Just as I reject the notion that Donald Trump is a media genius pursuing a plan designed to accomplish goals for Americans not named Trump, I can’t accept the idea that David Brooks is taken seriously. By anyone.
The inexplicably popular New York Times columnist specializes in false equivalencies. As pointed out in 2011 in the Huffington Post:
Call it Brooks’s Law of Political Equivalency: For any Republican/conservative/right-wing culpability, there is an equal and opposite Democratic/liberal/left-wing culpability: If the Republicans are beset by extremism and fanaticism, then the Democrats are beset by extremism and fanaticism. If the Republicans display intransigence, the Democrats display intransigence.
If you manage to finish a typical Brooks column you will eventually get to his point, which is usually along the lines of, “…what fools these mortals be.”
That’s when a Brooks reader looks up from the screen and realizes, once again, he’s been played for a chump.
Brooks’ latest is a classic case of false equivalence: The Abbie Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump
(Trump) was not elected to be a legislative president. He never showed any real interest in policy during the campaign. He was elected to be a cultural president. He was elected to shred the dominant American culture and to give voice to those who felt voiceless in that culture. He’s doing that every day.
Is he really? The campaign I recall had Trump claiming he was going to get things done. He was going to build a wall, repeal Obamacare, pass tax reform.
He famously said, “I’m the only one who can fix our problems,” to great applause.
Not only has none of what Trump promised happened, but since Election Day, he’s been on multiple sides of his key issues: no one is sure where he stands on “Dreamers,” healthcare, foreign policy, etc.
So how is he like Abbie Hoffman? According to Brooks…
So in the late 1960s along came a group of provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the rest of the counterculture to upend the Protestant establishment. People like Hoffman were buffoons, but also masters of political theater.
Hoffman, who graduated with a degree in psychology from Brandeis University, used humor to connect with people and deliver his antiwar message. Back to Brooks…
They never attracted majority support for their antics, but they didn’t have to. All they had to do was provoke, offend the crew-cut crowd, generate outrage and set off a cycle that ripped apart the cultural consensus.
The “cultural consensus” Hoffman and his cohorts helped rip apart was the public support for the Vietnam War. Hoffman represented a small but highly visible faction of a large anti-war movement that was deeply committed to reminding Americans a war was being pursued for which there was no reasonable explanation.
The great journalist Mike Royko covered Hoffman and the Chicago 7 trial and wrote a column after Hoffman’s 1989 death called, Abbie Hoffman really an OK guy (which appears in Mike Royko: The Chicago Tribune Collection 1984-1997).
Royko wrote of Hoffman,
Depending on your views of the Vietnam war, he was either a good guy or a bad guy. If you think the war was just and winnable, he was a bad guy. If you thought the war was a monumental and tragic mistake, he was a good guy.
But like millions of other Americans…Hoffman thought the war was wrong. So he decided to do something more than write his congressman.
Abbie Hoffman used satire and street theater tactics to draw attention to the anti-war movement. He helped alter the public discussion of the war, which a complacent America had tried to ignore until it grew to the point that millions died, including more than 58,000 American soldiers.
To what degree Abbie Hoffman and his faction impacted the decision to finally end the war is debatable. But there is no doubt Nixon pulled the plug sooner than he wanted because the antiwar movement had raised awareness and reduced support for the war among mainstream Americans.
The anti-war movement saved American lives. Abbie Hoffman was part of that. He didn’t lead the largest faction, but he played a role. And he willingly took the lumps that come with being a visible, accessible member of a movement in conflict with the mainstream.
When Hoffman made people laugh, which was often, it was because he wanted them to laugh. He also wanted them to think.
People laughed with him, not at him.
So, you see, David Brooks, Donald Trump is nothing like Abbie Hoffman.
The Donald Trump’s presidency is all about one thing: Donald Trump’s pursuit of public attention.
Your false equivalency demeans and libels Abbie Hoffman, from whom Donald Trump could learn much about patriotism and working for the greater good.
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Abbie Hoffman’s shirt once went on trial