Thomas Friedman Is Right: Pie Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Thomas Friedman, metaphor Jedi, is back.

After years of what’s seemed like a concerted effort to ease back on his famed use of mixed imagery, the New York Times columnist delivered a classic in, “Is America Becoming a Four Party State?”

The piece is designed to set the stage heading into the 2020 election. The premise: Both parties are in schism, and the schism is defined by how we view pie. The “Green New Deal” plan touted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he says, highlights:

…the most important fault line in today’s Democratic Party — the line between what I’d call “redivide-the-pie Democrats” and “grow-the-pie Democrats.”

Grow-the-pie Democrats — think Mike Bloomberg — celebrate business, capitalism and start-ups… so more people have more opportunity and tools to capture a bigger slice of the pie.

It takes guts to try to one-up George W. Bush’s famed “make the pie higher” routine, but Friedman gives it a go, deftly rebranding the idea as mainstream-Democrat thought. This makes sense if your idea of a Democrat is Mike Bloomberg, as “opportunity” homilies are popular with billionaires, especially in response to complaints about inequality. Want more pie? Grow your own!

Friedman brought this all up during the 2016 run, when he wrote a column comparing the pie-ness of Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. He preferred Clinton, saying, “I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better adjust the slices than redivide a shrinking one.” The difference between “adjusting” and “dividing” pie slices was mysterious, but you knew what he meant.

This week, he elaborated:

Grow-the-pie Democrats know that good jobs don’t come from government or grow on trees — they come from risk-takers who start companies.

If there’s a concept that sums up the wisdom of Thomas Friedman better than “pie doesn’t grow on trees,” I can’t recall it. He was just getting started, however, blasting the “redivide-the-pie” Democrats who criticized Amazon’s now-scuttled deal to build a campus in New York.

Such critics lacked imagination, he said, citing a recent Times column by Amy Liu, urban affairs expert at the Brookings Institution (I feel like he missed a chance to write, “urban affairs expert at the Never Divide the Pie Institution”).

From there he went into the pie breakdown on the Republican side:

As for the G.O.P., it’s divided between a “limited-government-grow-the-pie” right — but one that wants to just let capitalism rip — and a “hoard-the-pie, pull-up-the-drawbridge” Trump-led far right.

Friedman has many singular qualities as a writer, but one that stands out is his fierce resistance to core ideas of his native language. Instead of using the little connecting words that make English easily understandable, he often tries to lash many words together to make one giant super-word, as in German.

Mark Twain once wrote a furious essay ripping the German people for permitting the publication of words like Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen. Why send “General-statesrepresentativesmeetings” into the world, he asked, when what you mean is “meetings of the legislature”? Why write Unabhängigkeitserklärungen, or “Independencedeclarations,” when it’s “no improvement upon ‘Declarations of Independence’”?

Friedman tries this word-mashing technique a lot. Here he uses it to delve more deeply into the schism in what he calls the “limited-government-grow-the-pie-faction” of the Republican Party:

Trump’s decision to declare a “national emergency” on the Mexico border has violated the party’s most core principle of limited government. In doing so it’s opened a fissure between the old limited-government-grow-the-pie Republicans and the anti-immigrant hoard-the-pie, pull-up-the-drawbridge Trumpers.

This whole paragraph was ruined for me because I associate the word “fissure” in the middle with something that would happen to an unmentionable body part, but the two hyphenated constructions at the end are really works of art.

They should be single German words, especially the last phrase, “anti-immigrant hoard-the-pie, pull-up-the-drawbridge Trumpers.” If we’re going to make an idea like that one word, let’s just go for it and do it in the language best suited for the exercise.

I’m reliably informed that a fair effort at a German tapeworm-word translation for the last phrase would be: “Antiimmigrantennullsummenspielzugbrückenverbarrikadierungstrumpers” or “anti-immigrant-zero-sum-gaming-drawbridge-barricading-Trumpers.”

Meanwhile, the best translation for “Old-limited-government-grow-the-pie-Republican” is: “Staatsgewaltbeschränkungsvolkswirtschaftswachstumsurzeitrepublikaner,” or “government-limiting-national-economy-growth-primeval-Republican.”

If you put it all together, you could rewrite the original Friedman sentence as:

It’s opened a fissure between the Staatsgewaltbeschränkungsvolkswirtschaftswachstumsurzeitrepublikaner and the Antiimmigrantennullsummenspielzugbrückenverbarrikadierungstrumper.

To paraphrase Twain, a gifted person ought to be able to learn English in 30 hours, French in 30 days, and Friedmanese in 30 years. If we count hyphens, will he be the first person to produce a one-word op-ed in The New York Times? We can still hope!