No, Matthew McConaughey, America is Not ‘Going Through Puberty.’

In a strange Independence Day message, actor Matthew McConaughey suggests to his countrymen that we, as a nation, shouldn’t be discouraged by the social turmoil and political violence that we witnessed in 2020 because this is all just evidence that we are going through the ordinary growing pains that nations must endure in order to grow. 

“But let’s also remember that we’re babies as a country,” McConaughey said to his followers, continuing:

We’re basically going through puberty in comparison to other countries’ timeline, and we’re going to go through growing pains.  We are going through growing pains.  This is not an excuse, it’s just the reality, and this is good, because we got to keep learning, we got to keep maturing, we gotta keep striving, we gotta keep climbing, we gotta keep building.  And we gotta make sure we maintain hope along the way, as we continue to evolve.

Some conservatives have perplexingly found this stupid analogy to be a gem of hipster wisdom.  While admitting that much of what McConaughey says is “platitudinous nonsense,” Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire argues that the driving point “is actually really smart. McConaughey is saying, this is a young country, and we’re going through puberty.  And that is certainly true.”

All of that should seem a funny thing to suggest about a nation that is governed by a Constitution which is widely considered to be the oldest still in use today.  One can guess that what McConaughey must mean, and why some conservatives like Knowles might find the analogy cogent, is that relative to other European and Asian peoples, we Americans have a short history as a people.

But that’s a meaningless distinction when talking about the origin and development of nations. 

This could be an exhaustive list, but here’s just one example.  The modern conception of Germany has long existed, but were its many modern forms just the natural growing pains on Germans’ way to “maturing” and “evolving” toward who they’re meant to be as a nation?  Even in our “young” United States of America’s short existence, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.  Germanic nations were later unified as a proto-socialist nation-state during the Industrial Revolution under Otto von Bismarck, becoming a then-highly-progressive and openly militaristic empire whose aggression was ultimately checked in the early twentieth century.  After that, Germany was an unsuccessful democratic republic, giving way to its having become an evil fascist empire that was driven by a lust for racial hegemony.  After Nazism was destroyed, Germany became a divided political entity in the Cold War that was only unified when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  Now, it is a democratic Western power and the leading economic influence in the European Union.  

These were not simply developmental stages in Germany’s natural growth, and nothing akin to a teenager working out his hormonal imbalances, struggling to find his ultimate identity from his imperfect and undeveloped beginnings in life. These were different Germanys, governed by different ideologies, driven by different moral impulses, who all desired very different things than what Matthew McConaughey imagines that all countries which happen to exist for a long time must aspire toward.

America does have a short history as a people, relative to the history of the Germanic peoples, to use only the aforementioned example.  But that’s not what makes us unique.  What makes us unique is not our evolution as a people, but we are most remarkable for our stalwart conservation of the peculiar ideology and idea about the limited yet explicitly defined governance of free citizens that has bound us as a nation for nearly two and a half centuries.

You know these unique ideas.  Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the natural right to keep and bear arms in defense of one’s life and liberty without government infringement, and so on.  As Ronald Reagan assured us, these virtues aren’t passed to our children “in the bloodstream.”  The defense of these ideas has fallen to generation after generation of patriots, some more effective than others, who have protected, nurtured, and expanded upon those principles first enshrined by this nation’s Founders nearly two and a half centuries ago.   

We are not a “young” nation, in the context of modern nations. Indeed, we’re the furthest thing from it, and particularly amongst our great modern rivals. Communist China is not yet 100, and post-Soviet Russian Constitution is less than 30-years-old.  A nation is defined by its government and its constitution, and in that sense, we are among the oldest, and certainly the most successful, in the world today. 

We’re not the punk teenager of the world.  We’re the wisest of sages, as global governments go.

The analogy suggesting that we are “going through puberty” as a nation is not “actually really smart.”  However, I understand why such language might be employed, particularly by an aspiring politician, which McConaughey may be.  It’s a unifying suggestion, in the sense that such characterizations of our circumstances don’t require that anyone is blamed for what is actually happening. 

But while it may be politically expedient, it is also a cowardly lie.  We are not a nation experiencing natural convulsions akin to the growing pains of adolescence among individual human beings.  We are witnessing an attempted coup by a radical revolutionary faction that is bent on destroying everything that America and its Founders once represented, and replacing it with something else entirely.

Photo credit: Twitter video screengrab

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