New York Times columnist David Brooks says America might not be as divided as it thinks.
Brooks, an upcoming guest speaker for the Community Foundation’s Making a Difference Speaker Series, has spent nearly 40 years in the media. Through his work and a new community renewal project, Weave, Brooks hopes to offer Durango insights on how people can connect even across seemingly uncrossable divides.
“I certainly find that it’s very rare that I interview someone that I don’t respect on some level,” Brooks said. “People think the other side is monstrous, but I just want to say, ‘Come with me to Nebraska, you Brooklyn person. You’ll be surprised.’”
The Making a Difference series recruits national speakers who can share philanthropic stories or inspiring anecdotes about changing the world one person at a time, said Briggen Wrinkle, executive director of the Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado.
In 2018, the foundation invited Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, to speak about early childhood education. The year before, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke about reporting on crises around the world.
This year, the foundation tasked Brooks with diving into top issues, primarily rebuilding trust, the urban/rural divide and committing to community, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday via Zoom. Tickets can be purchased through the foundation’s website.
“In light of everything our nation has been through in the last year, we felt that this impactful conversation about rebuilding trust could not wait any longer,” Wrinkle said. “It is time to discuss politics, philanthropy and how we can unite as a community.”
In addition to writing op-ed pieces for the Times, Brooks is also a commentator on PBS “NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
In years before, he wrote for The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal, where he spent part of his time posted in Brussels covering Russia, the Middle East, South Africa and European affairs.
But when thinking about his upcoming speaking engagement in Durango, Brooks first mentioned Weave.
Weave, a community renewal project and part of The Aspen Institute, takes a closer look at what’s broken in society – particularly a social fabric ripped by distrust, loneliness, inequality – and how communities are finding ways to fix it.
Brooks spent about two years before the COVID-19 pandemic traveling across the nation to learn how communities were solving problems, building trust and fostering connection.
“We would just say, ‘Who is trusted here?’” Brooks said. In one neighborhood, it was the man who collected parking garage payments and who could help anyone with city zoning rules, he said. “Those people who we call ‘weavers’ are everywhere and are easy to find.”
The work reinforced that trust-building must come from the bottom up, Brooks said.
Americans have uniquely low trust in each other. The lack of trust has complicated the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trust in traditional information providers, like journalists, has fallen.
“Frankly, I think some of it is our fault,” Brooks said. “In The New York Times, we haven’t adequately covered the middle of the country. ... When you tell 40 or 50% of the country their voices are not worth hearing, people are going to react and they’re not going to trust you.”
The rural/urban divide seems to be deepening. Young families are leaving rural communities for jobs in urban areas, where more wealth is centralized and the college-educated population is growing, Brooks said.
Every town is struggling, Brooks said, and Durango’s solutions will ultimately have to come from Durango.
“To me, it’s interesting to see how the town defines its problems and how it builds a system to work on its problems together,” Brooks said. “When you do that, then trust gets built.”