David Brooks of the New York Times has been one of my favorite columnists for many years. His thoughtful commentary is not only currently relevant, it reminds me of the thoughts expressed by local leaders of my parents’ generation who I looked up to and admired for their wisdom, exemplary citizenship and generosity of spirit. Many, including my parents, were Republicans, but now there seems to be no place left in the party for their kind of conservatism.
Just recently, Brooks began what he says will be the subject of his columns from time to time on the principles of democracy – what he called “the thinkers who explained our system and why it is great.”
He started with quotes from Thomas Mann, who fled Nazi Germany and came to America. In 1938, Mann wrote “The Coming Victory of Democracy” and gave lectures against racism, Communism and America Firsters.
The Brooks column is excellent. I highly recommend it for those who need to feel hope for our country right now.
There are many important direct and indirect quotes from Mann, mixed in with Brooks’s own interpretation, but the following two paragraphs struck me as most relevant to the current state of affairs in Washington D.C.:
“In his day, as in ours, democracy had enemies and the prospects could look grim. Mann argued that the enemies of democracy aren’t just fascists with guns. They are anybody who willfully degrades the public square — the propagandists and demagogues. ‘They despise the masses … while they make themselves the mouthpiece of vulgar opinion.’ “They offer bread and circuses, tweets and insults, but have nothing but a ‘rabbit horizon’ — all they see is the grubby striving for money and power and attention.
“The authoritarians and the demagogues subjugate action through bullying and they subjugate thought by arousing mob psychology. ‘This is the contempt of pure reason, the denial and violation of truth in favor of power and the interests of the state, the appeal to the lower instincts, to so-called “feeling,” the release of stupidity and evil from the discipline of reason and intelligence.’”
And yet I have hope.
I have hope, because here in Sonoma Valley the values of those leading citizens of my youth remain strong and as deep as our oldest grapevines.
I have hope because FISH, which started here 46 years ago, is still going strong and delivering food baskets to the needy.
I have hope because the worst fires in our history brought out the best in so many of our fellow Sonoma Valley citizens.
I have hope because many of our wisest and finest citizens continue to toil as leaders in our community vineyard on councils, boards, committees, fundraisers and special events. They engage in serious study of community challenges and in thoughtful, respectful debate on the best way to meet those challenges.
I have hope because our community has a virtual army of volunteers engaged in hundreds of organizations dedicated to service. They comfort the sick, feed the hungry and help wherever and whenever there is a need – from church and school committees to mentoring and coaching.
That is what great is.