David Brooks visits Waco to guest in the On Topic event with President Ken Starr

An oddly peaceful conversation with the Dalai Lama and an uncomfortably close encounter with Bill Clinton. New York Times columnist David Brooks recalled these moments to speak on achieving inner peace in the changing political landscape on Wednesday.

President and Chancellor Ken Starr accompanied Brooks on stage at the On Topic event, attended by faculty and students at Waco Hall.

Brooks’ books were mentioned throughout the evening, the style which he describes as “comic sociology.”

He joked he would have much rather been greeted by Waco HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines before discussing what Donald Trump’s campaign is doing to the Republican party.

“Trump is narrowing the Republican party to less ideological, less philosophical, less opportunity-oriented and more blood and soil, old-style European authoritarian conservatism in my view,” Brooks said.

He said the phenomena of millennials’ infatuation with presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stems from a similar dissatisfaction as those who support Trump: it is a standard of distrust.

“Those are two groups, the young and people without college degrees, who face a daunting economy. And so the American system is basically not working for them, and they are looking for alternatives,” Brooks said.

On writing for the New York Times as a conservative, Brooks said it is like being the Chief Rabbi at Mecca.

Starr praised Brooks’ New York Times bestselling book “Road to Character,” saying it should be implemented into required reading for previously mentioned, distrusting millennials.

“The book is to save my own soul,” Brooks said, referencing people in his life who have an inner joy that he tried to reach by writing the book.

Through a series of 10 interviews, Brooks asked people how they achieved their own self-perpetuating happiness, comparable to the Dalai Lama.

Brooks advised students to find friends early, and to not be afraid to expand their “horizon of risk” as a young adult.

The event was then opened up to questions from the audience submitted through cards handed out at the beginning of the discussion.

One question asked how Brooks for tips on writing.

“Don’t do it,” said jokingly.

He then proceeded to suggest authors such as C.S. Lewis and George Orwell for inspiration. He said his form of writing looks like sorting through pages of notes on his living room floor.

“It feels like prayer. It’s my form of prayer,” he said.

College of Arts and Sciences associate dean of special programs Elizabeth Vardaman introduced Brooks for the evening.

“I think he has a great deal of wisdom on the way we might expand our worlds with love and risk,” Vardaman said.

She said when one finds authors who advocate for those values, “you want to make sure you keep reading those people. “

Copies of his featured book were available for purchase in the lobby of Waco Hall. Attendees also had the chance to meet Brooks and have their books signed.