This week the New York Times published an Op Ed by David Brooks entitled, "When the World Is Led by a Child."
In it the NYTs columnist begins by saying that President Donald Trump is not a budding authoritarian and rabble-rousing populist, neither a corrupt Nixon-type politician, nor a big business corporatist. Instead, Brooks claims, one can tell by the way Trump answers questions in long interviews that he's basically just a big baby. (Brooks used the term "infantalist," by which he meant "a big baby.") But his analysis of Donald Trump as an exemplar of immaturity and impulsivity appears to be little more than name calling to rile up readership disguised in the form of some staggeringly unsophisticated analysis.
As you'll see if you bear with me through this rebuttal of the article's three main points, the problem with Brooks' criticism of Trump is that he frames these character flaws as unique to Trump, when they are not unique to Trump at all. In fact the criticisms that Brooks makes apply equally to every major establishment politician in recent times, including at least the last two presidents before Trump.
If we succumb to the temptation to polarize and personalize the dysfunctions that are systemic to our political process, because it feels good (in the short run) to point and blame, we will never root out and solve these problems with our government at this time of urgent political crisis.
Brooks' analysis begins:
"First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.
His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work."
Is Brooks unhinged? It's an easy way to dismiss a politician that the columnist doesn't like, but regardless of how much one may dislike the president because of other more substantial (and much worse) criticisms one can make about him, it severely strains credibility to assess a man like Donald Trump as unable to focus, lacking in impulse control, and bad at learning.