Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

Cuts heal slowly, and they heal even more slowly if picked at and chewed on. We can, however, gain some insight into the wreckage of this election if we do a little calm analysis. I have the privilege of still being in contact with many of the students I taught years and years ago and watching their reaction to the Trump presidency has disturbed me. These young people are smart, well-educated (in the 21st century sense of the word), and hold responsible jobs. They aren’t discontent n’er-do-wells. Most of them, in spite of having sat in my classroom, are left of center and are filled with self-righteous indignation, and they are scared. I’ve been mulling this over, trying to figure out why fear is such a big part of this and I have some ideas.

For one thing, the 18-25 age group has never consciously known any other administration than Barak Obama’s. They have no personal experience with a Constitutional president. They see the presidency as an absolute power and seem to think that Trump will just sail into the Oval Office and start wildly issuing near-Papal bulls outlawing birth control and locking up the LGBT crowd. They seem to think that he can, within days, pack the Supreme Court – whether anyone resigns or not.

It is true that he can rescind any of Obama’s holy decrees that he chooses, and when he chooses – but that’s what we all elected him to do. He can, if he wants, send back to the states responsibilities that the federal government had previously absorbed, as per the 10th Amendment. It’s interesting that this seems to be scary to these young people; I suspect they’ve grown accustomed to thinking of the federal government as a deity of sorts and find the dissolution of that god frightening.

They are really, really scared about global warming and The Donald’s disdain for the concept. I noticed this fear years ago when I was still in the classroom. My colleagues were doing a bang-up job terrifying kids about this issue – I read hundreds of papers (I was an English teacher) wherein students bemoaned the fate of the planet. Occasionally one would come flying into my classroom, breathless and shocked, asking if it was true that I didn’t believe in global warming. Well that chicken has come home to roost. How are we going to unteach all these well-drenched people that it was all nonsense to begin with? It’s easy to prove, but this will take much more than proof.

They also seem to have no idea what danger the nation has been in for the last 8 years. They should have been frightened then, very frightened. In fact, they seem to have no concern at all for our national entity. They care about themselves and their families, but not for the nation, and not for their freedom -- in any sense other than their cherished license to climb into bed with whomever, whenever, sans consequences.

They’ve been most thoroughly taught that there is no absolute truth, and no objective reality. Therefore, they have felt fine believing that their own made-up rules of behavior are valid and must be obeyed by everyone; that if they want socialism to work, it will; that white people are the cause of all problems; that human nature can be changed by banning words; that ISIS is ok and no danger to us; that their freedoms and prosperity will always, effortlessly go on forever; and, most importantly, that the Constitution is irrelevant.

Trump’s election poked a huge hole in that balloon and these kids hit the ground with a spine-cracking thud. They had actually believed the media and the polls. This is not their fault, however. They had believed their teachers, their parents, the culture at large. Their brains, despite being efficient and filled with all kinds of impressive expertise, are thoroughly saturated with the idea that all conservatives are, to quote a recent presidential candidate, “deplorable;” that what people say is more important than what they do; and that lying to achieve a properly leftist agenda is just fine.

This election’s outcome has them pretty thoroughly discombobulated. It’s starting to dawn on them that all that fairytale stuff they’ve been stuffed with may not be true, a rough landing indeed.

What’s made it even rougher is that our current Commander-in-Chief has spent the last eight years demonstrating that it’s ok to be intolerant of people with whom they disagree, showing them how to stick stubbornly to their own version of reality regardless of the facts, and how to keep on demanding what they have no right to demand. Being a leader involves not only the power to give orders and sign laws, but a leader’s very soul trickles down into the tiniest crevices, fills up the smallest capillaries, and if one didn’t know better, hadn’t seen other styles of leadership, one wouldn’t know that the example is bogus.

At the beginning of my teaching career I taught in a small school whose principal, a kind, decent man, left in the middle of the year. Our new principal, who was quite different and suffered, I suspect, from an advanced case of paranoia, changed the tenor of the entire school within days. Students, who weren’t used to being treated like delinquents, started acting like they were. We teachers developed our own brand of paranoia—we learned quickly that the nicer he was to us, the more horrible his next move would be.

Later that year, he disappeared. He told the superintendent that he was off to a conference and just never returned. Within days of his departure the school snapped back into its gentle, relaxed tenor and life returned to normal.

I tell this story because I so hope that the same thing will happen in Washington. Donald Trump trusts the American people, even the deplorable, bitter clingers, to work hard, to support him, and we will, in turn, trust him to do what he promised. I don’t think it will take long for his realism to saturate everyday life.

Whether our millennials will be able to grasp and apply this new paradigm I don’t know. It may be that’s what they’re afraid of – having to do that. It will be hard. They’ve not been taught to think in syllogisms, but rather in sound bites and lists of isms and ists. The history they’ve been taught is so fraught with untruth and innuendo that they don’t even have that to fall back on. And since some 80% of Christian students have their faith torn to shreds in college, they don’t have that anymore either.

I, like everyone else, am really tired of being labeled and disparaged by people younger than my grandchildren. I’m exhausted from trying to reason with folks who don’t have any sense of actual morality or logic—it’s OK for my candidate to do this, but when yours merely says it – horror upon horrors. But I’m also aware that these bright young people have been sold a bill of goods that our generation paid for.

I started complaining about what the schools were doing to kids 40 years ago and it got me nowhere. I started teaching myself, argued with my colleagues and ultimately closed my classroom door and tried my best to teach clear thinking. With a few I succeeded. So, I’m not sure what else we could have done, but I do know that it is not the fault of these kids. As they bind up their wounds and whine and cry and throw fits I’m going to try to remember that this is where liberalism, where leftist, socialist thinking has lead us -- to a generation that can do nothing to cope but paint misspelled signs and scream about fascism – a word that to them means nothing.