David Brooks posted today an opinion piece at the New York Times in which he seeks to learn the lessons of Donald Trump.
It is true Brooks is observing the culture of the United States of America. But his cautionary reflections are relevant here in Canada as well.
For Brooks there is one clear conclusion from the election taking place south of the Canadian border.
This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.
Lest we Canadians lull ourselves into thinking this pain is absent from our country, witness a Facebook post that appeared on my news feed this morning:
All I can say is this market is not fair. I work my ass off. Quit drinking. Work two jobs. The only thing I want to do is own a home so I don’t have to keep worrying about moving. I want roots. I want to start a family one day. What happened to the good old days of working hard and buying a home. Now it’s bidding wars for an investment. People from out of town buying leaving hard working locals to move away from town, away from work, friends, family so that they can have a place to visit 3 times a Year when the weather gets bad where they live. It’s called greed and it really upsets me. Locals stop it! share the wealth. Keep it local. I’m tired of seeing sold houses with Bentleys and and Lexus and Mercedes in my old neighbourhood with no signs of vacancy. Not even blinds up. I understand this place is desirable but this is really pissing me Off.
Brooks suggests we are suffering from what he calls “declinism” and the signs of the pain are everywhere:
This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.
So, how to respond? Brooks argues we need to get a broader perspective. And he recognizes this will take courage:
first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable.
Then he suggests, with that broadened perspective, we need to find a “new national story.” The outline of what this new story might need to look like, includes three components
1. It will include a new healing vision of human community.
be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.
2. It will include a new vision of masculine sensitivity.
The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
3. It will include a new vision of human relationship based on trust rather than competition.
NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.
Healing, sensitivity and trust – what a vision! Could it be that the church might be particularly equipped to uphold Brook’s vision “for such a time as this”?