Can the G.O.P. Turn Back the Tide of Town Hall Anger?

Members of Congress facing furious crowds could learn a lesson from social science and start treating protesters as individuals.

Comments: 173

  1. If drawing false equivalences is the lowest form of argument, then this one is subterranean.

    I see some slight differences between the Tea Party, whose members embraced insane fake-news slander about Obama being an ineligible foreign-born Muslim extremist, and thousands of ordinary citizens protesting the conservative push to remove affordable medical care, building absurd walls, deporting the undocumented, bringing back back-alley abortions and defunding Planned Parenthood.

    If this constitutes an ochlocracy, we should remember that even a stopped ochlocracy is right twice a day. And the strategy of re-individuating the justifiably angry crowds is just the old “divide and conquer” whine in new bottles.

    The goal shouldn’t be merely to quell the anger of aggrieved citizens with rhetorical tricks, but to address their needs. Did these legislators not know that people needed medical care, or were worried about their financial future, or that people were not going to sit back and watch a century of progressive initiatives get overturned because an incompetent buffoon was elected by undiscerning voters?

    This entire administration is a joke, rotting from the top down, stuffed with incompetent functionaries and run by in-laws, cronies, sycophants and fools. If this isn’t the time to protest, I don’t know when that might be.

    Instead of taking a powder, Republicans should take responsibility for the mean-spirited, inept government they helped to create.

  2. gemli:
    I agree that if you take the comparison at face value it is a false equivalence. However, I do see some real connections in here with what we have witnessed over the past couple of years. For example, the angry mobs that reduce themselves to the lowest level of their parts was clear to many in the campaign rallies of Trump supporters. On the other hand, a large group's ability to gravitate toward more altruistic, helpful purposes could also be seen in events like the Women's March in January. Also, the concept of re-individuation explains why it is possible (sometimes) for some of us to be civl and rational in one-to-one conversations with people of differing political leanings.

  3. When the Party of the rich complains about class warfare, we know who won. Republicans only fear progressive gatherings, while they marvel at the brutality of Trump rallies and the fake Tea Party, owned and operated by the Kochs, protesting Obamacare "death panels" and government "taking their Medicare".

  4. And responsibility is what they'll take...along with a bath in the 2018 mid-terms.

    Except, of course, in those "GOP safe" districts that the Koch brothers money helped to create.

    We need to federally fund all federal elections. Equal budget for all valid candidates, and NO contributions. Only then will we cease to have the best congress money can buy.

    And while we're at it, congressional term limits would be a good idea. 2 terms in each house. 16 years in DC, if you're lucky, ought to be enough. Or be creative, extend house terms to 3 years to save some money and lend a bit more stability, and make it 18 years.

  5. Taking a step or two down from the philosophical plane we simply find a reactionary party and it's rep's encountering real life outside their self made La La land. Its not about boot straps, anti-abortionist, gun nuts, nor the seditious anti-taxers. It's about real life in America circa 2017. It is coming as a surprise to many of the right wingers that most of the population of the country does not agree with them on most any issue. And even worse the majority of folks are resisting all attempts to make us over in the imagery of the reactionary right.

    Who knew, after all, that running a country is complicated. And expensive.

  6. I'm sure the last Tsar of Russia, the last Emperor of China, and the last King of France all decried the impertinence of crowds as well.

    We see where that got them.

    An era of history, and the class benefiting from it, are once again about to be swept away in the blink of an eye.

    It's a question of politics -- and economics, as always -- not politesse.

    Worry about manners is the last refuge of absolute scoundrels.

  7. And look what happened in those countries.

  8. "A crowd is stronger, angrier and less ideologically flexible than an individual". Maybe that's why the GOP nominee was able to get across his message of hate and division last year because he was preaching to the choir, to like-minded citizens who saw the country and the world as he did. He encouraged the protest chants that began to take hold of a solid 40% of American voters. This president is no philosopher or thinker but, like any demagogue, he recognized opportunity when he saw it. The rest, as we know, is history.

  9. Note that Mr. Brooks, a well-known "conservative" partisan, never mentions any of the issues groups are protesting. Nor does he admit that the haunted look on the faces of his precious Republican Congress members is due to the fear those ranting crowds have put in their hearts.

    It's also interesting that reporting by journalists like Jane Mayer reveals that Mr. Brooks, in private speaking engagements to "conservative" groups, very much succumbs to, and is swept up in, the madness of his crowd. His advice is a Trojan Horse for the opposition.

    Is it a coincidence that Brooks and Kristof are both trying to tame protestors today?

  10. Mr. Brooks is actually what is laughably called a "libertarian," a follower of obsessive-compulsive typist Ayn Rand. That means that if you stand between Brooks and a dollar bill, he believes it is his natural right to kill you.

  11. I guess the Times publishes this condescending op ed to show it’s giving us a range of views. So we get this eccentric piece going back to the 19th C for quotes about the degraded, emotional, intellectually weak masses. What a hoot.

    The Gop right wing is the one that’s been degrading our democracy and these angry crowds at town halls are realizing it--an apt response to mistreatment.
    They have plenty of reason to angrily challenge congress. They’re not getting representation for their taxation.

    Per Pew "U.S. income inequality, on rise for decades, is now highest since 1928. The top elites control fortunes comparable to those of the Gilded Age. " An age before the rights of workers , before mass education, when millions of citizens couldn’t vote.

    Today, unions are weakest in generations, higher education now puts people in big debt, millions are still uninsured, and voter rights are interfered with to affect elections.

    Instead of phony, manipulative public relations techniques to control the citizen “mobs”, how about lawmakers start representing the interests of citizen majorities for a change? And stop working for wealthy donors who tether them to special interests, while their profits are the higher priority over our livelihoods, jobs, health care and education?

    Where are the inhibitions against pernicious behavior by the ‘mob’ of elite corporate megadonors ruling our elections?

  12. The US seems to be reverting to its original economy of overseers, slaves, indentured workers, and people subsisting in the forests.

  13. As someone who has seen US medical ("drugs") adverts, it seems to me that you can persuade a substantial proportion of Americans to believe in or buy almost anything.
    A terrific start to remedy this would be a stronger educational system giving due prominence to scientific thinking so that people routinely mentally check things; history - so they know when similar situations have arisen in the past; and English so they realise that much of the time language use in the US is more suited to Alice in Wonderland than being an aid to communication )which of course would mean a more prescriptive approach: The ideal surely is to welcome the new that adds to the existing and shun the changes that demean such as the abuse of words such as liberal (check an older dictionary) and progressive or fascist and conservative. Far too often words come to be a knee-jerk form of abuse rather than an accurate description. May I suggest an online search for George Orwell's Politics and the English Language as a reasonable starting point

  14. How about a study comparing how politicians would behave if their campaigns were actually paid for with public financing rather than by corporate interests? Maybe then they'll admit what's causing the behavior that makes them hide from their constituents at town hall events.

  15. Congressmen can hide from the voters but they can't hide from their rich contributors. The harder they work for their contributors, the more they alienate their voters and the more they have to hide from them.
    Sounds like a political death spiral to me.

  16. To be a real citizen in the US, you need a billion dollar plus net worth.

  17. Trump's rallies? Have they improved?
    Candy? Really, are comparisons between children taking candy and demonstrators trying to preserve their healthcare , the environment, public education, freedom of religion, or basic human rights nothing but false equivalence?
    What comes to mind is rich people screaming about class warfare.

  18. 'What comes to mind is rich people screaming about class warfare.'


    You got it in one. Few sentences I've ever read better some up the entire career of Arthur C. Brooks.

  19. When the rich steal from the poor they call it business as usual.
    When the poor want it back they call it violence.

  20. It's like people armed with nuclear bombs complaining about foes armed with pointed sticks.

  21. Guess there should be no surprise in further efforts from conservatives to squelch representative democracy by portraying it as ' ochlocracy '.

    The relevant point is that voters feel increasingly remote from their representatives, which is something G. Washington and J. Madison are well-known to have feared, with G. Washington choosing that exact point as the only time he addressed the Constitutional Convention:

    Instead of squelching voters' voices by lamenting town halls and engaging in egregious gerrymandering, politicians on both sides of the aisle should be working to restore the vaunted " Founders' Intent " by enlarging the House.

    Over just the past 60 years, the U.S. population has doubled (we forget we are the 3rd most populous nation, behind only China and India) with no increase in the number of elected representatives, making each voters' voice tinier and tinier, such that voters participate less and less, and representative democracy slowly suffocates.

    Town halls are the reflexive reaction to that suffocation, and they would be more orderly if voters had more representatives, so that they felt they were being heard.

  22. I had a similar thought: perhaps if Congress was less of a mob engaging in group think, town halls would be more egalitarian.

  23. KF - The biggest bonus is that more Representatives would make it harder for special interests to buy off the legislators, or at least allow more special interests who currently haven't bought legislators to buy their own, but it would dilute the power of the present 2 major political parties.

    With modern telecommunications, there is no reason for the entire House to fit under the Capitol dome, and on occasions they were actually require to all be physically present, they could be accommodated elsewhere in D.C.

    In just my life-time, population growth alone has doubled the number of people each Representative stands for, diluting my voice; the number of Senators was fixed by the Constitution, but they plainly intended the number of Representatives to increase - leading to description of our political system as a ' representative democracy '.

    Artificially capping the size of the House derailed the Founders' Intent.

    Of course, this concept runs counter to ideas on the Right trying to limit voting rights of citizens ourselves, never mind giving us more representation.

  24. Thank you, R. Law -- this is the real problem! It enables everything else. Low-population states with outsize influence on politics are easy targets for billionaire donors to manipulate. Our undersized non-representative House also skews the Electoral College and makes it easier to focus dollars on a few influential states.

    Billionaires would have much tougher, more costly road if they had to subvert a 1000 House members instead of 100. Our current system represents dirt and dollars, not the will of the population.

  25. Do wages and health care still count
    As debts and outrế rentals mount?
    Does the hoi polloi
    Masochism enjoy,
    For billionaires act as a fount?

  26. "The French psychologist Gustave Le Bon found that crowds were inherently 'unanimous, emotional and intellectually weak.'”

    This finding is best exemplified by the Republican Senate and House itself who - after unanimously screaming for eight full years to 'repeal Obamacare' - proceeded to roll out a massive tax cut for the rich and a massive Death-and-Funeral-Care® punishment for all of 'God's American children', all the better to meet the 'Lord and Savior' much earlier than expected due to their patented misanthropic 'early death' zero-insurance technology.

    Of course, the Republican mob Congress wasn't quite unanimous with their tax cut 'health care' legislation because a few Republican lunatics were outraged that the legislation wasn't quite cruel enough.

    Instead of a 're-individuation strategy', perhaps the Grand Old Psychopaths could try a re-humanizing strategy, whereby they learn that Americans are human beings - not punching bags - and that health care is a basic human right - not a fancy necklace.

    The GOP's problem is deep, deep mental disturbance...the religious belief that Greed Over People, good old-fashioned Grand Old Plantation economics and white supremacy is the secret to the 21st century.

    The Republican Party needs deep, intensive, daily psychotherapy in a controlled, state-funded prison setting in order to remove them as a clear and present danger to 320 million Americans.

  27. Smply put, what goes around, comes around. Today's GOP created this mess when they put an idiotic ideology and a growingly corrupt party ahead of the voters, the nation, its needs, and, above all, the Constitution. Congress's primary job became staying in office, and most voters don't have enough resources to "buy" their congressperson.
    If my purported representative told me that I was somehow less than a human being--and definitely less than the corporate and oligarchical donor class--and took steps to shorten my life for no good reason--I would be furious, to put it mildly. It's not the Party line of "outside agitators" who attend town-hall meetings, and voters are finally beginning to see through the smoke and mirrors.

  28. but, but, but corporations are human too

  29. First, let me say I love your comments and always look for them. No one else has been able to do as many creative things with GOP as you have. However, I don't think intensive therapy would help these people, unless it's aversion therapy.

  30. Wow. Just wow.

    The reason the are called "Representatives" is because they are supposed to represent the views of their constituents. Not manage them.

    Citizens want to be heard and treated with repeat.. this is a revolutionary concept? Try listening to your aggrieved constituents and represent them.
    That's all.

  31. respect

  32. I think this column misses the point. It's all about how elected leaders can handle the angry mob in terms of defusing and deflecting.

    Wouldn't it be better to learn from the chants we are starting to see nightly during every Congressional recess? Wouldn't it be constructive for Congresspeople to learn more about WHY people are angry?

    This is not rocket science. Consider the president's (and Congress's) first 100 days. What are constituents seeing?

    Debate over replacing the ACA with health plans that cover little, cost a . lot, and give huge tax breaks to corporations; A roundup of immigrants that is starting to look like a police state; A spiteful Muslim ban so far deemed illegal; Repeal of environmental regulations, ushering in a new era of dirty smog, unclean water, and approval of pipelines that you just know are going to unleash oil spills on farmlands; and a budget that guts programs for the local poor in communities where town halls are taking place.

    What do these pols expect? Constituents jumping for joy that their miserable lives are going to get even more miserable? As the billionaire cabinet and Congress whacks away at what little benefits Americans derive from social programs, while giving the Pentagon a whole lot of new toys with which to muck up the Middle East, is it any wonder constituents are angry.

    Forget how to handle the crowd; go back to Washington and vote for something your people can cheer about.

  33. Christine Mc

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I read them daily!

  34. @Christine McM

    I enjoy reading your daily and comments.

    What you usually write or suggest is so level headed and rational.

    It gives me hope that there are more folks like you out there who see through hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle.

  35. In other words, you can't fool people all the time.

  36. "Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior. "

    So deindividuation perhaps explains the fact that the majority of Republicans in Congress, some of whom, I suppose, are good people, will act in lockstep with their party, egged on by wealthy donor bosses, to deny and degrade health care for their constituents, steal a Supreme Court seat to protect their donors' greed is good Citizens United ruling, deny financially squeezed constituents the chance to refinance student loans at lower interest rates, deny funding for addiction services, allow violent men with a history of domestic abuse to have access to semiautomatic weapons and unlimited ammunition, eliminate "regulations" that protect air and water.......

    The majority of their constituents, when not fooled by Republican talking point spin, have every reason to be outraged. Perhaps Brooks would prefer they express their sense of betrayal calmly and politely.

    The best way to "turn back the tide of town hall anger" is to represent the interests of the people who (their ads fooled and who ) voted for them.

  37. Another April Fool's joke, albeit a couple weeks late. All I'll say is this, paraphrasing the last line in "Tora, Tora, Tora" - the right has awakened a sleeping giant, and filled it with a terrible resolve. See you at the midterm, Mr. Brooks.

  38. As an active member of a local Indivisible group, I can assure you there is much more to this movement than the shallow, televised views of angry constituents shouting at politicians at town halls.

    First, my Indivisible group is bolstering faith in our representative system of government. For the first time ever, many of us are actively participating in the democratic process. Our primary activity is not attending protests. The focus of our group is contacting our members of congress individually by phone, email and fax. Many of our members are now on a first name basis with the staff of our local congressman.

    For some, it's also our first lesson in civics since elementary school. I must confess that until joining this group I had little understanding of why and how gerrymandering happened or who my statehouse congressman and senators were--and why they are important.

    In addition, our private Facebook group is a useful forum for discussing issues in a nuanced and civil manner rather than the inevitable shouting matches that occur between Trump supporters and progressives. Our members participate in polls on issues. We share our opinions on the best ways to make our voices heard.

    In short, this is far from a mindless mob. In fact, it is a rejuvenation of citizenship.

  39. "In short, this is far from a mindless mob. In fact, it is a rejuvenation of citizenship."

    Which is exactly what Mr. Brooks and the GOP are so terrified of. They have proven that they can control mindless mobs very easily. Intelligent, involved citizens on the other hand mean that their long running con is coming to an end.

  40. You Go! Civic Samurai!

  41. John Oliver's session on gerrymandering is a must-see educational take on gerrymandering and why it matters.
    Plus, it's very entertaining!

  42. Is it a crowd, or is it a mob? Crowds may be caught up in waves of "kindness and compassion," but mobs rarely are. Political protest crowds are neither good nor bad, they are a response to a political situation.
    What I remember about the protests of the 1960s and 1970s is a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. Others may remember something less positive, but it's impossible to deny the impact.
    The rise of the Tea Party was rooted in similar feelings. People looked around and saw people who shared their outrage. Whether it began as a project funded by libertarian billionaires or whether it rested on something more spontaneous, it had political consequences.
    I think the beneficiaries of the Tea Party are wise to be concerned about this new movement. I felt a familiar sense of community at the Women's March in January. It was a nice feeling. It also gave me hope at a time when things looked pretty hopeless.
    If the Trump administration had been able to fulfill its promises, the movement might have dissipated. Instead, we are getting glimpses of what conservative ideology means when translated into policy. Trying to undermine the reaction of crowds to these revelations won't diffuse the movement. If anything, it may intensify. I'm still hopeful.

  43. Many of us are working further down the line than Trump. It starts with our school boards, our county commissions and state from the bottom!!

  44. The Women's Marches were among the largest protest events we have ever seen in this country. They were conducted peacefully and effectively. So there are instances where the crowd can raise the bar, and that is what happened with the Women's Marches. My family and I attended the one in Boston - 90,000 in attendance. I have never seen a crowd so tightly packed, so focused, and so considerate towards each - united standing up for America and our Constitution and sending a message to a new and reckless administration. So I don't completely agree with the assessments of some of the philosophers, but rather some of our forefathers who viewed it as a useful force against tyranny. The autocratic methods promulgated by the likes of Bannon, Miller and others and permitted by a careless president need to be checked. And the only way that's going to happen is by massive protests in town halls and marches.

  45. Normal well-bred, well-educated people must be revolted by any barbarian attempt to destroy their values. There may be some mob psychology behind the behavior of Trump's horde of ardent supporters, but those of us who were brought up with the golden rule find the current culturally illiterate rightwing Trump zealots to be more analogous to the Genghis Khan's Mongol horde than to compatriots in a nation that was the best educated in the world at its birth in 1788-89. It is perhaps no coincidence that in the same year we ratified the Constitution, France, then divided between a mass of illiterates and a handful of aging philosophes and corrupt theocrats, collapsed in a very violent revolution followed by a violent dictatorship and 26 years of constant war. The way to avoid the French model is to make sure the well-educated always vastly outnumber the illiterati. Our public education system has failed in that task over the past fifty years, and promises to amplify that failure under Ms. DeVos. If we are to save our democratic Republic, we must jettison the values of the Neo-Republican Party.

  46. France did not collapse in the Revolution. Paris and environs did. The rest of the country reacted only when the Prussians invaded.

  47. This advice, while sensible, would offer problems for elected leaders whose policy positions contradict the needs of most of their constituents. The Democrats stumbled because they did a poor job of explaining the ACA and the stimulus program, both of which helped far more people than they hurt. The Republicans, on the other hand, flee for the very good reason that Ryan's healthcare and tax measures benefit a small elite at the expense of the average voter.

    Not surprisingly, Mr. Brooks tailors his advice to focus on the mechanics of the interaction between a speaker and his audience. He seeks to help his beleaguered client 'manage' a hostile group without really addressing the reasons for their anger. The possibility that a politician might defuse a tense confrontation by truly listening to the substance of the complaints and then promising to rethink her position on an issue, this alternative does not occur to Brooks.

    In the first case, the speaker controls the crowd without yielding any of his power. In the second scenario, she behaves like a democratic representative of a sovereign electorate. This approach does not require an elected official to agree with her challengers, who number only a small portion of her constituency. It does demand, however, that she engage them in a serious discussion and take their complaints into account.

    Treating people as individuals comports with the values of a free society, but only if you don't try to manipulate them.

  48. Demonstrations are the last resort when 90 percent of the House is re-elected despite an approval rating in the low teens.

    The Great Compromise which gave us a Constitution was eviscerated when House membership was frozen at 435 by statute, not amendment, in 1929. As a result, there is no longer proportional representation when 994,000people in Montana share a single representative and only 528,000 share one in Rhode Island. Moreover, the very size of a congressional district, which averaged 710,000 as of the last census, provides a barrier to entry for any competition. Hence the absence of turnover. And the absence of representative democracy.

    The only way left for ordinary people to be heard is by their physical presence. It's the system.

  49. Perhaps what should scare the GOP the most is that the crowds they are facing are come to protest and are educated to their cause. This is not the time of the Tea Party. Those showing up at town halls understand the effect of the destructive legislation being pushed through by their congressman and their president. The protesters are effective because they can present a directed counter argument to the "Make America Great" rhetoric of Donald Trump. It is heartening to see the energy behind the groups who rally, march make phone calls and represent what Democracy really looks like. Perhaps the legacy of the treason of McConnell and the stupidity and hatred pushed by our present administration will have been to motivate, energize and bring into the voting process the millions of Americans as they learn that their votes do count.

  50. There was a great fear of "the mob" during America's pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times. With good reason. Mobs were known to enjoy watching people being killed and, during the same time period, public executions in England and elsewhere were seen as good entertainment for the masses. Presumably, no one is threatening Republican members of Congress with a similar fate.

    When the tea party started yelling at Democratic members of Congress in 2009, they were mainly screaming about what would come to be known as Obamacare. Problem was, it had not yet been defined. Still, these people knew they were against it. How?

    Many Republican voters at the time were quoted as saying that the government should keep its hands off Social Security and Medicare, not realizing, duh, that these were government programs. Virulent opposition to everything Obama was cranked up to the max before he had served six months in office.

    Yelling at public meetings has an ugly character to it no matter who does it, but it serves to act as a shock to the system for members of Congress, mostly House members, who otherwise believed everything was smooth, wonderful, great with the folks back home. It serves to put them on notice that opposition exists and is getting stronger.

    Had it not mainly been a tool of the Republicans, the tea party eruption could have been a positive influence pushing away from ideology. It remains to be seen whether Democratic oriented shouting is anything more than just anger.

  51. The shouting that some Reps complain of has become louder due to the selective hearing of said Reps.

  52. This article misses the point that most of the 'protesters' are trying to make. And it is a very simple point. With the plan to repeal the ACA they are rightfully worried that they will have to pay more for health insurance and get less coverage from companies trying to maximize their profit.

    So despite the general GOP line to oppose government subsidies, they discovered that those very same taxes and subsidies were the only way to make a market driven, for profit system work. In other words, they saw the ideology of their party taking money out of their pockets.

    These protests weren't about deindiviuation. They were about dollars and cents. The mood in some districts was also fueled by the massive anti-Trump post election demonstrations. Remember that there were many sister protests in cities and towns across the country.

    But while some may have originated in organized opposition groups, most were average voters from those districts waking up to realize that they had become the 'other people' that GOP policies had been demonizing as 'not willing to work' or complaining about lake of opportunity'.

    The white, suburban middle class, which is the core of GOP voters are now starting to feel like the very people that use to look down on. Their chickens have come home to roost and they don't like it.

  53. On the other hand, these Republicans have been acting as if the electorate were a mob for the last several years. They have played to its worst, most violent and divisive instincts, calling for vengeance (electoral or economic) and irrational action (bring back coal) as though they were strong policy. It seems to me they deserve what they get, or, better, they reap what they have sown. Those who have supported government shutdowns, tried to remove health care from those who need it, increase the margins of pollution, and deny voting rights need to take a little heat for their thoughtless positions. They have not read the public mood they have manipulated it. Shame on them and on us for letting it go this long.

  54. Let's listen to Nero fiddle as the world burns.

    Those who would own far more than their share of the nation's resources have convinced the dispossessed (blue-collar and non-executive white-collar pay since Reagan's ascension) to pillage the commons with the connivance of the family values party.

    Lincoln said that you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Lincoln was an optimist.

    Imagine the shock that many people felt when they realized that the Obamacare against which they had railed was the ACA, which their Know Nothing congresscritters were about to repeal. These people are concerned and angry as individuals, not as a mob, unless of course a mob qualifies as a group for actuarial purposes.

    Wait until the mob finds out that these same varmints who gorge at the Koch trough have "relaxed" environmental regulations because several earthquakes a day in Oklahoma must be the Lord's will.

    Today, Gail Collins writes about Alabama Governor Bentley, who apparently neglected matters of state as he dallied with an aide who was paid by the State. Oh that all of the GOP governors from coast to coast could be similarly distracted! Here in Maine, a little sweetness on the side might keep our Governor (who some say is the John the Baptist to Trump's you know who because LePage demonstrated that a mentally deficient ball of anger could be not only elected but also re-elected) from denying Medicaid or insulting yet another group of disadvantaged people.

    Nice tune, Nero.

  55. Brooks asks "Is this kind of political protest good for American democracy or bad?". I'd argue that it is good if one believes that the will of the majority of voters should guide Congress. Republicans have long assumed that "this is a center right" nation, although opinion polls on individual policies consistently argue otherwise. As long as progressives sat at home, Republicans could believe that they were acting in their voters' interests. These angry town halls probably led to the defeat of the Obamacare repeal, for a start. Having watched the Republican Congress in action over the past 6 years, I'd say that a cringing, tentative GOP is a very good thing, indeed.

  56. Surely there is a difference between a group of demonstrators organized around a central principle (pro-abortion/climate change/equal pay/etc.) and a group of protesters that forms spontaneously?

    I would think that re-individuation is a process used to cool tempers but if the demonstrators are organized and principled in their mission they are, for the most part, of one mind.

    I suspect the Republicans going home to vocal constituents are more likely to encounter the focused and organized demonstrator. In other words, these representatives are being asked to defend their votes and party position against informed citizens who have come together in accordance with one another's views. That requires a clear, committed, well thought out position that can be defended with good conscience. It is difficult to believe we have that in the majority of our elected representatives.

  57. Mr. Brooks takes a detached, professorial view of what is happening at town hall meetings around the country. Republicans are being confronted with a basic change in American's national belief that all Americans deserve access to regular, reasonable healthcare. Republicans, as Ryancare showed, continue to cling to the belief that healthcare is a luxury belonging only to the "Deserving".

    There is also a growing protest against Congress forcing Americans to pay nearly twice as much for healthcare and prescription drugs as people in other advanced countries.

    Add this to protests against defunding Planned Parenthood and Republicans' embracing xenophobia and there you have the makings for a town hall meeting.

    Mr. Brooks is right. Protests are about focusing groups on issues. He tags them with fancy, dismissive, academic words but that doesn't change the nature and power of public protests.

  58. Your article pushed my thinking this am. Mr. Brooks, the election of Mr. Trump had so many known an unintended consequences that are so multifaceted, it is hard to dissect. I am not surprised regarding the conservative protestors at republican town halls because for whatever the reason prior to Election Day, the vail was over their faces. Now, many are baffled as our president is flipping and doing many of the same things he criticized our former president of doing except amplified.

    Your reference of Lebon reminded me of one of his statements, "It seems too that behind the visible facts are hidden at times thousands of invisible causes." There are so many unseen causes that have yet to be revealed with each passing day and I doubt the crowds will remain silent as transparency and truthfulness seems remarkably difficult for this administration.
    The concern I have is what are our elected officials doing with the information they receive from these meetings? How are they processing the phone messages and emails? Yes, we all receive a scripted response when we send emails, but how effective are these town halls with impacting change when officials vote against constituents wishes? It is glaringly obvious in some cases that donors concerns take precedence over citizens so how can we stand united against greed and power? Both parties have elitist mentalities and neither are more like Jesus. This is no longer a liberal vs conservative fight, but war against domestic tranquility.

  59. Why does Mr. Brooks compare angry constituents to sneaky trick or treaters?

    Why doesn't he even condescend to address the reasons for their anger?

    Why does Mr. Brooks dither about about Thoreau and Emerson who lived and wrote before there was any such thing as widespread health insurance (never mind government regulated and supported healthcare)?

    What if representatives started paying attention to what people in their districts need instead of what the corporations and the 0.1% prefer?

    Yes, people do behave differently in groups - especially when they are faced with personifications of power and authority.

    What do Mr. Brooks' lofty pondering tell us about addressing authority figures who behave irresponsibly to the public? For whom is it more effective to act as an exposed, isolated individual unused to public speaking facing a slick, experienced, (often legally trained), well prompted scheister?

    Why does the New York Times pay somebody to try to distract from and minimize people's legitimate needs without even addressing the campaign finance laws and systemic wealth inequality that make government hostile or indifferent to those needs?

  60. The perfect example was a Repub official,not even an elected official,argued with a correct member of an audience. The rest new this party boss was wrong and took him to task. He continued to insist he was right and started to call the audience children. That's how Repubs act, then become cowards.

  61. Yeah, why does the NYT run this column at such a time in our history, when our democracy and well being is at stake?

    And Kristof also has advice on how we should do 'resistance' to the Gop/Trump takeover--- 'skip the lofty rhetoric be polite!

    What about the system itself? Where are NYT columns by actual progressives discussing how to deal with the poisoning of our campaign finance sysem--the most expensive and privatized among the democracies, and the resulting wealth inequality, higher than other capitalist countries.

    See intl OECD figures on economic mobility---the US lags, where once it was the leader. Few columns address this. We just get excuses and slogans---'globalization' and tech[. Then we are each on our own, while the corporation conglomerates are super organized and financed for maximum power.

  62. The methods America uses to control crowds of people? The question of how much America respects the individual and how much America is really not that far removed from methods of crowd control, centralized authority such as aristocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, theocracy, monarchy of the past?

    I have found America largely discourages a person from gaining a comprehensive view of the country. Every possible method is used to keep a person in the lowland if you will and prevent a view from top of mountain afar. I remember school--the narrowing of the mind (choose your specialty, prepare for future employment). I remember what occurs if you go against the grain when young: Shaming, ostracization, separation of the "problem individual" from bureaucratic structure whether educational or religious or what have you and increased placement of the individual in the realm of the criminal and mad.

    Kafka did not write his great books the Trial and the Castle for nothing. No advanced society really honors the individual. Why a person would be declared mad if he or she were to ask simply "What is going on? I do not so much want to work now at anything as much as I simply want to know how every aspect of the nation operates and how it fits together. I want to see into America. I do not want a job which is equivalent to fixing a fence post while the mountaintop view remains distant, I want the view from the top of the mountain. Education to see! Not brainwashed to be a Good American".

  63. What a bunch of hypocritical cowards. They had no problem egging on the tea party and right-leaning protesters when it suited their needs. Now that the tide has turned and people are starting to look more critically at the damage (health care, growing income inequality, business-first and foremost representation) they have wrought, they vociferously complain or just avoid the town hall entirely. Forging a path towards civility and intelligence requires the acknowledgement that protesters have legitimate concerns and for Republicans to have the gumption and courage to meet with them and listen.

  64. If those Reps were as Christian as they so loudly proclaim to be they would have always seen each of their constituents, Democrats or Republicans, as individuals worthy of their respect. Had they done that they would have been working to make sure their constituents had affordable health care, affordable housing, decent paying jobs, and protection from employers who put profit over safety and human dignity. Instead these faux Christians have been working to enrich the already wealthy, to allow employers to disregard safety regulations (think Massey Coal, truck drivers being fired for refusing to freeze to death) and to treat their underlings as sex objects a la Fox News. In direct opposition to Jesus's teachings they worship profit over people a la Ayn Rand the woman who proclaimed altruism and religion to be evil.
    This article in Newsweek is a good explanation of how this veneration' of profit over people came about with the help of places like Harvard Business School and free market worshipping economists. I am old enough to remember when Republicans and corporate America were not like this (for the most part).

  65. Thanks for the referral to this article. Everyone reading the Times should read this article and watch the film. This is why The American People are rebelling against Trump and the Republican's "Swamp" in Washington.

  66. A nice way to say that angry people are to blame for their anger, while deflecting attention from the issues that brought it forth in the first place. Perhaps the elected official would do better to govern for all their constituants, instead of only the ones who elected them, thereby avoiding such angry throngs in the first place? Isn't the core issue that the polarization so many have profited from has left throngs fed up with being shafted?

    We'll leave aside the cowardice displayed by those who simply cancel the meeting; dismiss the crowds as paid protestors; those who single out individuals for public berating; who've refused personal meetings with the agrieved simply because they are too busy seizing power and cashing checks to care; and those who simply are so full of angry, judgmental hatred for the opposite side they can't deign to even look at them.

    Character matters, Mr. Brooks. Those mobs are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore, Jefferson, Thoreau or Emerson be damned.

  67. However raucous those town halls are, and however discomforted they make elected officials, those are opportunities to exercise our rights and responsibilities as Americans. Town halls are an attempt to hold those officials accountable for their actions, or inactions. That said, disturbing and damaging deindividuation occurred at Trump rallies and the Republican Convention where hordes of angry people were swept along with the spectacle of Trump as he told one lie after another and provoked violence against other candidates and people who are not White or Christian. As someone who marched on January 21 in Washington, I can tell you that I did not in any way feel deindividuated. We were not a mob - we were a million-strong force to be reckoned with and we will continue to resist this sham administration any chance we get.

  68. The quality of life in our country has deteriorated under the conservative, anti-democratic regime and its disdain of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

    Politicians are beholden to their corporate benefactors, and not to those they purportedly represent. The idea of one man, one vote has been curtailed by rich oligarchs who can purchase more power in the voting booth than can the average citizen. The people see this, feel this, and respond accordingly.

    Dr. Franz Fanon once wrote, "When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe."

    Many of us can no longer breathe.

  69. precisely so. The succoring of the elite that became once again fashionable during the Reagan years has gone on to its logical conclusion: no one matters except the very wealthy. Corporate Culture has become shockingly elitist, and that is why the United Story has become such a global flap...there is no more room to move in the direction we are going (ever more elitism, farther "right") and we are working up to a sharp correction in public mores and morals.

  70. You forgot to add gerrymandering, not just corporate money. But yes, we're having trouble breathing and thanks to corporations buying deregulating politicians the air will get worse.

  71. Treating people as individuals with a right to be heard works only if you have something to say to them in return. If you want to get rid of the only health insurance they can afford, and have nothing to replace it with, keeping people in the mass and lying to them is the best strategy.

  72. The real problem is most congressmen only listen to and act for the voters that elected them and ignore the majority of their constituents

  73. This comment doesn't make much sense. If they are elected representatives then those who voted for them are the majority of their constituents.

  74. People in the Congress and the Senate don't listen to us peons that are their constituents. They listen to their big donors during campaigns and to lobbyists bringing gifts and money.

  75. Not even that, Tom. They only listen to big donors who finance their campaigns.

  76. Most of our elected officials, whether they are GOP members or Democrats, do not listen to us. It's not possible for them to be honest either given the way our electoral process works. They are way too dependent upon funding from companies, billionaire sponsors, and not upon us except for the election. They are extremely unresponsive, have assistants who do not bother to take the time to understand the issues we raise, and care only about being re-elected. It's not just a GOP problem. It's a problem all across the political spectrum. We don't help it when we refuse to consider why a certain bill or regulation should be voted down or voted for. Most often we don't want to be taxed to pay for things that need to be done such as upgrading and improving our infrastructures, having a better social safety net, setting up and maintaining a good health CARE system for all Americans.

    We don't want those people, the ones we deem unworthy of anything, to get anything. If there's one thing that's very clear in America it's this: when it comes to helping the less fortunate we don't. We'd rather let people live and die in poverty no matter how they got there, than try to provide everyone with a decent standard of life. We might not have slavery any longer but we still have the prejudice that accompanied it. The GOP just gives voice to it.

  77. True. Our representatives use voters but enact legislation for their donors.

    And we, as voters, wish not to understand that there is personal good and there is societal good. When we elect an inept and possibly criminal President who specifically crows how much he likes the poorly educated--we should all realize a well-educated citizenry benefits all of us.
    When our hospitals charge us enormous sums because our healthcare system pushes the destitute to use emergency care as their only medical resource--we all pay, we all lose out. As a society, we all benefit from a vaccinated population, a healthy population.

  78. Thanks to town meetings where real decisions are made through direct citizen votes, New Englanders are accustomed to vocal local meetings. The moderator in our town is pretty good at keeping the discussion and tone both civil and productive.

    Unfortunately, the culture of a New England town meeting is not universal across the nation. Mid-westerners -- I grew up in Ohio -- shun open public conflict. It's perceived as "not polite." However, mid-westerners too easily are giving up their voices in decision making.

    On the other hand, if a legislator cannot take the heat, then they should get out of the kitchen and pursue another line of work.

  79. I attended my third, well-organized Indivisable meeting last night in NYC. The group consists of smart, assertive and very motivated individuals with a myriad of backgrounds and ages.

    We, and other Indivisable groups around the country, plan to keep that haunted look firmly etched on Republicans faces for years to come.

  80. Our congressman was met at his recent usually love-fest 'Town Hall' with a crowd that wanted to know what he was going to do to save the affordable heath care act-in this extremely conservative area, he seemed shocked to discover that ACA was wanted! He kept trying to 'move on' to other topics, but the crowd kept demanding an answer on health care.

  81. "When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent."

    I would like my two republican senators to detach themselves from their group and become more ethical, rational and intelligent. Stealing a SCOTUS seat, supporting a bill to remove 24 million from health insurance, voting to defund Planned Parenthood, selling my internet history to the highest bidder, I could go on and on and on...

  82. The problem is that the entire foundation of conservative ideology is that there is no such thing as "individuals" - except of course for the Great Men who are ordained by god to be the rulers. The rest of society is nothing but a herd of cattle to be used and discarded without conscience. If any of these GOP congressmen were ever to see his constituents as individuals, he would have no choice but to reject his party's entire philosophy.

  83. Individuation? Re-individuation? More evidence--as if any were needed--that turning to social science is about the last thing we need to do.

  84. When a party (the GOP) takes the rich as its constituents and works in their interests to the detriment of the average citizen, no one should be surprised that voters turn up to shout at their so-called representatives.

  85. Most town hall exchanges require an individual from a group to either stand up or go to a podium, state their name - despite this being optional for the individual by most open meetings laws - and talk no longer than set period of time, usually 3 - 5 minutes. This is not new and has clearly evolved to re-individuate a group. When the mob rules is when a politician does not attempt to ask angry individuals to go to the podium to speak their 3 minutes.

  86. You're assuming that the politicians are there to engage rather than advance their agenda by whatever rhetorical means necessary. I suspect more the latter, based on the video I've seen. Right now this comes across as advice to the oppressors.

  87. "'The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.'"

    That would be the Senate Republican caucus and its leader, Mitch McConnell.

    The House Republican caucus has institutionalized this dynamic in the Hastert Rule.

  88. Contributors have money and can confront legislators as individuals. They have power as individuals. Voters do not have as much money and have power only as a body with the power to throw their legislators out of office.
    If you want to treat voters as if they were individuals, start by listening to them and serving their interests as if they counted as much as rich contributors.

  89. These events are painful for any political that represents their own interests or the interests of their party over those of their constituents.

    This is also the time where politicians come face to face with the reality that they really do work for us the US taxpayer! That is frightening for many of them.

  90. Those pesky voters! Why do they stick around after the election theater and expect their representatives to hold to their campaign promises? Why would they want representatives to consider their - the voters! - needs instead of the ones who made the win possible, those with plenty money? The nerve!

  91. I recently attended a friday night townhall given by Scott Tipton, our local GOP congressman in Colorado's 3rd district, which is deep red. I planned to ask a reasonable question when called upon, despite the fact that I think the congressman couldn't care less about anything than his preconceived notions. Instead, I did get caught up in the crowd's angry reactions to his comments when he reinforced his support for the standard GOP policies in face of questions from the audience. I agree with the author that "de-individualization " may be a problem, but the greater problem is the fact that the GOP seems to have gotten together and made a list of everything that is good about America, and has come out with a plan to defeat every single idea on that list. They deserve the anger they are getting; and I hope that they get repeatedly pummeled for their naked corruption. If they want to cancel townhalls because they cant take the heat, they can pay the consequences.

  92. The author has a point , but that one voice , individuated , is only meaningful when that voice has a larger crowd behind them backing them up .
    It's not an " either or " set of circumstances . Both group and individual voices are essential to effectuate change and both rely on the other for their strength and ultimate outcome .

  93. I believe the age-old adage applies - "The chickens have come home to roost."

    This is political karma. The GOP Congress has been obstructionist for many terms, denying any legislative directions suggested by President Obama. The GOP propaganda machines (Fox Entertainment and AM radio) churned out misinformation that helped Trump win the White House. Now Trump is bumbling his way along, flailing on any of his campaign promises and the GOP in Congress are complicit because they've not stood up to him.

    The GOP Congress, always walking lock-step regardless of the issue, are tasting their just rewards. America has experienced years of poor national and international policy. Supply-side economics, originated by Reagan and repeatedly tried, never trickled down wealth or made American jobs. Endless wars abroad have been quagmires without planned political end games.

    The GOP has no real and honest answers. They are a directionless political machine making money for the 1%.

    So SAD!

  94. Respect is the sine qua non of any relationship, be it with a crowd or an individual. If Congressmen show respect to the group needs of their constituents (rather than the deep pockets of a benefactor or two) and to their constituents as individuals (treating all people as equal regardless of how much money they might donate), then the world will be a better place.

  95. By ignoring the angry masses, the GOP got their party hijacked by a populist who became the president and most of their leadership is playing the Emperor Has Clothes game in a sort of Stockholm syndrome.

    But it is not a republican monopoly. By ignoring the content of the anger of the masses and Russian intervention, Hillary lost the elections to the same populist.

    A re-individuation strategy sound good to me as long as the results of the needs of the people are not ignored. Again.

  96. With Mr. Trump, back in Washington, trying to help them by insisting the repeal of Obamacare is still on the table, the Republican's may survive the town hall plague this recess. But with Trump continuing to play spin-the-bottle with his associate and his policy positions, Republicans are in deep trouble. So is America.
    We cannot have a leader whose focus, positions, and friends change from day to day; moment to moment at the whim of whomever is standing nearest to him and what ever the morning polls say.
    We will not change Trump, but Congress and the Courts can and should lead the country and make clear our policies and positions. It is our only hope. Trump will lead us into war if he thinks it will improve his polls. We don't need Americans killed for his advantage.

  97. It is interesting that the turnout at angry town meetings with representatives is the public that was so fed up with the Obama agenda over the previous 8 years, that they steadily voted the Dems out of office and elected conservatives to correct the situation. "Straighten up this mess", they said, "but don't cut any programs or regulations that benefit me." So are we going to have another hope and change movement?

  98. what's going to happen is that "the people" will grow increasingly angry about republican policies as the so called governing process continues. the problem will be that the republican gerrymandering and voter suppression will guarantee them continued wins for some time..... and the appointments coming to the supreme court will guarantee that we the people will suffer under their oppressive rule for even longer than it will takes to get them out of congress.

  99. As I watch some of the tape from the animated town halls held by those GOP members of Congress whi have the fortitude to actually hold them, I am struck by how often, after the event, or after a quick and untimely retreat from the event, that the Rep or Sen talks about "professional protesters." I harks back to the sixties when we often heard about "outside agitators" in the civil rights protests.

    Perhaps one reason for all of the anger directed toward Congresspersons is the general impression that the see themselves as only representing the people who actually voted for them. None of these people won 100% of the vote even in heavily gerrymandered districts. They are constituents too. When GOP Representatives and Senators -- or even Presidents and Vice Presidents start to understand that they have a duty to citizens who are not part of "the base" or who actually voted for them, then just maybe we can see some progress. Oh, and the town halls will be much more civil.

  100. The GOP has a problem. Remember all those people who vote against their self-interest? A lot of them are beginning to get more curious about what their self-interest actually is, or better said, what their politicians are doing in opposition to those interests. As they figure it out, it turns out that maybe they aren't so self-destructive and easily led as the GOP hopes for them to be. It's not a pretty sight when the victimc of deception figure it out.

  101. The greater problem, in my mind, is the almost pathological fear most politicians exhibit of addressing the questions their constituents pose. How often have we heard a clear, well-reasoned (and, if we were especially fortunate, cogent) response to a focused question? The proclivity of politicians to engage in Doublespeak does nothing to encourage their electors' respect for them.

  102. Everything is equal for Mr. Brooks, Koch financed tea party activists protesting against a health law that will benefit them, spontaneous protests against eliminating a health law that benefits them. Social science/philosophy abstractions, easy to do, makes you sound so erudite, versus the reality of the policy issue. It's not the rudeness, Mr. Brooks, it's the policy!!

  103. Crowds protesting are one of the few effective tools left in our gerrymandered democracy. I say keep them.

  104. This is what happens when the will of the majority of voters is denied. The current president and his government are a sham. Most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump. And they are doubly angry to learn that Russia interfered in the election to bring Trump to power. The outcry at town halls is the natural result of what happens when you shut people out of the political process. The GOP is reaping the whirlwind.

  105. When we vote we are always "crowd sourcing"; it is a very simple and uncomplex true/ false yes/no situation. Reasoned individual thought of leads us to jin one or another group to express our opinion. Democracy does not in our current America form lend itself to a large variety of choices.

  106. What should dissatisfied voters do then? Just sit home and sign am online petition or post an article on Facebook? I've seen op-eds like this before questioning whether people should participate in marches or protest at town halls and I wonder what the ulterior motive is. I suspect what the authors really want is for us to just stand by quietly while our democracy is being shredded. Sorry, I want my voice heard and I will use all the tools I have at my disposal in a democratic country.

  107. You seem to misunderstand the depth of resistance. For many of us the election of Trump was a last straw. The Republican party is now for ever linked to treason, it is now not possible to be a patriot and a Republican. A dissolution of the union is preferable to a continuation of the ludicrous undemocratic rule of the current regime.

  108. The American enterprise institute is a phony think tank funded by wealthy donors to pursue an agenda favors inequality, tax breaks for millionaires and stifles all funding for education, infrastructure and healthcare. Just who do they really represent?

  109. There are crowds and there are crowds. Somehow, Mr. Brooks failed to mention the Trump campaign crowds. Those were mobs, angry, stupid, ready to lynch mobs. Then there were those crowds in Selma, Al. who marched just to be treated as an equal. They weren't trick or treaters, another false equivalence by a close-minded conservative.
    Then there are the lack of crowds like Trump's inauguration.

  110. @Nick Adams

    You do not know what you are talking about.

    I was at several Trump rallies. They people came to hear Trump speak not lynch anyone.

    I saw two anti Trump protesters sneak in and try to provoke a fight with an elderly man. They had to be dragged out by security because they refused to leave quietly.

  111. Thanks for straightening me out.

  112. My congressman, Dan Donovan have refused multiple times requests to held a town hall. He had one in the fall where hundreds attended in Brooklyn and 2-3 yellers were removed.
    He has been using this excuse ever since, distorting the event on CNN.
    What use do we have of a Representative who is afraid to meet the people he is representing?
    Tele town hall is a one-way street. He offers one-on-one meetings (I had one), where he dominates the discussion and 3 of his aides backing him.
    He used to be a prosecutor (of Eric Garner that made him famous) --
    We need a man, not a puppet.

  113. Town Hall Anger makes for good television, however, unless this anger translates to anger at the polls it means nothing. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has been in Congress since 1979, told one of these "angry" gatherings, "I won by 146,000 votes." In other words, I can't lose, I will never lose and I don't care how loud you are or how angry you are.

    My Congressman is in the top five on the list of representatives with the worst attendance records and he basically runs unopposed. Does anyone think he cares if he holds a town hall with angry voters?

  114. The author's "de-individuation/re-individuation" thesis could be applied to the governing GOP in general. They have been acting like an organized mob for some time now. These town halls are a forum for "calling them out" individually, to stand up, state their name and what they stand for. They apparently don't like being held accountable in person.

  115. What I wonder is how many people at these town halls voted for GOP candidates. If they voted for them, I have no pity for them. What they are finding out now is that "ignorance IS NOT bliss."

  116. The story about the children with a bowl of candy seems fitting when discussing our present Republican leadership. Even with tiny hands, you can grab a lot if you dive in often enough.

    But you missed a point when discussing the town hall meetings. Republicans pack heat. And their leaders, who have granted them as much access to weaponry as possible, know it. These are people who've been lied to and played for fools, and they're starting to wake up. So maybe there's a good reason for trepidation.

  117. It is a bit sad that you are asking if "this kind of protest" (going to your representative's town hall) is "good for American democracy". Is low attendance "good for American democracy"? Many readers are aware of a recent Princeton study showing fairly strong Congressional resistance to popular opinion and more sympathetic response to campaign donors. The feeble state of our democracy is creating conditions of protest; it makes no sense to blame protest for the poor state of our democracy.
    Angry town halls contributed, to some extent, to the defeat of Trumpcare and that was pretty good for American democracy

  118. So the problem is the angry crowds and not the legislative swill that republicans are trying to foist on the public. Nice try mr. brooks.

  119. I would indeed like the Republican members of Congress and those in the White House to re-individuate their constituents. I would like it to matter to them whether those constituents live or die; whether they survive day to day in fear of losing health care, or the whims of their employers; whether DACA dreamers live in terror every day for fear of the deportation of their hard-working parents.

    I would like them to discover the humanity of their fellow human beings, even when those fellows aren't family members who happen by the luck of the draw to be felled by disease, or bigotry; or happen to be of another faith or sexual preference.

    Simply put, I would like Republicans to start seeing their fellows as human beings rather than simply as opportunities to gain political advantage by stirring up of hatred. But since I have lived a long time -- through Nixon and Agnew, through Atwater and Rove, through Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, through Gingrich and Palin, and now Bannon and Trump -- I do not expect this to occur in my lifetime.

  120. "When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent."

    Well that's a problem for republicans, who depend on their constituents being unethical, irrational, and unintelligent.

  121. The theme of this article reflects why the founders of our country settled on a republic rather than a democracy. An angry democracy can morph to anarchy.

  122. I am concerned that they can, in fact, turn back the tide by proper `messaging'.

    They have convinced everyone that they are the pro-life party.

  123. This op-ed piece offers little insight into the problem of democratic representation in Congress. "Haunted" Republicans, studies of "Halloween trick-or-treaters," labeling Americans who participate in Town Hall Meetings as "crowds" or "mobs." Pure rubbish!
    Modern polls have shown that Americans are deeply disaffected and unhappy about the political behavior of their elected members of Congress. The last Congress had an approval rating of only 8%. Nevertheless, Republican gerrymandering of Congressional districts ensured continued control of the House of Representatives by the most extreme Republican faction:
    As Mr. Brooks knows, since "money is speech" every politician hews to the piper's tune.
    The people who show up at town meetings are attempting to tell their representatives directly how they feel about the issues that affect their lives: economic insecurity, health insurance insecurity, protection of women's rights to control their own bodies, protection from excessive police force, safe water, clean air, and more.
    These people (not mobs or crowds) assemble peaceably, question and confront their representatives in public forums and listen. They do not damage property or assault strangers.
    Though funded by the 0.1%, Republicans should face their own voters.

  124. This is silly: "Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior." The example shows if kids see others taking more than allowed, they will also break the rule. It has nothing to do with the size of the group. And we didn't need research, we see it with speeding on the highway.

  125. Your thoughts, Mr. Brooks (I'm stressing the individual in my reaction) are relevant, but the GOP congressmen who will be removed from office in California next year (I'm talking to you Issa, Rohrabacher, Royce and Walters) are part of a group that rode the coattails of Trump into a position of greater power via Russian meddling. The GOP crowd that are attempting to turn back the clock to 1957 will have done this to themselves as part of a collective led by the King, Mitch McConnell. The "You lie" crowd at local meetings is just the start.

  126. Not surprising that a writer for the AEI would want to diminish the strength of progressives in their numbers. This is nothing more than a veiled attempt to tell legislators to isolate individuals so that in isolation their voice is weakened. I wonder if he was of the same opinion when the Tea Party was voicing their complaints in 2012?

  127. This column reads like a very, learned sociological study and totally misses the point. These protesters are frustrated with the completely lack of rational government activity not some sort of organized protest. The GOP has the power and will do anything to maintain it despite endless incoherence of any consistent policies by Trump. The frustration is palpable and to be subjected to be reduced to pedagogical analysis is offensive to me.

  128. "But when they were alone and asked their names, only 10 percent took more than they were allotted."

    That's the 10 percent the AEI on whose behalf the AEI agitates. This column is the equivalent of recommending what color shirt a Rep should wear to a rally. How about recommending that a Rep ask why so many people feel motivated to form/join a crowd in the first place? What about the issues they're shouting about?

    If a Rep has a hard time handling a crowd, s/he better ask how they got in that predicament in the first place rather than how to make the evening more frictionless for her/himself.

    And by the way, I would've had no problem with Tea Party protests if the Tea Party was in fact a grassroots organization rather than a store-bought front for the Koch Bros etc.

  129. The "town hall meeting" is a sly appropriation of "Town Meeting", in my opinion. (See Frank Bryan's excellent study "Real Democracy"). Town Meeting is a governing system in New England (perhaps elsewhere) which practices Direct Democracy, not Representative Democracy. It is effective, communal, open, contentious and strengthens community. Perfect, of course, it is not, and it is too unwieldy to be effective in cities. Republicans, in particular, arrive at their version of these "town hall" meetings (if they have the courage to do their jobs and go) armed with assigned catchphrases (assigned by Mitch M., no doubt) to further the Party line. "Repeal and Replace!", for example. It is bumper sticker thinking, and is infuriating to intelligent, informed voters (yes, we are out there!). I hope that Republican Congress members display some courage in representing those of us who got them to Congress, rather than shilling for this sadistic and cruel administration.

  130. What if they just spoke to truth? People sense fundamental changes. What if leaders shared their understanding of world order, current conflict, economic forces - sort of a where we've been and where are we headed and why. Why so much propaganda and distraction and tedious inane platitudes? Do they not understand themselves?

  131. What the author fails to point out is that one major intention of the resistance mob is to isolate and "individuate" the politician in question. While tea Party tactics relied on numbers and the optics of a mob to establish a PR message of righteous anger -- itself contagious for people watching on TV and impressionable pundits -- the Resistance mob is trying to put members of congress into a corner where they have to own their own words, opinions and actions. There's a difference. The way things stand now, it's Congress that is the mob, able to hide its own mass and behind a demagogue, never accepting responsibility, and degraded to it's most degraded member. That's tyranny. That calls for braking things up. That's the Resistance.

  132. Last night Mike Coffman (R-CO) had a town hall in Aurora. One woman asked him what it would take for him to side with his constituents over Republican Party doctrine. He did not answer and moved onto the next question.

    Sometimes silence communicates more than words do.

  133. Trump vanquished all other Republican opponents to become the undisputed leader of the Republican party. And he did so in large part by playing to the crowd. Treating "the whole group like one individual" asking questions "Should I lock her up?" or "Who's going to pay for The Wall?". This cheer leading tactic to solicit the crowds response was a yuge tactic to his and other GOP candidates' winning success.
    But now elected it appears they don't want to hear the voices of the people from their home districts. All of whom they are supposed to be representing?
    Maybe it is due to the fact that the promises they campaigned on have now mostly been forgotten and they don't want to be held accountable.

  134. Dear Mr Brooks,
    Our family loves to read your column and watch you on Fridays discuss the week with Mark Shields but.... This lesson on deindividualization or as first responder instructors have been teaching for years "diffusion of responsibility" is old news. So old in fact that you quote writers who may be trending up as fast as Fredrick Douglas but are just as pre Obama administration. Where was this article before the Tea Party protests? Today in this era of slick sound bites and parsing of words it is important to have these town hall meetings where organized groups ("mobs") can call someone out on these phrases that sound clever but mean precious little. So many reporters ask wonderful questions then just sit and smile while they receive prepared sound bites that do not even address the wonderful question. The "mobs" help point these out better than any individual is capable of doing in this setting. Thank you for you time on this matter.

  135. Respectfully, you have confused Arthur Brooks with David Brooks, of Brooks and Shields.

  136. It is David Brooks your family likes to watch on PBS with Mark Shields. This is Arthur C Brooks, totally different guy.

  137. In Argentina, politics is above all. Street protests, from a few to thousands of participants, are a daily event. Peronistas make control of street protests their main instrument of political power. In the US, the ruling elite never trusted political marches as a legitimate instrument of democracy. Now, the mistrusted is even greater since society is politically split and increasingly aggresive.

  138. 'Protesters' is an inadequate term. They are diagnosticians. And they come armed with evidence. When folks gather to reason in the Public Sphere slogans and 144 'caricatures' fail to offer real policies that work.

  139. What is driving these town meeting demonstrations is the righteous indignation of citizens who realized that they have been conned by Trump and the GOP.
    In this respect, they constitute a "class" in the same sense as the Trump University students, who were similarly conned and responded with "class action" suit. Are you suggesting, Mr. Brooks, that they just grin and bear it?
    Your analogy to trick or treaters taking candy is both patronizing and wrong. If anything, these citizens are protesting so that their candy is not stolen by the GOP's and Trump's false promises and bogus populism. They are seeking accountability and not just for rich donors and lobbyists.

  140. Trump's WH seems to be leaning more in the direction of the Wall Street crowd and away from the Bannon populists. As he reneges on some of the things he promised the populists will they join their moderate brethren to scold their representatives at town hall meetings? Could get interesting...

  141. More likely they will go back to being a splinter group with little actual political power. Divide and conquer cuts both ways, after all...

  142. I fear that as long as we have GOP representatives that are gloating about the fact that they now control both houses, the White House and soon the Supreme Court, they will not respond to the anger and frustration felt by their constituency. The Republicans have successfully gerrymandered voting districts so the voters who brought Trump and his band of know-nothing sock puppets in to power will continue to vote in do-nothing representatives an senators. The GOP is the party of NO and they are good at blocking legislation but as the past 100 days have shown, they have no clue about how to run the country and take care of the Americans who trust them to represent them and make or keep laws that support the principles of democracy and empathy that our country was built on. Trump is a mélange of lies, deceit, vulgarity, and apathy. He has clearly demonstrated his lack of knowledge on key issues. He assumed he could get through the Presidency without having to understand how it has functioned over the years. He assumed he could behave like a dictator and get bizarre laws passed. Donald Trump on the other hand is mired in personal scandals: Sexual assault, financial wrongdoing and Russia. He is a man in whom thinking American have no confidence.

  143. It's only about getting the votes to stay in office, Mr. Brooks. These elected officials don't care about their constituents but just continue their lies and inaction.

  144. Note that Mr. Brooks fails to mention the extensive social science research on social movements that shows conclusively that, without the crowd, those in power have no incentive to listen to individuals. Mass protest is essential to holding rulers of any political system accountable.

  145. Gerrymandered districts may make many of them feel safe but voters -- and those who didn't vote -- are finally beginning to realize that the Republicans are bent on destroying their health care and their planet. If the GOP starts tinkering with Social Security and Medicare those town halls will really explode.

  146. I can't help but wonder how many of these voters who may lose health care and suffer from Social Security and Medicare "fixes" supported the gerrymandering, the bait and switch actions and in the end voted for the legislator that now appears to not represent their interests? Did these people that are now questioning the motives of their lawmaker not know when they voted what that candidate had campaigned on? Now they complain?
    As a drill sergeant many years ago stated to that if you volunteered for the military as opposed to being drafted, you cannot complain. So goes those who voted against their own well being and interests.

  147. Dan, these are likely some of the same folks who some years back were shouting "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" And remember the uproar when W tried to mess with Social Security? Some people will never realize that these programs they so rely on are actually government programs, but, boy, when someone starts talking about tinkering with them....look out!

  148. Agree with everything in your article. That said, sometimes people need to just stand up and vent! Demonstrations are sometimes a way of focusing attention at the collective anger. Having respectful, rational discussions (that will likely go nowhere after the meeting concludes) is unlikely to show up on the six o'clock news. And the point of demonstrations is to focus attention and get attention.

  149. It looks like Mr. Brooks is a fan of government control by individuals instead of by the masses. Somehow he has leap frogged right over the women's movement, and the struggle for civil rights. He is, in his way, taking a stance against change. Instead of seeing such protest that things are not quite right, he paints them as bad actors. Using past examples to make his point is pointless since resistance today has a more solid basis.

  150. It it hadn't been for people like my grandfather, Frank Newton, God rest his soul, who along with other strikers (RIOTERS, Gasp!!!) in Racine, Wisconsin against J. I. Case in Racine, Wisconsin in the 1930s, who got his head bashed in at least once by a cop's baton, we'd ALL be wearing brown shirts and black boots, and all of us would ONLY be blonde and blue-eyed.

  151. Strange how, with the GOP controlling all of the political power in this country, conservative thinkers are suddenly obsessively concerned with the "dangers of a crowd."

    The entire premise of this article represents a false frame. Even the rhetorical maneuver of moving from "protests" in speaking of Jefferson, then to "masses" when speaking of Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson and then "crowds" (Le Bon), then to "mobs" speaks to the author's disingenuousness.

    Whether crowds are good or bad is irrelevant. The 'Constitutionalists'' beloved Constitution allows for free assembly and each citizens' right to lobby their government. Angered citizens are making use of that right. Crowds of constituents coming to meet with their Congressional Representative isn't a mob. It's a group of citizen lobbyists, rightfully and dutifully expressing their displeasure with their elected officials.

    I suspect Mr. Brooks's 'concern' with these groups isn't nearly so great as his passionate defense of a soft-spokent billionaire holding private meetings on behalf of himself, his company, his industry, in order to lavish a voting Congressperson with unlimited campaign funds. That's 'proper' lobbying in a conservatives mind, no?

    And the flippant comment notwithstanding, as an outspoken liberal, I had no issue with the Tea Partiers complaining in their town halls, other than with their ridiculous wardrobes, and the 'astroturf' nature of the organizations funded largely by the Kochs.

  152. We also understand all too well a popular strategy called "divide and conquer".

  153. NO. They cannot.

    They want to destroy democracy in America. WE - THE PEOPLE do not.


  154. A crowd that comes together by virtue of inflammatory rhetoric of anger is a mob, and earns the disdain of Thoreau and Emerson. A body of people who rise from the grassroots and unify in their purpose become the kind of force upon which our nation was founded. Let us hope that we come together with the mutual goal preserving our national values and erasing the power and financial corruption that has been slowly absorbing our government, which WAS founded upon purer motives. The groundswell of resistance that seems to be morphing into action seems to be holding on a productive level. We have reached our current level of dysfunction through OBstructionism. Let us hope that active CONstructionism can revitalize us. Our motto should not be "Make America Great Again", but rather "Keep America and Our Values Great". We need to be a sea of voices, not a mob.

  155. It's disingenuous to NOT include a discussion Of The ISSUES involved in the protest crowds.

  156. It is a shame you did not pitch the column in terms of advice to the mob on how to improve their political effectiveness. Then we would see you as a friend to participatory democracy.

    People of the mob: express your view but keep it short, let the next speaker speak. Bring a few microphones and small speakers, pass them round, take turns to articulate. Shear volume is satisfying, but argument changes minds. Convince them that their next election depends upon them hearing and acting upon your point of view.

  157. When a one party Congress comes close to passing a bill like Trumpcare--quickly, with no public discussion or even Congressional discussion, and when--even under these conditions only 17% of the populace who elected a same-party President approves this bill--Congress cannot be said to be doing the will of the people. That Congress wished to pass a bill under the guise of "Repeal and Replace" with a replacement healthcare bill containing neither health nor care--primarily to provide tax cuts to the wealthy from money taken from Medicaid which serves the poorest of our citizens--this is a defrauding of all US citizens.
    The wonder of Trumpcare is how MANY GOP Congressmen were willing to pass a bill that would be detrimental to their constituents in the name of Party loyalty!

  158. Now if one imagined there was bias in media, and of course we all know there is no such thing, one would wonder why this piece was not written when Tea Party activists (am I allowed to use the word "activist" with a conservative cause? Not sure of the rules here) were in town hall meetings expressing their anger at seas of red ink so great the mind has trouble imagining it.

    BUT THERE IS NO MEDIA BIAS. So we can just chalk it up to poor timing.

  159. It's not really surprising that a member of the American Enterprise Institute looks upon crowds at meetings as a "management" problem.

    People with legitimate issues, affected negatively by policies being enacted, need to be managed when they raise these issues. Just like widgets. Or workers. Oh, sorry--same thing. Interchangeable.

    It's all about the spreadsheet. As George Carlin said, keep it in the black. No matter what.

  160. Anti-Republican groups are pre-organized and showing up at these town hall meetings prepared to disrupt and shout down discussion. They are not there to obtain an answer nor listen to a discussion.

  161. Kinda like the GOP during the Obama administration?

  162. Hmmm. Civil Rights. Ending the war in Vietnam. I guess we should be more polite.

  163. Speaking of golden opportunities, it seems that Mr. Brooks missed one to point out that FOX and Breitbart an effective way to "deindividuate" an incredibly large audience, by giving legitimacy to their darkest lunacy in a 'digital mob'. Obviously not a perfect parallel, but interesting food for thought.

  164. The GOP can easily turn back the tide of Democrat town hall anger -- those Dems are never going to vote for the GOP anyhow. Despite all of George Soros's money, mimicking the Tea Party won't get the Dems any new Congressional seats.

  165. You're assuming, without supporting data, that these town hall protesters are all Dems.

  166. The "town hall anger" you so easily dismiss will not be lost on folks who have previously voted Republican. Consider that the "anger" will draw their attention to the issues.....and perhaps raise their awareness that things are not turning out the way they expected. People's minds can change when they realize that they're not getting what they thought they were voting for.

  167. When the people see that WE have a government that is beholden to corporations, Trump's own family and friends, and foreign governments WE MUST protest. The leaders we presently have do not listen to us. We have no choice but to demonstrate our anger and fear that our way of life is being wiped away by the grab for power and money. We must write to our legislators, email them, show up at their every function to demonstrate our repugnance of the stink and filth that is being forced upon us. We must financially support the opposition and give all the help we can. We have no choice. It's resist or die.

  168. Lets keep it simple. The greatest natural politician of our time, Bill Clinton, knew the American people like the back of his hand. Clinton's mantra was: It's the economy stupid. The American people are too pragmatic to worry too much about anything but their own wallet or pocketbook. The republicans from this moment on own the economy. If the economy tanks in the next 2 years, then the midterms will be a bloodbath for Republicans, if the economy stays solid than thing will be okay for them. The economy is always boom or bust, so the odds are good. Then there is inflation, inflation is another thing to watch, then there is gas prices. But things like human rights, health care, bombs in Syria or Korea, none of that means a thing in local elections.

  169. This advice is likely to fall on deaf ears. If there is one deep lesson these GOP town halls have to teach children, it's that powerful conservative men (and it's almost entirely men) are astoundingly fragile and unaware of their own power and privilege. When confronted with counter voices, they are at turns outraged, shocked, saddened, and totally surprised. They have no self-awareness. They are people who have never had anyone shout disdain in their face. The people shouting this time have endured this kind of abuse and contempt all their lives by the GOP. Just desserts, I say.

  170. Every day it becomes increasingly clearer that the immutable laws of economics mean that unless the Republicans want to allow medical underwriting, that is where insurance companies can reject applicants with preexisting conditions, something very close to Obamacare must be retained.

    Demand for medical care is inelastic. Controlling prices charged by doctors and hospitals via the use of monopsony like the rest of the developed world does is an anathema to Republicans. Monopsony, meaning "single buyer" is the flip side of monopoly. A monopsonist sets prices below free market equilibrium. It does not matter if there is an actual single payer or many buyers (or payers) whose prices are set by the government or by insurance companies in collusion with each other. see: Obamacare And Beyond: The Outlook For The Healthcare Sector.

    As it is dawning on the Republicans, any system that does not explicitly control prices must have mandates and subsidies similar to those in Obamacare. Otherwise, most individual insurance policies would be far beyond the reach of middle class Americans since, without medical underwriting insurance companies would have to price their policies based on the assumption that the applicant has a costly preexisting condition..."

  171. Crowds, in our society, are the best way to get attention from both the elected official and the force multiplier known as the media. Town hall crowds are an intervention in response to arrogant governance. Prevention is always easier and cheaper than intervention. Prevention, which entail working across the aisle for the benefit of the electorate, seems impossible for these partisans (almost called them "ideologues" but that would have implied thought and consideration); who insist on doing things like voting to support the president in his desire to keep his tax returns secret or taking health insurance away from tens of millions of people. Stupidity deserves crowds and continued stupidity will earn continued crowds. This is what makes America great!

  172. This article is a thin defense of Congressional Republicans' cowardice at facing their constituents. After eight years of big talk, big plans, big wagers, gerrymandering, take-no-prisoners campaigning, and complete disregard for their constituents' lives, now we are horrified to discover these congressmen have nothing, nada, zilch to offer other than more wealth for the wealthy. In fact, we now know all their recesses, vacations, holidays are the best protection we have from all they could do to us.

    We should send everyone of them packing on November 6, 2018. Think of the taxpayer monies we could save!

  173. Our elected officials proclaim to represent their "constituents-the voters in their districts". I wonder who they really represent. My Congressman doesnt hold local town halls but rather telephone town halls. And based on my experience he does not respond to inquiries sent via internet. Years ago I could just walk into the Capitol and stroll the halls--thanks to "security" concerns that is no longer possible. Guess who can stroll the halls--lobbyists!! That tells me who their real constituents are--the money men!