Last week the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece that documented America’s growing diversity, expressed some “anxiety” about it, but celebrated it in the end:
Because high immigration is taking place at a time of unprecedentedly low ethnic hostility, we’re seeing high rates of intermarriage. This creates large numbers of hybrid individuals, biracial or triracial people with names like Enrique Cohen-Chan. These people transcend existing categories and soften the social boundaries between groups….
On the whole, this future is exciting. The challenge will be to create a global civilization that is, at the same time, distinctly American. Immigration reform or not, the nation of mutts is coming.
New York Times readers were upset and angered by the fact that Brooks titled his piece, “A Nation of Mutts.” Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at the Times, questioned Brooks about the choice, and he wrote to her:
To take the word “mutt” as a derogatory term, you have to believe that purebred things are superior to mixed-breed things, whether it is dogs or people.
President Obama surely agrees with Brooks. The president once described himself as a mutt.
Of course the goal is to de-valorize the term “purebred”— whatever that means when you are talking about human beings mating.
And Brooks has a spotty record on this issue. Just a couple of months ago, he seemed to deplore America’s growing diversity in a piece celebrating the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn. That piece expressed disapproval of the Enrique Cohen-Chans as diffusers of a “deeper… collective purpose”.
The Orthodox are “incredibly self-confident,” Brooks said– and in honoring their “moral order,” he touched on intermarriage:
a young person in mainstream America can choose to marry or not. In Orthodox society, young adults have an obligation to marry and perpetuate the covenant and it is a source of deep sadness when they cannot.
“Marriage is about love, but it is not first and foremost about love,” Soloveichik says. “First and foremost, marriage is about continuity and transmission.”
The modern Orthodox are rooted in that deeper sense of collective purpose.
Writes a friend who is in a diverse family: “I’ve got other things to worry about than Brooks calling us ‘mutts,’ but I sure didn’t see him calling Orthodox Jewish kids ‘purebred,’ presumably because he recognizes a lot of people would be rightly angered by the term. Brooks is on precarious ground when you recall his earlier piece.”
I agree. I think these matters are incredibly personal, everyone has strong feelings about them, and our choices reflect those feelings. Temperamentally, Brooks is surely for the “existing categories” of human culture and religion; the Jewish Week reports that his wife converted to Judaism and changed her name, and keeps a kosher household.
The great news in his latest column is that American diversity is here and only increasing and all conservatives should learn to embrace it. And let’s be clear. As Alex Kane pointed out this morning, and as Tony Judt pointed out ten years ago: As America changes and there are more and more “Enrique Cohen-Chan”s walking around, a Jewish state is going to seem like more and more of an anachronism. Some day David Brooks will flipflop on that one too.