves to stop the threat of fascism at the beginning when the threat was small, eventually they were forced to face that now-monstrous and nearly unstoppable enemy on battlefields across the planet. An enemy that believed so fanatically in its semi-divine that destiny that even after it was clear that they had no hope of victory, they refused to surrender. Germany fought on until Hitler was dead and Berlin was rubble. Japan fought on until two American atomic bombs, President Truman's promise of --
...a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth...
-- and the Soviet Union's invasion the Imperial Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo convinced them that the only alternative to extinction was surrender.
And after they surrendered, the former axis powers came under armed allied occupation, a period during which the Japanese and West German constitutions were rewritten by the allies and their new governments and institutional were formed according to rules laid down by allies. In other words, only after they had been bombed back to the Stone Age, conquered, and the fascist elements of their society have been ripped out by their root was it possible for these countries -- with enormous financial and technical assistance from the United States -- to build everything back new.
This kind of glaring historical omission in order to undergird some ridiculous point is something Mr. Brooks has been doing for decades. Some of you might remember a particularly infamous example of this from 2017 in which Mr. Brooks methodically butchered Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address -- gutting it of any of the historical context which Mr. Lincoln himself carefully woven into the fabric of the speech -- in order to reduce the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his Second Inaugural to little more than an extended Both Siderist sermonette. From me in 2017:
In Mr. Brooks' Both Siderist version of America history, Lincoln is transformed into a disembodied specter who somehow just floats above all of this, hand-in-hand with Mr. David Brooks, as together they survey the sad and petty squabbles of the wretched Extremes on Both Sides, both in 1865 and 2017.
In his hurry to once again peer over the horizon and cheer up his readers by announcing the false dawn of yet another imaginary renaissance, Mr. Brooks has once again breezed right past the ugly and inconvenient realities of the here and now. Because there will never be a meaningful, sustainable "economic boom and social revival" as long as the Republican Party as it exists now continues to thrive and continues to hold a knife to the throat of our democracy. As long as it continues to do what all fascist movements do as they push and push and push, looking for a way to irreversibly consolidate all political power into their hands by any means necessary. As long as Conservatives media is nothing but a tool of of party propaganda, keeping the base numbed under a continuous barrage of lies and terror while eliminating any reference to external realities that may contradict the party line. As long as the party rewards loyalty and ideological purity above all else. As long as white supremacy is its only real animating principle. As long as the party remains unified by constantly escalate fear of imaginary internal enemies and is organized as cult of personality around the leader.
Our democracy will remain in peril of its life until the day the GOP is finally forced to drag its beaten ass into a modern Appomattox Courthouse or Supreme Allied Headquarters at Reims or onto the deck of the USS Missouri to sign instruments of surrender. And no amount of David Brooks brand giggle-juice about yet another glorious renaissance that is just around yet another another corner will change that.