When I was eighteen, I attended one semester of college in Columbus, Ohio, living away from our home in the seacoast of New Hampshire. I didn’t like it there, and came home. My mother told me my choices were (1) get a job and earn my own way, or (2) go to college. The unspoken choice number three was: get out.
I never doubted her resolve for a second. With my mother, there was no news bubble, no wish fulfillment, and no nonsense. It was tough love.
That was in the 1980s. Heading through the late 2010s into 2020, a Pew study found that 52 percent of young adults (18 to 29 years old) are living with mom and dad. That’s the most since the Great Depression. Lest you think that number is mostly due to coronavirus, you’re wrong. Gen Z has been delaying “adulting” for a while and becoming the “boomerang generation.”
I don’t blame the kids. It’s the parents who made this happen. And those parents are the same ones who pretty much run America these days, while their own parents sit mesmerized in front of Fox News and OANN broadcasts telling them the America they remember was stolen by a group of white-collar elites, the “deep state” and Jews with space lasers. Young adults are growing up in their parents’ and grandparents’ bubbles, and those bubbles are popping in their faces.
Bored, untethered by history, and encouraged to rebel against every source of authority, the over-educated, under-prepared generations have self-assembled into factions that celebrate everything and analyze nothing. Their parents lived through Vietnam, Watergate, the oil embargo, stagflation, the Cold War and its end, only to face a glorious liberation in Reagan’s years, when “greed was good.”
Getting a Ph.D. in physics meant being recruited by Wall Street to design ever more complex algorithms for trading. In the roaring 90s, the Internet made thousands into millionaires only to bust the bubble in 2000, while Matt Drudge exploded onto the online news scene. Then social media made thousands more into millionaires (and made Bono one of the smartest investors on the planet).
The future’s so bright, they were told, you gotta wear shades.
Today’s kids were told that a high school education means working at a minimum wage job for life. They were told that working a “trade” where they might have to get dirt on their hands or do unpleasant jobs was being a failure. As Mike Rowe’s mikeroweWORKS foundation put it, “America has declared war on work, and the casualties are all around us.”
They were told that, without doing work, government can provide them a future and security. They were promised a bright future where everyone went to college, everyone found a job in an advanced, technical field or doing important policy work, and every problem with society had a neat, scientific solution. They were handed a pack of lies about inequality and told to believe it as true, while rich families bribed their kids into elite schools.
Reality intruded quite rudely into this fantasy, but the bubbles prevented the 80s, 90s and 2000s adults from doing much after the Soviet Union collapsed. We wanted to skip straight to Star Trek, where every problem was solved by technobabble and cool gadgetry.
So, publicly, we ignored our failures and replaced them with slogan wars, while privately, we kicked all the cans down the road and ate the fruit of our liberty, that we never sowed.
A “war on crime” resulted in a 400% increase in incarcerated Americans since 1984. A “war on drugs” only brought more drugs into the country, while today Fentanyl addiction and overdoses has become a national disgrace. A “war on terror” only put terrorists in charge of nations we fought. A “war on climate change” with a $50 trillion price tag is likely to bankrupt our nation.
A “war on poverty” has resulted in the rich in America now earning more income, as a whole, than middle-income families, while the poor remain about the same percentage of the population. A Pew study shows that the middle-class has declined, while those in the upper-income tier increased.
But middle-class incomes have not grown at the rate of upper-tier incomes. From 1970 to 2018, the median middle-class income increased from $58,100 to $86,600, a gain of 49%.10 This was considerably less than the 64% increase for upper-income households, whose median income increased from $126,100 in 1970 to $207,400 in 2018. Households in the lower-income tier experienced a gain of 43%, from $20,000 in 1970 to $28,700 in 2018. (Incomes are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
Instead of a land of opportunity, today’s America is a place where the rich got richer, and the poor got addicted to drugs, locked up, mocked for their religion, told to suck it up and mind their betters, turn in their guns, and relinquish social power to those who promised them that shining future. Government not only failed, but it also became a dysfunctional villain, literally stealing from people to fund giant data warehouses in Utah, five times the size of the U.S. Capitol, running the world’s most advanced supercomputers, listening to our conversations, hoovering up our Internet activity, and costing as much as the entire Apollo moon program.
No wonder we have a massive backlash among the young, the old, the less educated, and a counter-backlash among the educated progressives who built the system. When the entire foundation is made up of self-serving lies and burning straw men, it’s inevitable that the bubbles will one day pop, and things like electing Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, AOC, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, not to mention the Capitol insurrection, the BLM riots, and the GameStop “occupy Wall Street” revolt, will happen.
What we’re seeing today is a failure of narrative, because it doesn’t correspond to truth. We’re seeing multiple, simultaneous bubbles popping, and the attendant violent reactions when that happens. People are reacting like three-year-olds who are told they can’t have that toy, who drop prostrate in the aisle, and proceed to kick, scream, and throw a tantrum in public, so as to shame mommy or daddy into capitulation.
The answer to this is, of course, tough love, like my mother showed me.
No, GOP, you can’t have people like Gaetz and Greene, or tolerate the knee-bending of Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul to modern day Know-Nothings who supplicate at the throne of Trump, even when he has assumed the silly title of “Office of the Former President.” At least you can’t have them and be a party to be taken seriously by people who don’t live inside a cultish bubble.
At no time in history has anti-intellectualism ever solved society’s problems. Only in a kitschy Andy Griffith TV show has a junk collector designed a rocket and landed it in park. When real people try stuff like that, they die.
Why do you think Elon Musk laughs and encourages the “wallstreetbets” Reddit day trading crowd when they send GameStop to the moon, stripping between $10 and $25 billion cold cash from professional day traders known as hedge fund managers? Musk knows how to build a rocket, and learned from scratch. He took no shortcuts of fantasy, and has practiced tough love his whole life. People like Musk (and Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban, and the late Ross Perot) know how to build value, while turning the game on the gamers who take shortcuts.
These days among the young, only a few Youtube stars, and Stanford grads who play the IPO lottery trying to get bought out by a FAANG tech superpower, seem to get the fact that business means showing up on time, well-prepared, and respectful of others. Everyone else wants to know what you are going to do for them in return for the promise of even minimal effort.
This is the kind of GOP that celebrates lies and libel (that in a courtroom will be very costly to those who publish it), catering to the most fact-starved idiocies in states where it’s presence is non-existent. Oregon’s 22-member Republican executive committee’s resplendent ode to ignorance is still breathtaking to behold. As Steve Duin wrote in The Oregonian:
I know. We should be used to these paranoid delusions by now. It may be foolish to even acknowledge one more desperate cry for attention from Republicans who believe a vote for impeachment is sedition, not breaching the U.S. Capitol and beating a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher.
This is the party, after all, that holds no state-wide office in Oregon. That could only dredge up Jo Rae Perkins, a QANON devotee, to run against Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Democratic incumbent. That claims only 35 seats among the 90 at the state Legislature.
Donald Trump spent his life betting his father’s real estate stake on get-rich-quick schemes that cost thousands of people sums in the hundreds of millions. He has left individuals, contractors, employees, investors, banks, and Merv Griffin holding the bag for his fantasies. Trump took every shortcut he could on the way to the White House. He fit right in with the bubble-mongers who fed like remora on a shark’s dinner crumbs.
If Oregon, where a sighting a Republican is only slightly more probable than seeing Bigfoot, may be forgiven for going to the insanity well for candidates, then what’s Georgia’s excuse?
After Trump and his hyenas like Lin Wood (who refused, after being ordered by the state bar to undergo a mental examination) trashed Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, now QAnon-aligned slugs are crawling out from under dank swamp logs to claim their right to stupid power.
The first to emerge is a Baxley teacher who uses her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision in the same way Democrats curtsey in the presence of “Dr.” Jill Biden. Kandiss Taylor recently ran for the Senate seat claimed by Sen. Raphael Warnock, though in the November jungle primary, you wouldn’t be blamed for missing her. She has now announced that she’s running for governor.
While she sounds sane in media interviews, a quick check of her Twitter timeline finds it sprinkled with retweets of Diamond and Silk, Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. There’s no excuse for the Georgia GOP to tolerate candidates like this, when only three years ago, then Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other Republicans thought Kemp’s “shotgun ad” and campaign persona were a bit too, umm, Trumpy. Who would have known that Kemp showed more backbone than most of the Senate in standing up to Trump?
The reward for actually following the science, and doing a good job seems to be getting trashed by your own party, and left with a much lower approval rating. Even popular Republicans like New Hampshire’s Gov. Chris Sununu have to face the crazy squad of legislators trying to impeach them for sensible mask-wearing policies.
It’s apparent that any exertion of logic or rational, critical thinking that involves discussion, fact-finding, and nuanced details—on any issue—is far too taxing for Republicans hankering to “own the libs” for the sake of owning them (while in reality they’re giving libs free rent to live in their heads). It’s also apparent that this avalanche of “boomerang” kid thinking, living in your parents’ basement forever, not paying bills, not working, and spending college loan money like you never have to pay it back, is the default for even the most educated and ambitious Republicans.
In the race to stupidity, Republicans like Ted Cruz seem to keep moving the finish line so they can lurch with arms waving and chest heaving even faster toward it.
It’s the same with the Democrats. They can’t drape themselves like Betsy Ross with the cloth of “unity” while proceeding to drive full force into an emergency climate crisis and economic suicide because it pleases followers of Greta Thunberg. They can’t do this and believe that years of taking unpopular positions will somehow melt away because Trump has been overthrown.
I have news for the leftist tribe: Trump is nowhere near overthrown, and you are propping him up like it was a conga line party during a weekend at Bernie’s.
Just like Republicans now want to forget that January 6th was a real riot, Democrats like Vice President Kamala Harris would love to forget that she shilled for money to bail out Antifa child abusers. In fact, the Minnesota Freedom Fund only spent a tiny fraction of over $3 million raised bailing out protestors after George Floyd’s death.
Antifa is probably the purest expression of young angst we have in America. They are pure rage. Democrats were stupid enough to use them, along with violent BLM rioters, as one of their tools in creating some distance between the “blue line” and its love for Trump. But defunding the police is not too smart when you know you’ll need them later after the election. In Portland, Oregon, federal agents deployed tear gas against protestors who denounced Biden as a “feckless puppet of the centrist Democratic establishment.” Anyone with a soul has to laugh at this.
Sen. Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed has become prophecy in Washington, D.C., which will likely see a permanent future of fences, barriers, barricades, and another few months of troops occupying the Capitol. As Rahm Emanuel said to his reflection every day as he shaved, “never let a crisis go to waste.” Democrats are playing to the same fears they used to raise money for four years since the first call for Trump’s impeachment on January 20th, 2017. If Trump was such a dictator, its a miracle that his Washington D.C. hotel is now as empty as a tomb, and that his coup was toppled by a few brave Capitol police officers—with a spate of suicides following.
This goes for a larger bubble outside Washington, too. Banks have decided that Trump is too radioactive to do business with. Liberals in business and politics want to do far more than just govern, they want to purge the nation of anyone beholden to Trump. I have news for them: 75 million Americans voted for Trump, and even if you subtract the number who held their noses, that leaves a very large number who believe in what Trump was selling.
We can’t break the country of Trump love without also breaking it of preferring lies to truth, and believing that you can prosper without work. Those are deeply held superstitions and idols with their own shamans, priests and evangelists. It’s going to take a lot of tough love to break them.
Our choices are to suppress free speech and shut down every avenue for conspirators, populist avengers and political Know-Nothings. Unfortunately, to do that means to also suppress our own freedoms. As a practical matter, it won’t work. Stupidity, like water, is incompressible. It will break the strongest vessel and penetrate any cracks, spraying itself on those unfortunate enough to stand too close.
We could also go on the offense and conduct witch hunts. Like the “red scare” and black lists of the past, we can identify and subject those who prospered from Trumpist fantasies to star chambers and kangaroo courts. But again, that would only empower the idiots who peddle conspiracies about those conducting the witch hunts. You can never cut off every dollar, every bank, and every business devoted to Trump love. Ask My Pillow.
The best option is to hold the line on truth, support those institutions that value truth, like courtrooms, and rely on those institutions to, when appropriate, put things right. That means siding with Dominion Voting Systems in their defamation lawsuits. It means voting against, and actively opposing, any candidates who spew QAnon nonsense, anti-Semitic bile, or reactionary idiocy clothed as burning straw men.
Tough love means to tell folks who support QAnon candidates that even if those candidates “believe” in causes they support, they’re supporting stupid over smart. It means to promote government that works, even if it’s not your party doing it. It means not cutting off relationships with those of another political stripe, even if that means being accused of being a “cuck” or some kind of seditionist.
If the GOP and the Democrats want to act like basement-dwelling “boomerang” kids, that’s to their own demise. The very young people who saw the party bubbles pop before their very eyes know that they’ve been lied to. I’d like to tell them the truth.
There’s no free ride, no free lunch, and there’s no way to avoid death or taxes. Go out and work hard, find friends, and you don’t have to agree on everything to be friends. Some jobs that are very much worth doing might result in getting dirt under your fingernails. It’s noble to learn to weld, or be a pipe fitter, or an airplane mechanic, or an HVAC technician, or a rancher, or a nut farmer, or an electrician. Many of those jobs also pay pretty well.
I know plenty of lawyers who would love to swap places with the local plumber, because homeowners don’t lie to their plumber—or they are likely to be swimming in their own…yeah you get it. Most clients lie like rugs to their lawyers when they know they’re really in trouble. The truth is the best defense, when there’s a defense to be made.
Tough love means telling Americans that we need to stop being lazy, and believing every thing that you hear, while closing your ears to things you don’t want to hear. The message we need to send to our political parties is the same one my mother had for me at eighteen. Get out there and find candidates who work, who are willing to listen to good ideas; and get rid of those who encourage people to be stupid. The third, unsaid option is to get out.
Finally, if you wanted to know, I didn’t do either of the things my mother required in her initial tough love ultimatum. I did both. I worked full-time for five years and attended college full time, taking every fourth semester off, so it took me an extra year. Tough love works. “Boomerang” only leads to poverty and ignorance.
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Absolutely brilliant Steve...easily the best article i have ever read from you...and, in the top ten i have read in the past dozen years. Thank you.