The Handbasket Express
Often one hears the refrain that today's generation is significantly worse than the previous generation -- that the country is going to hell in a handbasket. And the fact that each generation receives a similar criticism does not mean that the criticism is incorrect. Perhaps we really are getting worse and are simply noticing different points in our own decline. As the decades unfold, a higher degree of intellectual laziness and historical ignorance, coupled with an unchecked desire for instant gratification, does seem to be present in America's young.
Consider a personal experience I had several years ago:
It's September 2005, and I am sitting in a classroom at a university in Center City Philadelphia. The class (titled "Modern American History") is attended by forty students between the ages of 18 and 20. It's the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which prompts our teacher to stand before us and ask, "By a show of hands, how many people believe that 9/11 changed the world?"
Out of the forty students in the room, only three raised their hands, myself included. The remaining thirty-seven apparently felt 9/11 inconsequential. I was, and still am, shocked by their callousness, by their failure to grasp what it meant that 3,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered on American soil, by their blissful obliviousness of the emergence of an enemy so radical that it pushed America to an existential precipice. I can't imagine a group of students failing to raise their hands in 1941 when asked whether they believed that Pearl Harbor changed the world.
Speaking of WWII, here's another indelible moment from that same class:
We're having a discussion about the influence of the Allies, and of America in particular, in bringing the war to an end. I don't remember the specifics of what was said, but a number of students began making disparaging remarks about the United States and the Allied forces.
I spoke up immediately. "You all realize that we [America and the Allies] saved the world, don't you? Had we lost the war, you'd all be Nazis right now, if you hadn't already been killed."
Suddenly, a student at the front of the class let out a laugh in my direction and said, "Right! We saved the world! We swooped in wearing capes and we saved the world!" More laughter.
I couldn't believe it. I thought of the young soldiers vomiting in the landing craft as they approached the beaches of Normandy. Many of those guys were the same age as the students in this classroom, who were laughing at them. There's your generational decline, right there. One generation braves the Great Depression and then ships off to Europe to save the free world; another generation conquers Modern Warfare 4 on the Xbox and then ships off to college to deride the real soldiers who fought and died for their right to be imbeciles.
Three years later, in 2008, I watched as these same students and hundreds more like them flocked like sheep around Barack Obama, strung along by the gaseous, Pavlovian chants, "Hope" and "Change." At one point it occurred to me that a blind outrage at America drove their fervor. "Blind" is the operative word here, because no one I spoke with could articulate any argument beyond "Bush is an idiot" and "Obama is amazing!" Finally I understood that the intention behind their criticism of the country was not to implement "change," but to enjoy the illusion of superiority.
If you say, "Bush is an idiot," you get to feel smarter than Bush. If you demean America's influence in WWII, you get to feel superior to The Greatest Generation. If you say 9/11 didn't change the world, you get to feel blasé towards the tragedy. If you mock the religious and the faithful, you get to feel sophisticated and educated. If you Occupy Wall Street, you get to feel entitled.
What all of this amounts to is good old-fashioned America-bashing. There is no objective, logical end to this practice, but it does carry a subjective, emotional payoff: in return for bashing the most powerful nation on the planet, the basher gets to feel himself powerful.
Conservative commentators often construe the liberal approach as endorsing a victim mentality. Such a perspective is not entirely accurate. While victimhood may be a byproduct of the liberal mindset, it is not liberals' aim. Their aim, on the contrary, is power for the sake of power. Like children, they are driven by emotions, not principles -- fantasies, not realities. Considering such an outlook, it's no wonder that the young are seduced by what they perceive to be a an easy route to significance. All you have to do is mock and ridicule the country's principles, history, and founding ideals. Automatically, then, you are superior to the country itself. Set your sound arguments to "mute" -- no facts are necessary.
Once in a position of power, you can secure that power for a lifetime by busying yourself with writing policy, by trying to make the world fair and equal, according to your fantasies. Of course, such a configuration of reality is impossible. There are, in a free society, only so many policies one can write. The solution? Erode freedom in the name of progress. Blame, criticize, and ridicule the existing structure by digging loopholes through the constitution. Cloud the thoughts of the electorate with irrational fears (global warming!) so that they will permit you to write more policies, which will then give you more power.
The country has been traveling in a downward spiral towards increasingly aggressive liberalism for the past several decades. To pull out of the tailspin, it will not be enough to remove President Obama from office (though that will be without question helpful). The underlying trouble is that the young in each generation are brought up in a fundamentally broken system that predisposes them to adopt the liberal philosophy. The corrosion of the family, the subversion of education, the eradication of God, and the promulgation of a cynical pop culture create in the young a yearning for personal significance. This yearning is satisfied in such vapid criticisms of America as "Bush is an idiot," "corporations are evil," and "conservatives are racists."
Parroting the liberal choir is fun and easy, demanding zero intellectual rigor. More importantly, you get to pretend to be smart, and, if elected, you get to wield power over others. And just like that, the significance problem is solved. Thus, another liberal generation breeds another liberal generation, and the spiral continues, becoming further ingrained with each iteration.
If successful in November's election, we may be able to salvage the country's financial future. But in the long run, such a success will be equivalent to painting the petals of a wilted flower, because America's root problem is not fiscal or political, but cultural. The conservative movement has yet to find a workable solution to this problem, but it must if America is to last for generations to come.