It’s odd to contemplate how much Trumpism has warped our political perceptions. Arthur Brooks, the head of the staunchly pro-business American Enterprise Institute, is now the reasonable Republican in DC. He also wants to be on both sides of the most important issue.
In this valedictory Politico interview, Brooks’ pro- “free enterprise” warm and fuzzy conservatism feels positively down-to-earth, given what is happening in the Republican party today. But within this relativism lurks the risk—best embodied by the newfound public love for George W. Bush—that the mere fact of not being Trump may propel the classic “establishment” Republicans back to power under the guise of moderation.
So it’s worth looking closely at what exactly a man like Brooks, who sounds so reasonable, is actually saying. The allure of self-proclaimed moderates is that they cast themselves as the reasonable midpoint between two extremes. In this case, the extreme of Trumpism on the right, and of dreaded leftism on the left. But how coherent is this? Brooks admits that the aftermath of the great recession has torn apart society in part because of great inequality. And yet (bolding ours):
Bernie Sanders is a populist. Bernie Sanders’ populism is all about scapegoating. It’s rich people, it’s bankers, it’s Republicans—it’s all these people who got your stuff. That’s the kind of populism that we frequently see as opposed to a kind of ethical populism, which basically says we have good values, let’s go share. Let’s make sure that our values are ascendant to save our country. Right? Wouldn’t that be great? But it turns out it’s easier in the political process when people are suffering a lot to say somebody came and got your stuff. Whether it’s immigrants or whether it’s trading partners or whether it’s bankers or whatever.
Here, Brooks tosses xenophobia and isolationism into the same dismissive bucket as the idea that rich people “got your stuff.” Even though the data of the distribution of economic gains since the great recession shows: rich people got your stuff! Later he says:
When people feel like, ‘Shit, I can’t get ahead,’ that’s when people feel a lot less happy. When people feel a sense of opportunity, they don’t actually care that much about politics. They care less, they become less ideological when they feel that. The best single way to get rid of all this unpleasantness right now is economic growth that’s evenly spread throughout the population.
Is it possible for America in 2018 to achieve economic growth that is evenly spread throughout the population without measures like raising the minimum wage, vastly strengthening the power of organized labor, antitrust reform, tax increases on the wealthy, and other measures that serve to force wealth and opportunity down the economic ladder—away from the rich (who already have too much) and towards the poor and middle class? No. It is not possible. In other words, it is not realistically possible for Arthur Brooks to achieve his stated best possible solution to our nation’s ills by adhering to any part of the Republican party platform.
Stop badmouthing Bernie, motherfucker. He’s trying to do what you want.