It’s easy to hate Millennials. Has there ever been a generation easier to hate? They’re rude, historically illiterate, smug, smartphone-obsessed, and more interested in Internet memes than in carefully written, thoughtful political think pieces. We have all been at least mildly annoyed by the ironic T-shirt-wearing hipster in our local Starbucks, the delusional college student convinced she can change the world, or the idealistic community organizer lecturing you about social justice.
It’s easy to hate Millennials. Hell, we hate ourselves.
And why wouldn’t we? From the earliest age, we’ve been given conflicting narratives about ourselves and our worth. We were told we were the most special of snowflakes, brimming with self-esteem, and inherent dignity. But we were also taught to feel ashamed of our history and our heritage. We learned in grade school about marauding Europeans slaughtering childlike and innocent Native Americans. In high school, we learned of the evils of European colonialism and world wars for empire and economic exploitation. And then there’s college: at best, one long party with a few required classes on gender studies and cultural engagement; at worst, four years of A People’s History of the United States.
Many white Millennials absorbed both of these narratives wholeheartedly. The special snowflake narrative led to the phenomena of body-positivity, anti-bullying campaigns, intersectionality, and so on. The other narrative created, among other things, hipster culture: a way of re-appropriating specifically white cultural norms and activities, but doing so under the guise of “irony.” It also created the present social justice movement and the Social Justice Warrior (SJW). A blend of these phenomena, with a host of other horrors, is the state of the American college campus today. But they didn’t build this world by themselves.
This is hardly new information, but it’s important to absorb the milieu in which the Millennials grew up if one wants to fully understand the failure of the conservative movement, and why Millennials who might once have been “conservatives,” now want nothing to do with them.
It is a curious thing that since the 1970s, up until 2008, the Republican Party dominated the majority of national elections. They had the Reagan Revolution. They had the Contract with America. They had the George W. Bush years. There was a flowering of conservative thought, journals, books, and think tanks. Conservatism, Inc. became a multi-billion dollar business. But what did it conserve? Leave aside the formal education of the Millennial generation. Did conservatives counter the cultural rot from Hollywood? Did they conserve habits and mores? Did they conserve sexual norms? Did they even conserve what was right about the common culture? Sam Francis once called conservatives “Beautiful Losers.” Millennials can no longer see what was beautiful about them.
While the American Right won the Cold War, the American Left won the culture war. It was this recognition that fueled the Buchananites, while they lasted. And it’s this very failure of conservatism—and the now broad, open recognition of it—that has created an opening for something new. And that’s what American Greatness is all about.
For Millennials, the failure of the conservative movement has created something more edgier—and more dramatic. Most people are calling this the “Alternative Right,” or “AltRight” for short. Whether or not the enormous variety of groups and ideologies on the AltRight deserve the widespread accusations of “antisemitism” and “racism” isn’t really very interesting. What is interesting about these young people is where they came from. And while some AltRight trolls may enjoy impersonating Internet Nazis and making racist parody songs, the one thing that unites the movement as a whole is this: anger. And, contra Kevin Williamson and David French, they have a right to be angry. Writing off their legitimate concerns as simple racism has no ameliorative or corrective effect: it exacerbates the problematic elements and encourages real racism, and all that comes with it.
These young people, mostly (but not all) white males, constitute what I prefer to call “Generation Trump.” They are the Millennials who either spit out the narratives they were fed as children, or came to reject them later. The majority of them are not “racists,” though the tendency is certainly present. What they do sense is that they’ve been given a raw deal, and they resent a political culture that justifies their plight on grounds of fighting “racism.” They have no recollection of the America their parents grew up in, either of a time of cultural cohesion, or of any systemic oppression of racial minorities. The only systemic oppression they have known is against them. (This also explains one of the more amusing phenomena of The Current Year, which is the widespread embrace by American fraternity boys of a British homosexual free speech activist.)
For their whole lives, they have been blamed for historical wrongs outside their control. Many reason that if they’re going to be called racists no matter what they do, why not embrace it? They feel, perhaps rightly, that their nation is slipping away, and that they are in danger of becoming men without a country, unwilling rootless cosmopolitans. Not to mention men without faithful wives, loving children, or stable homes.
Not having experienced and certainly never having taken part in the overt racism of the past, these young white people rightly refuse to feel guilt for episodes that had nothing to do with them or their peers of other backgrounds. Even so, they are realizing that in their lifetimes, they are likely to become a despised and ridiculed racial minority for the crime of having been born white in a country still struggling with its centuries old demons. That realization forms their consciousness. These are the Millennials who might once have become conservatives. But, they ask, “What did conservatism ever do for me?” They aren’t primarily motivated by economic materialism, or the fact that they might never be able to move out of their parents’ basements, though that’s certainly a factor. Their primary question is that of identity. They’re asking the same question that Samuel Huntington asked: “Who are we?” They live in an America that seems entirely fractured by warring tribes. As the Baby Boomer WASP realizes with horror in the prologue to Tom Wolfe’s 2012 novel, Back to Blood:
“Everybody…all of them…it’s back to blood! Religion is dying…but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable—you couldn’t stand it—to finally have to say to yourself, ‘Why keep pretending? I’m nothing but a random atom inside a supercollider known as the universe.’”
Wolfe’s timely novel captured the zeitgeist. With nowhere else to turn, many, if not most Millennials, are indeed going back to blood.
So while it may be disturbing to those of another generation who dreamed of a colorblind society that I am asking them to take these young people seriously, I am asking them to do it. I don’t want—and intellectual honesty will not permit me—to discredit this movement altogether. In many ways, their reaction to the culture of death in which we now live is a healthy one. Or, as Leo Strauss said of the young men of the Weimar Republic, theirs is a moral reaction against the unjust notion of the open society. (But more on that in another post.) Whatever we think of this generation, it is the future of the Right. Everything depends on how we speak to them and educate them, to the extent that we can. Ignoring them or mocking them seems like a good way to guarantee that their frustrations find exactly the kind of inappropriate and dangerous outlets we fear. They are the hope of our future and they should be heard.
This is the first in a series.