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David Brooks 32

John Meacham: If our country itself is irreconcilably polarized, then in classic republican — lowercase “r” — thinking, that is going to be reflected in our political system.

David Brooks: I’m coming around to that view, which I was very resistant to over the last ten years. A lot of people have argued that [polarization] begins out in the country, not in Washington. I guess I more or less accept that now.

And I think it’s a moral failing that we all share. Which is that if you have a modest sense of your own rightness, and if you think that politics is generally a competition between half-truths, then you’re going to need the other people on the other side, and you’re going to value the similarity of taste. You know, you may disagree with a Republican, or disagree with a Democrat, but you’re still American and you still basically share the same culture. And you know your side is half wrong.

If you have that mentality that ‘Well, I’m probably half wrong; he’s probably half right,’ then it’s going to be a lot easier to come to an agreement. But if you have an egotistical attitude that ‘I’m 100% right and they’re 100% wrong,’ which is a moral failing — a failing of intellectual morality — then it’s very hard to come to an agreement.

And I do think that we’ve had a failure of modesty about our own rightness and wrongness. And I’m in the op-ed business, so believe me that people like me have contributed as much as anybody to this moral failure. But I think it has built up gradually and has become somewhat consuming.

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David Brooks and Jon Meacham, in conversation when Meacham subbed for Charlie Rose this summer.

More:

  • George Washington rips party politics
  • Mark Leibovich rips our cowardly political culture
  • Meacham and Brooks riff on Jefferson and Hamilton

John Meacham