I’ve read all sorts of learned and faux-authoritative essays on why and how America, as we have come to know it in the past four years, has become a new age of Denial; of selective truths and alt-reality and lies unchallenged and facts denied. People far more intelligent and with it than I have proffered theories ranging from basic economic inequities and systematic rabble-rousing to active plots to unsettle democracy and subvert American principles.
I think all of these may be factors. I think that the basic motivators may be something else altogether…
Starting in the early 1960s, a fundamentally new and different way of raising children began to take root in the American psyche. Much of it traces back to one of the most revered child-rearing tomes ever published, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. It first came out in 1946 but took over a decade to gain near-universal acceptance and, when it did, it changed attitudes about who and what your children were and could be forever. This is not to blame Dr. Spock for any of this. As happens with so many great ideas, once placed in the hands of average humans, they’re misinterpreted, perverted, and run straight into the ground.
Children raised roughly before 1960 were given the Conventional Wisdom: Life isn’t fair, you make your own luck, you have to work to get ahead, you respect your elders, you don’t talk back, and you work HARD in school and then in whatever job you get and don’t get too ambitious. In my native South, there is an old axiom which I came to heartily despise: “Don’t Rise Above Your Raising”; basically a reminder not to become arrogant and superior if and when you succeed at life and always honor your origins. Both great sentiments. But – see ‘running into the ground’ dynamic – far too many more ignorant types took this to mean that no children should EVER try to do better than their parents, no matter what sort of human flotsam they may be.
But the vast majority of younger American parents adopted Spock’s philosophy: build children UP instead of tearing them down. Give them a sense of self-worth. Give then a voice in their own upbringing. Let them know that, whatever they decide, you’ll be behind them. Again, ideas that are hard to argue with…and few people did.
BUT, again, these are humans and some not terribly smart. Parents took Spock’s wise words and ran past them, frantic that their children should grow up and not like them. It became a virtual mantra that parents should aspire to become their childrens’ best friends. Spanking, the nuclear warhead of American parenting discipline, became gradually more and more unacceptable, as it should be. But many parents took that to mean that NO discipline was really necessary. “Permissiveness” became a term on everybody’s lips but most parents wouldn’t cop to being permissive and slid into a default decision that their child’s bad behavior wasn’t something that required discipline.
The term “level playing field” gained common usage and parents became more and more strident about insisting that, whatever their child had done at school, teachers should never punish their asocial acts or words. Parental lawsuits against school systems and teachers became commonplace and children quickly became aware that whatever they did, their parents would get them out of it. There was far less incentive for children to fear any sort of consequences for their behavior. And, as time went by, that attitude became a virtual article of faith with most children.
And they carried that belief into adulthood.
Adulthood, for many of those kids – some of whom are now into their late-50s and 60s – has not been a time when their horizons broaden and they come to embrace universal truths that most of us find out the hard way. Life is NOT fair and those of us who are sane and use their brains for something beyond storing facts about auto parts and shopping lists already know that and have managed to adapt, however difficult it may have been. But millions of us are still operating off that “I’ll tell my Daddy!” dynamic, expecting to be gotten out of all problems and demanding “fairness” – which, for them, is defined as getting their way – in all situations.
Entitlement. A vast and concrete sense of self-entitlement and privilege – white and other colors – are what’s behind a LOT of the divisiveness we’re swimming in today.
Starting with the tumultuous Nixon administration, people on the Right, especially (though there certainly are over-entitled Liberals) came to find their inability to establish the United States as a sort of “conservative Utopia” as some sort of insidious plot to deprive them of Fairness. In casting about for scapegoats – because to ego-centric people, NOTHING is ever their fault – the Democratic Party was the natural boogey-man. They’re the opposing ideology, so let’s get ’em! Nixon’s Enemies List – largely a roster of Nixon’s philosophical opposites – became the nexus of the Right’s scapegoating. “Eastern elites” – a purposely vague term designed to bag any moderate Democrats, Liberals, or progressives in their native Northeastern habitat – became the focus of political dirty tricks, at first rather innocent and then felonious, after Watergate and the tsunami of prison sentences which followed. Rather than see and revile the illegal acts of a few DC Republicans and their minions, the Right saw these men as martyrs. All of them – Nixon, Haldeman, Erlichman, John Mitchell, et al – were ruined for public office but conservative pundits continued to claim that they were victims of a massive political conspiracy to suppress conservatism.
Later, with the debut of Fox News, that seething lunacy found a Voice and the frustration and actual hatred. Those of us who did not share their views on America’s future became the Oppressor. WE became the focus of their venom and hatred, passed on to each successive generation and recruiting CONSTANTLY, and the chasms of divisions we see now cracked open and began to widen. Driven by Fox and fellow travelers within the news and budding internet media communities, the larger 2/3 of America became “to blame” for the constant and wild-eyed claims of “suffering” the Right had to endure. The outcry against the whole idea of an American President who was half African-American – and who was frantically accused to not being American at all – became a hurricane of abuse, most of which President Obama rose above and worked around, succeeding in a fashion that will have him remembered as one of the greatest American presidents ever. To all the conservatives, the eight years of the Obama presidency were about “suffering“, as you have undoubtedly read a hundred times. In the early wake of Donald Trump’s Russian-aided installation as our illegitimate “president”, smug conservatives gloated that “Hey, we suffered through Obama. You’ll live through Trump.” To which many of us replied “You suffered through Obama because you’re a bad person. We’ll suffer through Trump because he is.“
All of that is true, of course, but after George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush – ALL of whom were never conservative enough for these suffering masses – Trump finally gave them a person who was just as petty, venal, vindictive, abusive, dismissive, and regressive as they are. The romance with Trump is NOT about his political “philosophy”, which really doesn’t exist, or his grand plan to “Make America Great Again”, which appears only to mean “undo everything that uppity Negro before me did“, or anything else about governance or competency. It has ONLY to do with retribution against all of us oppressors who belittled then and called them stupid for over forty years.
I get it. I understand why the arch-conservative 35-ish percent of America is pitching a protracted hissy fit. Who enjoys being called stupid? I don’t. You probably don’t. But for most of us, the remedy to wearing that tag is education, studying, learning, and gaining the knowledge to put forth coherent, persuasive arguments which stand some chance of bringing others around to your different viewpoint.
The Entitled, however, were raised on a steady diet of “You’re fine just the way you are.” But there was a second part of that statement that MOST parents forgot: “But if you want to be something else, do something better, you have to learn and gain experience and Achieve.”
Those kids, as adults, took “good enough” to mean that they have nothing else to learn; that their arguments, twisted and incoherent as they OFTEN are, deserve respect and that they deserve to have things their way, as though America and reality are their Pee Wee League softball team, where everybody gets to pitch and everybody gets to bat and everybody gets a participation trophy, whether they achieve anything or not.
If this division was about something concrete, like income disparity and the 1% picking all our pockets, all of us would be on the same side. If it was about the supposed, wholly-fabricated “crisis on our Southern border”, the idea that immigrants “compete” with the rest of us (for the low-paying, back-breaking, menial jobs that no Americans really want) might have some real meaning. But even undocumented immigrants DO, in fact, pump BILLIONS of dollars into our economy, annually, and do it without such niceties like welfare that only natural Americans can claim.
These people have stopped listening. Before Trump got beaten like a rented mule, they laid out vast oil slicks of smarm, gloating about how they were right all along and licking up every scrap of Trump’s lies and fantasies and dismissing all the rest of us as “Libtards” and calling us haters.
Sure this is partly about conservative politics but I contend – and NOT ONE conservative has managed to make a coherent counter-argument that didn’t contain the words “Libtard”, “Hates America”, and my favorite “See me on November 4th, after Biden LOSES!” – that most of the politics is a smoke screen. ALL they really have and operate off of is their frustration, resentment, hatred, bruised feelings, and “leaders” who are, many of them, even less rational and more crazy than they are.
We probably cannot bridge this chasm. The country probably will have to fracture and even fragment into three or four other countries. The ONLY thing which would possibly heal the rift is dialog and compromise and the Right has given up on both.
Whatever happens, make no mistake about it: this fractious time in America is at least as much about entitlement as any other single factor and people who will not grow up, will not face reality, will not discuss the future, and who cling blindly to their childishness, their juvenile insistence that they should get their way…are 100% to blame.