Misunderstanding of young liberals is making some conservatives unreasonably nervous.
The cover story for the most recent edition of the National Review pairs features by David French and Emily Ekins with the headline “The Kids Aren’t Alright: The Problem with the Sanders Youth.”
Being a youth and one who voted for Bernie Sanders in my state’s primary, and being acquainted with many so-called “Sanders Youths,” I was compelled to pick up the conservative magazine and read what Mr. French and Ms. Ekins thought was so wrong with us.
If the two featured articles are any indication of the current conservative zeitgeist, then it’s clear to me that some conservatives have had a reaction to the phenomena associated with Sanders that is not only unfair and uniformed, but cowardly and ill-equipped to cope with the challenges of the times we live in.
“It’s hard to doubt that legendarily entitled Millennial social-justice warriors will finally go too far, and not even The Onion will be able to sufficiently parody their aggressive fragility.” When French began his article, entitled “Fiercely Frail Millennials,” this way, I wanted to discount everything he was about to say. Not only did he use the entitlement straw man, but he used “social-justice warriors” as a pejorative, which is usually a good indication of either an ignorant or mean person.
But I kept reading. To French’s credit, he lays the blame for the fragility of Millennials at the feet of a tangible source – bad parents. Some have tried to bash Millennials without also shouldering the blame for raising them, but decrying the faults of parenting becomes French’s main point. His claim is that fragile Millennials are “formed largely by parents who’ve loved their children into the messes they’ve become,” protecting them from hurt and disappointment by trying to make the world a big safe zone.
French longs for the good old days of conservative parenting, recounting how his his parents instilled character in him by not helping him: “I once told my dad that my coach threw a basketball at a kid’s head when he was talking during practice. My dad laughed…If parents ever intervened in playground conflicts, the shame was deep and enduring.” Not only does it seem French and his father wouldn’t mind Mike Rice’s tough coaching methods, but they also think the wimpy kid will gain confidence even as the big bully beats him senseless.
The article concludes with French deriding parent/child friendships, and claims that being adrift in life without helicopter parents or the security of college is what has driven Millennials to Sanders: “Responding to the fear and uncertainty, a geriatric socialist…steps in with his call for free health care and education…and protection from the rough-and-tumble world of liberty and markets.”
There are some valid points in French’s article, for without a doubt there are many parents who place too much value on comfort and not enough value on learning life’s lessons. Life is not a safe space, and children should be taught how to confront life’s challenges and grow from them.
There are, however, many problems with French’s argument. He assumes this problem only creates weak, fragile, liberal Millennials. It is absurd to suggest that Millennial conservatives do not also face the same upbringing, or that conservative parents do not exhibit such behaviors. I would think that French, being a former basketball player, would know that to complain about coaching is to be a parent in sports. And the majority of these complaints do not stem from an egalitarian perspective, but rather the very capitalistic notion that my child has earned this – they worked hard and they deserve more playing time. At no point in his article does French allow for the possibility of fragile conservative Millennials.
But French’s greatest failures is his misunderstanding of who liberal Millennials are, what they do, and what motivates them. He uses extreme anecdotes to highlight the fruit of these poorly cultivated children, but this is not just an unfair use of straw men as he, again, fails to mention the results of extreme conservatism in young people. At one point he claims that “in the name of their own alleged vulnerability and fragility, [Millennials] engage in dramatic protest, seek conflict, and relentlessly attack opponents.” Besides revealing that French is yet another conservative incapable of grasping the basic concepts of protest, he reveals that he doesn’t actually know any liberal Millennials.
Many of the liberal Millennials I know were, like me, raised by more conservative parents, not fruit-loop hippies. But, as we got older, rather than huddle in the safety of mom and dad, like French suggests we do, we started forming our own ideas and rebelled against our parents’ ideologies, bringing not closeness but tension in our relationships. We learned more about the world and found America isn’t so perfect as we were raised to believe. We learned about social and economic inequality. And so we changed – we adapted.
Me and my young Millennial friends are entering adulthood in a country that isn’t perfect by any measurement, and we want to make it better. So how do we do that?
Well, one of my friends decided to head up an environmental club on campus and do the hard work of passing a Green Initiative Fund while raising awareness of different environmental issues. He didn’t ask his parents for help. He just did it.
Another one of my friends led the effort to plant a garden on campus to help educate people about sustainable living practices. The same friend organized a campus event that would give students and faculty the chance to share stories of marginalization. She didn’t attack people – she invited them to listen.
These are just two of many young liberal Millennials who have decided to be the change they wish to see, and their attitude and mindset is the kind I generally find among this demographic. It’s an ethos focused on helping others much more than it is about protecting our fragile feelings. We aren’t here for handouts and pristine happiness – we’re here to work for change. We don’t want to make America great again – we want to make America better than it’s ever been.
Emily Ekins examines a specific ill associated with the Millennials of French’s world – support of Bernie Sanders. In her article, “The Sanders Youth,” Ekins examines what “socialism” mean to Millennials, and why they are so ready to support a socialist candidate. She writes that, “The time has come to start explaining to the next generation how socialistic economic planning hurts people.” While we can do without the condescension, I appreciate that Ekins actually walks through what she thinks socialism really means.
Like too many pundits, she makes the mistake of bringing up the Soviet Union and the government oppression that supposedly comes with socialism. Using Joseph Stalin to discredit socialism is like using Mussolini to discredit conservatism. However,unlike many commentators, Ekins actually bothers to address how “socialism” in American terms relates to the examples of Scandinavian countries. Her conclusion is that countries like Sweden aren’t socialist, but instead have socialistic tendencies. And she’s right.
But Ekins, like French, misunderstands what Millennials are looking for.
We ain’t here for the socialism.
It’s just a word. What socialism actually means and however socialist Sanders actually is do not matter. Young liberal Millennials, in all of our cowering fragility, want Sanders and his socialism because we believe he is the one candidate in the field who is honestly committed to working towards some of the changes we want to see. If a Republican had real plans to invest less in the military and more in health and education, and voiced concerns over the environment, and used progressive rhetoric concerning various types of discrimination, then, yah know what, I’d probably vote for him/her. If they talked about getting money out of politics, all the better. It just happens to be that the candidate with these types of objectives is a loosely-defined socialist.
So I’m not really sure what it is that frightens French and Ekins. Yes – there are some wacky liberals out there that Jessie Watters tracks down for his segment on The O’Reilly Factor. But that’s hardly a representation of the so-called “Sanders Youth.”
Why react to these young people with condescension, anger, and even fear? Why declare that the kids are not alright? I would hope that the people running the National Review would look at this movement, this liberal youth movement behind Senator Sanders, and see not an army of whiny snowflakes, but instead a demographic that is thoughtful, hopeful, educated, and a little pissed off. Why not consider what these people want, and in what ways they are working to achieve it? Is it that impossible for a bunch of kids to have some valid ideas?
Of course it is – if you, like David French, are deluded by the conservative utopia.
It’s easy to call Sanders’ vision a fantasy, but, for whatever reason, the ideals of conservatism don’t face the same scrutiny. Ekins claims that “the way forward is not through increased government management of the economy but through the free-market model.” Again, she’s right. That is, she would be right in an ideal world. If the rich play nice, and no one cheats, and everyone is generous, then yeah – yeah the free-market model would be the best. But that’s never going to happen. French longs for a world where kids could sort it out on the playground themselves, but apparently he doesn’t know that some kids just aren’t built to fight. And I can’t help but question whether or not Mr. French would be so supportive of black children sorting out their problems with violence, or if he might read into that a little differently. It would be great if kids could just fight and build character, but I think we all know that this kind of foisted machismo isn’t good for anyone – our culture’s notion of masculinity is the source of all sorts of problems.
In the conservative utopia, American history shimmers with glory, discrimination is an excuse, and anyone can advance themselves through some rugged individualism. It would be great if the isms and phobias were dead, and I like the idea of true meritocracy. But. These. Things. Aren’t. True. The conservative utopia is every bit as fallacious as the visions of sugarplums dancing in Bernie’s head. How is it that conservatives can continue to deride liberal America for its vision of change all the while building up a fortress around a keep that doesn’t exist?
It’s the insistence on this utopia, this illusion of Americana, and the fear of having that dream taken away, that makes some conservatives fearful and hateful of young liberals. We are a loud voice calling them to get woke. And no one likes to be rousted out of bed. That’s what makes us seems so threatening.
I admire much of the libertarian vision. I respect many of the policies of conservatism. I know that conservatives protect what good the past held, and that this good needs to be a part of America’s future. But things have got to change, and I look forward to working with both liberals and conservatives who reject the notions of utopia and instead are prepared to work for a future that is not great like we used to be, but better.
If you want to call us snowflakes, go ahead.
But just know that winter is coming.
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria