Make America Serious Again

In a recent article in Canada’s National Post, Rex Murphy excoriated the state of politics and ideology in the United States, and more specifically the Green New Deal:

21st-century American politics is the era of the child. To wish is to do. The replacement of education with self-esteem sermonettes, the stripping of intellectual competence from schools and trigger(ing)-happy universities, has produced a de-educated, self-centered and self-validating class of silly, ignorant adults.

Murphy concludes by characterizing our hyper-progressive political bandwagon as an express train to Venezuela-style oppression.

Many others have launched learned barrages against the Green New Deal, so Murphy’s more original contributions are his observations about the character of the emerging influencers in our country who are in their late 20s and early 30s. Because they are just on the cusp of achieving political power, they are being pandered to by the establishment, and because they grew up in an age where social media was rapidly becoming the dominant form of news, they receive extensive and fawning attention from the media.

The phenomenon was repeated last week when a video went viral of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) being confronted by petulant school-age children demanding she support the GND.

What we have is a storm feeding on itself, the coming impact of which is only partially understood, and the power of its destructive force only vaguely felt. Rational thought and sober analysis largely are being tossed aside in favor of the (pipe) dream.

Another harbinger of the coming tsunami is the death of expertise as exemplified by the House Science Committee, now controlled by the Democrats: It has five subcommittees, all of whose chairmen are congressional freshmen—not one of whom has any prior experience in science. Although it’s true that you don’t need to be a veterinarian to recognize a horse’s backside when you see one, setting science funding priorities, in fields ranging from meteorology and genetic engineering to nuclear fusion and nanotechnology, requires some expertise or at least some familiarity with the terms.

It is widely recognized that many college campuses have devolved into little more than training grounds for Social Justice Warriors and other progressives, while de-emphasizing core education, at least in non-technical institutions. Numerous surveys demonstrate the presence of overwhelmingly left-leaning and ideological faculties, many of whom are protected by tenure. Stories about microaggressions, trigger warnings, snowflakes, and rigid political correctness abound, but they no longer attract as much attention as they have become so commonplace as to be boring. Developing observational and analytical skills (a core purpose of higher education and a key to innovation and economic progress) has been overshadowed by emphasis on social sensitivity.

Consider this egregious example, from a New Yorker article by Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen:

Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in, “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.

What’s next—a medical student asking that the word “body” not be used in classes, because some students might have body-image issues? Indulging these idiosyncrasies is not preparation for the real world.

That this is not confined to campuses is evident to many employers. Whether it is a high-tech firm at which employees’ whims dictate human resource policies and even business strategy (heaven forbid the company should assist the Department of Defense!) or a law firm where associates refuse to work for clients they dislike, the Millennial generation is exhibiting a new self-indulgence in the workplace.

The shift now is not from employer “exploitation” of its workforce to employee empowerment; there is clearly a range of appropriate balance between the two. The evolution is from individual focus to groupthink. High-tech companies would not be facing pressure from their employees without social networking; employees receive support from, and respond to, their peer group. Whether this is a negative, neutral, or positive influence on productivity is not yet well understood. But peer pressure, whose immediacy is driven by social media, is a powerful force for conformity.

This cultural shift plays a far more worrisome role in the realm of politics. Stars are born almost instantly if their demeanor is fetching and their message appeals to an ideologically receptive audience. The number of Twitter followers is the currency of politics in what Murphy dubbed the “era of the child.” The petulant, self-absorbed child, to be exact.

Absent the grounding in analytical thinking and the fund of knowledge that are supposed to be imparted during schooling, rational strategies likely to be effective take a back seat to idealistic aspirations. The perceived value of experience is greatly diminished.

Many people have observed that failure can be a great teacher. One reason that American culture up until now has been dominant in the world is that we are tolerant of failure but resilient enough to learn from it and persevere. But the impact of those failures is generally contained. The new generation of, dare we say, “naïve” politicians do not understand the potential magnitude of the costs of their failures. Our society cannot easily accommodate failures at the scale of governmental debacles like the Green New Deal.

It is time for the adults in the room to stand up, act their age, assert their rationality, and stop pandering to a misguided generation. It is possible to have lofty goals within a framework that recognizes real-world constraints. Let’s start by consigning the Green New Deal to the same evanescence as post-awakening dreams.

Photo Credit: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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About Andrew I. Fillat and Henry I. Miller

Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.