This post isn’t really about the David Brooks op-ed, which you can read for yourself if you haven’t already seen it eviscerated over Twitter. Just below the pilloried graf on obscure cold cuts is a sentence that spoke to me:
American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class.
Now, David Brooks is clearly an idiot and deserves all the criticism he’s getting for acting like capicola is the meat of the elite when I can call Jimmy John’s and have a #9, loaded with capicola, delivered to my door “freaky fast.” But Brooks is a special kind of idiot: the kind who thinks he’s wise and intelligent. He’s neither, but as the old saw goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I loathe admitting this, but occasionally David Brooks is a damn stopped clock if ever I saw one.
Much like a stopped clock, however, he’s right in spite of himself. David Brooks views the world as only a NYT columnist who is compensated six-figures can. My view of the world is a bit more idiosyncratic. As I was reading Brooks’ column, I was reminded of stories my father used to tell me.
My father is nobody special in David Brooks’ world. He’s a tradesman who never went to college, son of a truck driving preacher who never graduated high school. Despite these social markers, my father is smart as a whip. From what he’s told me, on the job site, he’s respected. In Bible studies, however, he’s largely been discredited. A few souls, realizing how smart he is, have apologized for not taking him seriously. He nurses grudges over this. I don’t blame him.
He’s never been a member of churches that are full of social-climbing members; he and his people are solidly working or middle-class. Yet even in these contexts he’s denied the respect his intelligence deserves because of his profession.
A lifetime of listening to my father tell stories has made me realize that David Brooks is right: upwardly-mobile folks pepper their discourse with terms and phrases designed to keep out the underclass.
At the same time, those stories have made me realize that David Brooks is wrong: this isn’t recent. “American middle-class culture” is not NOW “laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you have happen to grown up in this class.” They always have been, David.
Also, you’re not a great writer.