David Brooks seems to have reintroduced the concept of character into the general political discussion.
The way it gets to me, not being a reader of the New York Times, is that his book on character generated a secondary discussion about how political divisions of conservative and progressive have degenerated into character generalizations. Both sides view the other side as morally and socially contemptible.
I know this is true. A 50 year old respectable woman I met recently, walking by my house, engaged with me in a long and interesting conversation. She was a Leftie activist. Before the end of the conversation, I said that I was pro commerce. She gave me her email and phone and promised a dinner with her family immediately. She never answered my emails or phone calls. I'm obviously a dangerous lunatic.
In my coffee group of mostly neighborhood men, where my politics is well known, there are several people who consider me a perverse troglodyte.
Our current political divisions definitely have translated political differences into character distinctions. If you are on the other side you are depraved and grotesque.
The trouble with this analysis is that, while the current political division is more severe than anytime in the past half century, the divisions on character are not new.
In the 1960's the young hippie pot users considered the older generation to be drunken, hypocritical neanderthals. The character divisions were based on sex, drugs and music. In the 1970's the division was reversed and the non-hippies became anti-hippies. Hippies were considered immoral, filthy and depraved.
The pro and anti war factions in the 1970's considered the other side to be morally sub-human.
By the 1980s the McGovern vs Reagan differences were not political, they were entirely character based. Anti-communist and anti-anti-communists, considered the other side to be morally corrupt. The residual antagonism from the Vietnam War was still evident in the names Hanoi Jane and Ed Meese.
Today, the pro and anti-religion groups consider their opponents to be deranged.
Viewing people with opposing views as central to their character, has long resulted in transposing 'opposition' into character intolerance.