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National Unity Focus of NYT Columnist David Brooks' Georgetown Talk

February 23, 2018 – New York Times columnist David Brooks explored how America might restore a sense of national unity during the 2018 Whittington Lecture Feb. 15 at Georgetown.

“History does have these pivotal moments,” Brooks said, “...moments where countries all around the world are facing the same sort of problem.”

E.J. Dionne, professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy and political columnist at The Washington Post, moderated the discussion with Brooks after the lecture.

Brooks said the nation is facing three overlapping social crises – a crisis of social solidarity, in which community has been replaced by loneliness; a crisis of trust in institutions that make it difficult for people to work together to solve problems; and a crisis of meaning.

“When you get a lonely, nakedly individualistic, atomized, alienated culture, it’s a recipe for tribalism,” Brooks said, “ … and we see it around the world with the rise of populism.”

A Hatchet Moment

E.J. Dionne speaks on stage while seated with David Brooks, also seated, on the right.Brooks described cultural change as a process of “hatcheting and ratcheting.”

“We ratchet up, we solve a problem. It lasts for a little while,” he explains. “It stops working so we hatchet, we dig it apart. It’s a bumpy period. Then we pivot, we find something new and we ratchet again.”

We are living in a hatchet moment where the old system isn’t working and we have to find something new, the columnist said.

“The old order is collapsing, and so something new is going to happen, and we just need faith in human ingenuity,” Brooks said.


Restoring Faith in our Politics

“One of the things we have to restore faith in … is a faith in politics,” he said. “If you organize a diverse society, you can settle things through force or through politics.”

The journalist encouraged students and Georgetown community members in the audience to consider public service, which he said along with politics calls forth the highest virtues.

“There are certain things that politics demand,” he said. “Sagacity, prudence, really listening to and understanding other people, flexibility, wisdom, forbearance – these virtues are hard to get at any other level.”

Whittington Lecture

The McCourt School established the Whittington Lecture in memory of Leslie A. Whittington, associate dean and professor of public policy at Georgetown who, along with her husband and two children, died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The forum honors her commitment to investigating pressing public policy issues by providing a forum for thoughtful dialogue with policy and political leaders.

Previous Whittington lecturers have included U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

2018 Whittington Scholar

McCourt School of Public Policy student Rachael Kauss speaks into the microphone while standing at the lectern.A McCourt student who excels academically and shows a strong commitment to community service is awarded the Whittington Scholarship each year.

This year’s scholar, Rachael Kauss (G’18), introduced Brooks and Dionne during the lecture event.

Kauss will graduate this spring with masters degrees in public policy and foreign service.

Her academic excellence has led to her being in the top 5 percent of her class, and she keeps active in the McCourt, Georgetown and D.C. communities. She serves as co-president of McCourt’s Women in Public Policy Initiative and as a member of Marlon Marshall’s student strategy team through Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service.

In 2016, Kauss won the President’s Volunteer Service Award for achieving over 100 hours of community service with the Girl Scouts, Higher Achievement and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.