David Brooks Ignores John Calhoun in His Conservative History

David BrooksDavid Brooks wrote an astounding column last Friday, The American Idea and Today’s GOP. He’s either incredibly ignorant or deeply deceptive. His argument is that Donald Trump and others are destroying the conservative tradition in America because it has always been forward looking. He noted that in this way it is different from conservatism in other places where it is all about holding on to the history of the place. But if that’s what American conservatives are, then what have the American liberals been doing? Have the last 250 years been a battle about how we are going to rush to the future?

There’s no way of saying, because Brooks never mentioned Democrats in that context — or liberals at all. Apparently, America is the conservative movement. That’s how he can write something like this, “From Lincoln to Reagan to Bush, the market has been embraced for being dynamic and progressive.” Yes, there’s a real continuum there from the man who headed an abolitionist party to the man who gave his first speech as the Republican nominee for president about “states’ rights” at the site of where three civil rights workers were lynched. And really, is that what the Republican Party is? Lincoln — a 120 years — Reagan — 20 yeas — Bush?!

John CalhounBut the big question is who exactly were the people who thought they could just take the land of native peoples because they had the power too? The ones who later committed genocide against them? And who were the ones who practiced and defended slavery? I’m not talking parties here, because obviously, over time, things get mixed up. But what movement was John Calhoun part of? Was he a liberal? A conservative? Or just someone we have to throw aside as an outlier? That last option seems to be Brooks’ choice, because he certainly doesn’t engage with it.

If we assume that modern conservatives are not the descendants of Calhoun, who are? Who are the people who fight against every change? Who are the people who think that things are just fine the way they are? Who are the people who think that it is God’s will that the poor are poor and the weak are weak? Because these are the things that Calhoun stood for — the things that he believed. Today, it would be hard to find someone who would make the same arguments for slavery. But the same arguments are being made to preserve less outrageous injustices. And unless I’m just really dense, the answer is very obviously found in the majority of the Republican Party.

I get so tired of hearing people like Brooks complaining that the conservative movement has gone off track. There are two strains of American thought that currently find themselves wedded in the Republican Party. One is the Alexander Hamilton strain of business and profits before people. Brooks mentioned him, because that’s the part that isn’t embarrassing — the part that history hasn’t completely repudiated. But the other strain is very much John Calhoun. And Brooks knows that. What’s more, he knows that without the fearful bigots, there’s no way the Republican Party would ever win an election anywhere. And if he doesn’t know that, he has no right to be printed in WorldNetDaily, much less The New York Times.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “David Brooks Ignores John Calhoun in His Conservative History

  1. Looked for “history” on the search bar here because I found something I enjoyed and others here might, too.

    It’s a Comedy Central show, “Drunk History.” Apparently it began as a recurring skit on a Web show and only recently has been made into a cable series.

    The concept is, local comedians who have a passionate interest in a local historical story tell that story. But blitzed. Not insensible, just really really drunk.

    Then gifted performers enact that drunken historical story. In this example, it’s Jordan Peele portraying the chemist Percy Jordan, and it’s brilliant:


    That’s from the episode “Birmingham,” which I saw in full online, and I want to check out more episodes from the library to see if they’re like this other segment:


    People getting history wrong when they’re wasted is an amusing thing, but sad — that joke can’t be sustained. This episode, at least, was real history! It was the interesting stuff! I’m curious to know if most of the episodes are like that. If they are, that’s an amazing idea. You’re sneaking real history onto American cable network TV with your funny gimmick? Wow! I mean, wow! But maybe it’s mostly the joke of “drunk comics getting history wrong.” This episode surely wasn’t.

    • I saw the first six direct-to-internet shorts. My favorite was Hamilton and Burr (the first). Although I don’t exactly understand why people think Hamilton was a good guy. They were both awful men. This story, of course, is completely false. But funny:

      I’ve never seen the show, because by the sixth episode, I thought it had already gotten stale. But the show might be great.

  2. I got the show from the library and it is FABULOUS. The joke isn’t about drunk people getting details wrong anymore. The joke is when performers portray these historical figures, they do so lip-synching to the drunk person. And the performers stay completely in character. So, if someone farts while talking about Lincoln, the performer playing Lincoln Looks around at Sam Chase or whoever with an expression of “I am Lincoln; I did not so just fart.”

    The Comedy Central version has really terrific history. The problem is, a good history story needs a hook, and sometimes the storytellers get too loaded and forget the hook.

    I fell in love with one guy. Some big, burly, tattooed type, he told a story in the “Chicago” episode about Capone being a dingbat. It was very funny and the kind of story you’d expect from a macho man; Capone, who played at being tough, was a wimpy little nothing. Good history.

    The same guy tells a story about Nader in the “Detroit” episode. He summarizes in five minutes what’s so great about Nader’s career. Then calls him a “nerd warrior.”

    “Nerd warrior.” That is the highest praise I can ever think of one human giving to another.

    If someone told me tomorrow “you’ve won the Pulitzer Prize for crap writing” my reaction would be “doesn’t George Will have one of those? I’m pretty sure some awful writer does. Can i trade in the trophy and use it for a cash equivalent? I got bills.”

    If someone called me a “nerd warrior” I’d shout hosannas to the skies. No-one has, because I don’t deserve that magnificent label yet. Maybe someday? Unlikely, but maybe …

    • I’m afraid I’ve lost the thread. That’s the problem with getting so far behind. But I’ll vote for you for nerd warrior.

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