David Brooks, March 25, 2016, New York Times
This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative. For decades now the
Republican Party has been groaning under the Reagan orthodoxy, which was
right for the 1980s but has become increasingly obsolete. The Reagan
worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all
boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.
We’ve gone from Rising Tide America to Coming Apart America.
Technological change, globalization and social and family breakdown mean
that the benefits of growth, to the extend there is growth, are not widely
Republicans sort of recognize this reality, but they are still imprisoned in
the Reaganite model. They ask Reaganite questions, propose Reaganite
policies and have Reaganite instincts.
Now along comes Donald Trump, an angel of destruction, to blow it all to
smithereens. He represents not only a rejection of the existing Reaganite
establishment, but also a rejection of Reaganite foreign policy (he is less
globalist) and Reaganite domestic policy (he is friendlier to the state).
Trumpism will not replace Reaganism, though. Trump is prompting what
Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.
According to Kuhn, intellectual progress is not steady and gradual. It’s
marked by sudden paradigm shifts. There’s a period of normal science when
everybody embraces a paradigm that seems to be working. Then there’s a
period of model drift: As years go by, anomalies accumulate and the model
begins to seem creaky and flawed.
Then there’s a model crisis, when the whole thing collapses. Attempts to
patch up the model fail. Everybody is in anguish, but nobody knows what to
That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about
being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and
psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious
mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on
audacity, while everyone else is immobile.
But Trump has no actual ideas or policies. There is no army of Trumpists
out there to carry on his legacy. He will almost certainly go down to a
devastating defeat, either in the general election or — God help us — as the
worst president in American history.
At that point the G.O.P. will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase.
During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a
willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different
language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the
That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation.
The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign?
The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?
The first step clearly is mental purging: casting aside many existing
mental categories and presuppositions, to shift your identity from one with a
fixed mind-set to one in which you are a seeker and open to anything. The
second step is probably embedding: going out and seeing America again with
fresh eyes and listening to American voices with fresh ears, paying special
attention to that nexus where the struggles of Trump supporters overlap with
the struggles of immigrants and African-Americans.
This is a moment for honesty. Valuably, Trump has exposed the
rottenness of the consultant culture, and the squirrelly way politicians now
talk to us. This is a moment for revived American nationalism. Trump’s closed,
ethnic nationalism is dominant because Iraq, globalization and broken
immigration policies have discredited the expansive open form of nationalism
that usually dominates American culture.
This is also a moment for redefined compassion. Trump is loveless. There
is no room for reciprocity and love in his worldview. There is just winning or
losing, beating or being beaten.
It is as if he was a person who received no love and tried to compensate
through competition. That is an ugly, freakish and untenable representation of
the human condition. Somehow the Republican Party will have to rediscover a
language of loving thy neighbor, which is a primary ideal in our culture, and a
primary longing of the heart.
This is also a moment for sociology. Reaganism was very economic, built
around tax policies, enterprise zones and the conception of the human being
as a rational, utility-driven individual. The Adam Smith necktie was the
emblem of that movement.
It might be time to invest in Émile Durkheim neckties, because today’s
problems relate to binding a fragmenting society, reweaving family and social
connections, relating across the diversity of a globalized world. Homo
economicus is a myth and conservatism needs a worldview that is accurate
about human nature.
We’re going to have two parties in this country. One will be a Democratic
Party that is moving left. The other will be a Republican Party. Nobody knows
what it will be, but it’s exciting to be present at the re-creation.