Tim Carney is the commentary editor at the Washington Examiner. He is also a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In 2012, Carney was a Pulliam Fellow at Hillsdale College. He is the author of multiple books, most recently “Alienated America.” He is speaking about his new book at Hillsdale on April 4.
What was your inspiration behind writing your new book, “Alienated America”?
It was Donald Trump. When he started the race, he got 25 percent in some initial polls, and he was saying that the American Dream is dead. And what is that? Why does the country agree with that?
Before that, I had been working on the question of community as the middle between individualism and government. Too many people, and a lot of conservatives, have too materialistic of a view of the American Dream, like buying a house. For many, it’s grounded in money — making more than your parents and climbing the economic ladder. That ties into the American Dream, but it’s good to go back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s American ideas. He said Americans forms these little groups — these “little platoons,” as Burke said — and these are where we really get to be political animals. This is also where we get connection, support, and a sense of belonging.
That’s what I’m talking about when I say sense of community; this is where we get the support and connection we need and get to live out as political animals.
You were a Pulliam Fellow at Hillsdale in 2012. What was your class about?
It was called the Art of the Political Column. Now I’m an editor, but then, I was a full-time columnist. For a time in my career, my boss was Bob Novak, the author of “The Prince of Darkness.” I was there teaching about that, and all my students were working toward a reported column — not just spouting off your opinion in a column, but telling something from your perspective that people might not already know. It’s not just a straight news story that tries to leave the perspective out it. We worked one or two weeks to get a column. One or two of those students, Kate Bachelder Odell and Macaela Bennett, have gone on to have careers in journalism. I now work with Jack Butler at the American Enterprise Institute in D.C.; he was one of my students, as was Caleb Whitmer, and I know he’s somewhere in journalism.
Tell me about your craft of journalism. How has it developed over the years? What does the process of writing an article look like for you today?
I try to do reporting for my columns. This was more true before I became an editor, but I try as much as possible to make the reader learn new facts they didn’t already know.
When I worked for years reporting on cronyism, I had to research and read through a lot of documents to find out which lobbyists donated to which candidates and how those candidates and other politicians voted.
In more recent years, a lot of the time it’s just trying to come up with sort of an explanation that puts the news in context. This is what Charles Krauthammer did, and he was a master of it. You pick up his column, and it’s like, ‘Here’s what it all means.’ One of the great virtues of columnists is telling both what’s going on and how it reflects deeper thoughts and broader patterns.
I also talk about the ideas to as many people as possible, like my brothers and people I know. I talk to my colleague Dave Freddoso and Phillip Klein and the others on the opinion page. And if it’s about a really sensitive issue, I spend weeks lining up meetings and trying on arguments on different people to get things really fleshed out.
If I know anything about writing and the craft of journalism, it’s that writing is rewriting. With columns and things I write now, you get things down on paper and then you rewrite.
What advice would you give to young journalists, or more broadly, young professionals?
To young journalists, I would say cultivating your own curiosity and independence are the two most important things. You should want to understand better how the world works, whether its politics or sports. Always be curious, and when a question occurs, always wonder how you can get to an answer. And independence makes you valuable. If you always argue a particular line, someone else is going to do that. Your own opinion and analysis isn’t going to interest many people, but what is, is the ability to do reporting that gets people information they don’t know
For Washington in particular, socializing and joining things is important. I know there is an immense value in meeting people and learning things about them. There is a great value in that doing it in a way that’s not just networking, but really getting to know people and understanding how Washington and adult life works. Nothing works better than meeting people face to face and fostering stronger friendships. Make sure you’re developing relationships and not transactions.
The best part of life is going to be relationships where you put something in without asking for something in exchange. Socializing or networking should be developing relationships.