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Week In Politics Correspondents On What Brings Them Comfort During The Crisis


Every week for the past quite a few years, we have done a regular political chat on the show. Week In Politics, we call it. And while quite a few voices from across the political spectrum have cycled through, our stalwarts, the original duo, are David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School. Well, with politics in limbo, along with just about everything else right now, I was curious how they are keeping busy, what is bringing them comfort right now.

So, David, E.J., welcome back. We'll call it Week In Comfort (laughter). How about that?

E J DIONNE: It's great to be with you. Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So good to hear your voices - David, I'm going to call on you first because I noticed you've been writing about mental health in the age of the coronavirus. What's the central tension, as you see it?

BROOKS: Well, I asked my readers, my New York Times readers, to send me little letters on how they're holding up. And I think I sort of expected a lot of cheerful coming together stories. But what I got shocked me. It was heart-rending and gutting, frankly. I've gone through about 5,000 of the letters now.

KELLY: Five thousand, wow.

BROOKS: Yeah. And they're - people are just open and vulnerable. A lot of people are crying a lot. And then those with existing mental health conditions - one of them wrote to me, I used to be able to escape my unhappiness, but now my unhappiness is chained to me.

KELLY: Yeah. I underlined one line in your column that doesn't speak to quite that level of misery, but I wrote, yes, in big letters next to it, and it was you writing that you're mentally exhausted by 5 p.m. every day and that part of that is the unconscious stress that is flowing through all of us.

BROOKS: Yeah. And it's an invisible stress, sort of pervasive. I don't have moments of panic or stress. But somehow, it's just underlining everything and everybody. Obviously, it's a time to be an aggressive friend but also to see that there's meaning in it. I'm in love with this quote by Paul Tillich, a 1950s theologian, who says that moments of suffering interrupt your life and they remind you you're not the person you thought you were. They carve through the floor of the basement of your soul and reveal much deeper depths than you ever knew you had before.

KELLY: That's beautiful. E.J., you've written in the past about the quality of resilience and about the importance of confronting doubt with faith and sadness with joy. How are you thinking about that with this crisis?

DIONNE: Well, you know, David's quoting Paul Tillich reminded me of Martin Luther King's famous line that unearned suffering is redemptive. And I would underscore what David said - all those folks who are in trouble because of the lack of social connection right now, a sense of isolation, with a critique of the term social distancing because I like those who want to replace it with physical distancing because we need more social connection right now. But the most resilient person I think I've ever met is my mother-in-law. She was one of those people who always says God never sends you something you can't handle. She lost her husband when she was 38, left with little money. It was a blue-collar family and six kids aged 2 to 16. And the way she kept going was she focused on those hurting even more than she was hurting, and she reached out to help them.

KELLY: David, what's keeping you going, by the way?

BROOKS: I take the same run every day now and just watching the buds emerge on the trees - it gives you that 3,000-year mind (ph)...

KELLY: Yeah.

BROOKS: ...That this is a long story. And frankly, reading the book of Isaiah - the Bible teaches us, whether you believe in God or not, is that these are redemptive moments. These are moments that do come to define us.

KELLY: Yeah. We just have a short moment left, but I wonder if you two want to say anything straight to each other as friends and colleagues who've spent a lot of time over the years on this show debating the state of our country and our world - E.J.

DIONNE: Back in the day when David and I actually disagreed about politics even more than we do now, one of the things that brought us together was a love of community and a belief that people - what people did for each other was much more important than some notion of radical individualism. And I want to salute David for pointing out that times of crisis like this are times when human beings get really inventive about new forms of social organization. And he's encouraging that, and I appreciate that.

KELLY: And, David, a parting shot from you to E.J.

BROOKS: Yeah. We've been doing this 25 years. I just calculated. Our ideological differences have never led to anything but emotional closeness. And I think E.J. and I are doppelgangers. And I do think I know I love you, and I think you love me. And it helps that E.J.'s...

DIONNE: Yes, sir.

BROOKS: ...Default setting is extreme cheerfulness. And that has kept us together (laughter).

KELLY: (Laughter) That's lovely.

DIONNE: Thank you, David.

KELLY: Do you want to respond to that E.J.? I'll give you another few seconds to respond.

DIONNE: Normally, I have a pithy, quick comeback to David on that, and I have no pithy comeback at all except thank you.

KELLY: Well, I will offer a parting shot, which is as we talk about friendship, it's lovely to hear two old friends say I love you on the phone line. So thanks to you both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Great to be with you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That is David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.