The Entitled Generation Is About To Wake Up

I took this photo of a Veterans Day display last night at a local university. Happy Veterans Day to all. Thank you and respect to those who served and to their families.

I have never served in the military and cannot conceive of the sacrifice.

Looking at the respectful display honoring those who gave their lives for our Nation gave me pause. And I stood there.

Suddenly I overheard a student talking to someone on the phone. She was walking briskly past me. I could hear her loud protestations.
"I don't understand! How did Trump win? I'm so FRUSTRATED!"
She really looked agitated. I think I did not realize, until that moment, how upset many people are about the results of the election.

Perhaps I missed the obvious signs. Here is a photo I took on November 9, the morning after the election, that pretty much sums up the mood on the train in D.C. (It should be noted that Hillary got 98% of the vote here.)

On CNN there was "Lily the protester" who in a span of 58 seconds managed to squeeze it all in, including what sounded like a call to violence. Breathlessly she mushed it all together:
"our lives begin to end the day we become silent" "people had to die for freedom" "we can't just do rallies" "there will be casualties on both sides" "people have to die" "Trump enough with your racism" "even all races, not just my Hispanic culture."
And of course she culminated with
"impeach Donald Trump."

If we step back for a moment and analyze all this emotion, what exactly is going on?

I do not believe it's about any love for Hillary as an individual.

In Panera yesterday the cashier was talking to her colleague. She said, cynically:
"I wonder if Donald Trump is really gonna go after her for those emails the way he said."

The Left claims to speak for minorities but this was an African-American woman who clearly did not have a high income. She was mad as hell, and it was at Trump for not doing something to put her on trial immediately.

Clearly, women are grieving that a woman did not make the Presidency. Typifying this emotion is the Facebook post by a woman named Margot Gerster, which went viral after she ran into Hillary and Bill in the park and Bill snapped a photo of them together:

Looking at the photo, at least, it seems like Hillary is the nicest and most normal grandma in the world and you totally understand what Margot is going through. Here is her post on Facebook, which is grief epitomized (spelling/grammar left intact):
Ive been feeling so heartbroken since yesterday’s election and decided what better way to relax than take my girls hiking. So I decided to take them to one of favorite places in Chappaqua. We were the only ones there and it was so beautiful and relaxing. As we were leaving, I heard a bit of rustling coming towards me and as I stepped into the clearing there she was, Hillary Clinton and Bill with their dogs doing exactly the same thing as I was. I got to hug her and talk to her and tell her that one of my most proudest moments as a mother was taking Phoebe with me to vote for her. She hugged me and thanked me and we exchanged some sweet pleasantries and then I let them continue their walk. Now, I’m not one for signs but I think ill definitely take this one. So proud. #iamstillwithher #lovetrumpshate #keepfighting #lightfollowsdarkness
So some of this is grief.

Grief so bad you can see the young people literally crying. Never in my lifetime have I seen a reaction like this.

On top of the crying there are protests all over the country. Some of them are clearly orchestrated, but not all of them. We cannot discount what's going on.

Nobody paid to stage this confrontational scene which was filmed on the New York subway.

Even toddlers are crying, it seems. In this video we see a (hilarious) meltdown as a child yells, almost incomprehensibly,

"Hillary has to put Trump in jail. Because she's the president!"

Clearly the anger people feel has something to do with their beliefs about Donald Trump's character. They imagine him a vile dictator, bringing us back to the Dark Ages of blame-the-victim rapes, coat-hanger abortions, back-slapping men doing deals in the back of the bar, lesbians and gay men stigmatized and brutalized, and African-Americans as worse than second-class citizens.

But there, again, I'm not so sure that people buy the argument, at least not anymore. As one of her own campaign staffer said, when Trump is on is own, he "normalizes." (You'll see this debate around him a lot - and the use of this specific word.)

Yet enough of us know Trump from many years back. He has never been accused of being all that stuff before. Maybe an asshole, a business cheater, a marketer, a fraud. Maybe he played up the "playboy" side of himself as exemplified by owning the Miss Universe pageant. But he also did a lot of public good, both publicly and privately, and overall I don't think anybody ever had the sense that he was Count Dracula.

The demonization tactic falls apart fast when you talk to those who actually know him.

So what gives?

After we peel off the "racist, sexist, homophobe" layer and after we peel apart the "fascist dictator" layer and after we set aside the "he has no experience" factor we are left with some kind of deep, raw wound that clearly has many, many people exploding.

Nobody paid Miley Cyrus to break out in tears on social media.

So now we get down to it. Here is my hypothesis.

After two generations of totally coddling our youngsters, the shit is finally hitting the fan.

When I was growing up, as a Generation Xer, nobody handed me anything. Yes I had a comfortable middle-class existence. But I left my home at the age of 16 after graduating high school early. My father dropped me off with $20 in my pocket. I worked as a grocery bagger, a pharmacy label typist, and a catering assistant to get by. I worked as a temp. I struggled to get through my undergraduate years, with sporadic help from the family.

It sucked!

As a child my mother took me to every conceivable lesson. But I don't recall ever winning any awards for being there. I went to summer camp, which was covered because she worked on-site as the nurse.

Nobody watched me when I went outside to play nor did they ask me what time I would be home.

If I didn't make my own lunch, I got an apple and an orange and an apple.

This is not to knock my parents at all. Maybe some kids had it worse, and some kids had it better. But we were expected to handle ourselves on our own, from a very young age, and when things went wrong it was just too bad.

Mom and Dad were working so that we could eat. And if that meant the TV kept us company all Sunday, then so be it.

Not so with the 1990s kids and beyond. I know this because I am the mother of two of them.

For my own kids, at least speaking for myself, I was determined that they should never know a moment without enrichment, encouragement, advancement, and recognition.

Is it a social disease that all of us caught?

I don't think I let them cross the street by themselves, ever. In fact I remember driving my younger one to school, every day, so that she would not have to cross a busy street.

It is as if all the anger at being left on my own manifested itself in an absurdly high level of care and concern for the children - I would say overprotectiveness - that has not left them until this day.

It has not left me, and if I would talk about my husband's feelings on the matter he would echo this. In fact I would actually argue that he sees overprotection as completely normal.

Now you may tell me that my own experience is unique, except I have corroborating evidence to show that others have enabled a culture of totally entitled young people.

I remember when the kids were in preschool and they were constantly getting certificates for absolutely nothing.

Same goes for summer camp. "This kid showed up" and for that you got a medal.

Fast forward to many years later and in so many ways I saw the same dynamic operating.

As someone who supervised Millennials I was initially blown away at their complete and total confidence in the work that they did, even when in my view it wasn't good enough.

I vividly remember telling someone who worked for me that I was not satisfied with the product. If I recall correctly I got in trouble the next day. The person stayed late and went crying to my own supervisor to complain about my total "insensitivity."

Another time I went to interview for a position as an adjunct lecturer. The interviewer said, she literally said, "What will you do if someone does very poor work? Will you grade them up anyway?"

I was shocked at the question. "No, of course not!"

"What will you do when the parents call to complain?"

At this my head was virtually exploding. I don't think my parents would have ever called a college professor to say diddly-squat.

"I would tell them to go fly a kite," I answered frankly. "That is totally ridiculous."

"Well, it's been nice meeting you," she said.

And then I got shown the door.

Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward to last night at the local university.

I sat there in the lobby of one of the buildings and just listened to the students, talking.

They seemed to feel like they knew pretty much everything there was to know.

They seemed to be very aware of one another's feelings.

They seemed to be very insulated from concepts like "fact" and instead were deeply engaged in debating largely ideological issues.

In this they are not unlike many popular celebrities who can't say enough loving things about Hillary nor enough hateful things about our new President, Donald Trump. (Like Judd Apatow saying voters "wanted an abusive father.")

All of these people, the students I watched and the Hollywood celebrities, have one thing in common: They live in a bubble. They are shielded from reality in so many vital ways. (Muslims, in contrast, are not shielded from reality, which is why so many support Trump; they don't want the U.S.A. to become the next hotbed of Muslim-on-Muslim violence; they don't want to be indoctrinated by radicals.)

In speaking the truth, the truth that we don't like to hear about radical Islamic terrorism, the truth about Obamacare, the truth about the Iran deal, the truth about the Trans-Pacific-Partnership and NAFTA, the truth about how our people are sinking under the weight of a collapsing economy, in speaking that truth and more, including the truth about government corruption -- Trump won enough support to attain the Presidency.

But also in speaking the truth, Trump drove a stake through the heart of the lies entitled people want to tell themselves. The lie that we can have whatever we want, do whatever we want, borrow as much as we want, be as irresponsible as we want, and on and on and on -- and face absolutely zero consequences.

Trump seems to me a pretty tolerant person. But he is a person who clearly, at this time, felt called to a higher duty: saving our country from itself.

With his authoritarian presence and "law and order" message, Judd Apatow may be partially right -- he does represent a father figure. But unlike Apatow's protege, Lena Dunham, Trump is willing to draw a line in the sand between good and bad behavior.

And Lena Dunham's signature character in the HBO hit show Girls, "Hannah," actually exemplifies the cultural rift we now face -- pretty well.

It's entertaining on TV that Hannah has zero social grace. It's interesting that she has a serious compulsion to nudity. It's frightening yet compelling that she puts herself into bizarre and painful situations where someone could get seriously hurt. As a mother, I wondered at the kind of culture that produces a Hannah, who casually performs sexual acts on her friends and hitchhikes into the city with a complete stranger after ditching her loving and loyal boyfriend in the woods.

As a writer I understand that Hannah has to be Hannah. Her journey is her own and it is only for me to watch and witness.

But as a citizen I am extremely concerned that we have so many young people who feel they can do "whatever" and have no consequence. Just like her.

Trump, as a president, represents the antithesis of that message. Although he seems a compassionate person, there is no doubt that his "brand," or persona, is fully about reality, structure, order, and yes, moral distinctions.

The past 30-40 years of moral relativism, of poststructuralism in the academy, of ideological flimflam passing as scholarship, of the total break between what the pundits say and what real people experience -- all of that is collapsing.

And it is in the break that the children cry.

Because they know the party is over.


All opinions my own. Photo by Chris Pelliccione via Flickr (Creative Commons)