David Frum, who’s the kind of conservative I wish was heading the party, notes some distressing tendencies of Millennials – namely, that they’re more liberal, less patriotic, and less trusting. He then goes on to attribute this to the usual dubious studies showing that increased ethnical diversity causes people to be less trusting.
I think the answer is simpler: the Republicans have eroded the very concepts of “trust” and “patriotism” with their policies.
Now, of course, no single answer is going to sum up a whole generation’s tendencies – a full compilation of answers regarding “Why are Millennials less patriotic and trust less?” would include “cynicism generated from the Internet,” “the still-ongoing echo of independence from the 1960s counterculture,” “distrust of a government that’s often shown itself to be distrustful,” and a thousand other things. It’s never as simple as a single vector, and problem-solvers should always acknowledge that.
But the problem with the Republican party is that it’s forever trying to recreate the hard-work culture of the 1950s without incorporating all of those obligations that employers felt to workers.
I’m just old enough to remember the 1980s shocks of layoffs. There was a time when, if you got a job, you could expect to earn a decent wage from it for life. Think about how crazy that sounds today: you got one job, and you could, if you wanted, stay at the same company until you retired. Hell, my Dad and my stepdad both lived that particular dream.
That’s because, culturally, the idea of layoffs was something repugnant. People didn’t want to do it, because they felt some obligation to their employees – I’m not idealizing the worker/employer relationship back then, but there was some sense among the top executives that if you hired a man, you couldn’t just fling him out the door without a very good reason. And that reason was not “We need to look good for our shareholders this quarter.”
But the Reagan Revolution sold us on the idea that layoffs were good! They increased business mobility! They allowed people to get rid of the deadwood! They made it so you didn’t have to be so careful hiring people who you might have to keep for years! And so, within my lifetime, we’ve seen a situation where companies treat workers as disposable cogs…
…and workers, who are not dumb, have adjusted by treating their employers as dispensably as their employers treat them.
Most people have jobs, now, but they’re on the lookout. They could be laid off at any moment. They could get fired. They don’t expect to be here for twenty years, or ten, or even five – at some point they’ll get a better offer and move on.
…and you wonder why this generation doesn’t trust? Hell, there’s a straight line to be drawn downwards, and you note it, David: “Just 19% of millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Generation Xers, 37% of the silent generation and 40% of boomers.”
If you want patriotism, yeah, it sounds good to call to Kennedy and ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. But that Kennedy line was set in a time where the government did do things for its citizens, massive efforts: it helped soldiers everywhere get housing and education after World War II, because it felt an obligation to those who’d helped it.
The Republican party is not that government. The Republicans wrap themselves in a philosophy of sacrifice, but the truth is that the sacrifice is all on your end. Want a guarantee of a job? Can’t do that. Want assistance if the corporations decide to start hiring overseas? Can’t do that. Want some help if you fought for our country and need a hand? Uh, no, we just voted that down.
What I’d like to see would be a conservative call for obligation – not the slavering ass-kissing to the glorious job creators, but a serious questioning of the contract between employer and employee beyond just the paycheck. And then a serious analysis of what we owe to the men we ask to go and get shot, traumatized, and killed to protect US interests.
It’s all very well to spout the Ayn Rand line that we should all be self-sufficient, but telling us “You’re on your own” encourages neither patriotism nor trust. It encourages a cold-hearted analysis of one’s own interest, in true Ayn Rand style, which tells us that we should use people for our own needs and walk away.
And that’s the conservative culture. That’s the Tea Party, telling us that if you’re not rich it’s your fault, and only the hard-working will survive. That’s throwing this new generation into a snakepit – and it is a snakepit that Reagan and his ilk created. This distrust is the direct result of his policies.
Maddening thing is, there’s good bits in the conservative culture, a wellspring of charity and help to those they think are needy that doesn’t get highlighted enough. But when you say, “Nobody should take money from my pockets to give to the lazy!”, what you are saying in a very real sense is, “If you fall, you’re on your own. And no government will help you willingly.”
Is it any wonder that the Millennials are hearing that message all too clearly?
Originally posted at theferrett.com.