Magazine | March 14, 2016, Issue

You Never Had It So Good

We are living through a truly historical election season. Or, actually, maybe we’re living through the fall of the republic. It’s difficult to tell some days.

An unscientific survey of the political landscape tells me there are loads of angry and anxious people out there. They believe their institutions have failed. They want their traditional political parties smashed. They believe oligarchs are running this so-called democracy like a personal ATM. They think China is killing us in the trinket-making business. You know the drill.

The nation’s most treasured asset, our youth, are being forced to pay for our sins — not to mention their own liberal-arts educations, which place them, according to many Democrats, only a small step from indentured servitude. This generation, as folks in both parties like to remind us, will be the first to be worse off than the generation that preceded it.

I doubt it.

Now, I’m open to the idea that the end may be nearish. But we can’t let it die in a third-rate, self-pitying melodrama starring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Not only because we deserve a better fate and a better class of villains, but because it makes no sense. Not yet.

For one thing, we’ve lost all sense of context. Surely the Dust Bowl–era family trekking across Oklahoma or the family man sitting waiting hours for rationed gas in 1974 would find this iteration of America sort of great already?

I point this out to the Trump voter. I explain that not only have college-enrollment rates nearly doubled in the past 30 years, but the job market has vastly expanded to include an array of new and fascinating choices. I mean, our kids are a lot luckier than we were.

The irate Trumpkin rolls his eyes at this gutless twaddle of mine and demands America bring back low-paying, back-breaking, mind-numbing factory jobs from Mexico, pronto! Because, as everyone knows, we don’t build anything in this country anymore.

Well, I point out, that’s not precisely the case, either. U.S. industrial output and productivity are at an all-time high, I tell him.

Pfft. Like those bogus employment numbers? Or those bogus illegal-immigrant numbers? That’s what the establishment wants you to believe. Save your charts. We’ve been lied to enough; this is about action. And also, maybe you should stop being a whiny RINO and do some actual homework for a change. 

Who am I to argue? As you may know, it’s futile to challenge the Right-populist kamikaze. Your patriotism is measured by the depth of your disgust. His grievances do not exist to be dispelled or disproven or mitigated; they exist to be avenged.

There’s one thing about the angry voter, though: He isn’t interested in seeing his own children taking those low-paying, back-breaking, mind-numbing factory jobs from Mexico. The only thing his kid might build is some refurbished chair at the artisan carpentry shoppe.

His kids, the Left-populist kamikazes, are flocking to collectivism to right the injustices of the same system. Exit polls from recent Democratic primaries show that 85 percent of voters under the age of 30 support Bernie Sanders. A majority have no problem with socialism — though it’s unlikely most of them could properly define what the philosophy entails. I read about their imaginary tribulations, shot from pocket-sized supercomputers (also, phone/music player/theater/GPS system/camera/game console) onto social-media platforms that are typically valued in the billions of dollars. The plutocracy has to be smashed! And they say it without a hint of irony.

Many of these Millennials, who no doubt grew up in the comfort of their parents’ 3,000-square-foot mini-mansions — purchased on the strength of 4 percent interest rates and low middle-class tax rates instituted by Ronald Reagan — have had enough.

Granted, life may be tedious in the urban areas they tend to inhabit. With the precipitous reduction in crime over the past 30 years and ensuing market-driven gentrification, grabbing Ethiopian injera or Thai tom yum goong in a once-squalid, drug-infested neighborhood is nothing special to them, I’m sure.

Yet I’m willing to cut these young idealists more slack than I’ll cut their angry Trumpite parents. The latter should comprehend, for example, that every indicator of human well-being has dramatically improved over their lifetime. How long we live. How we live. The environment in which we live. They should understand that the aesthetic and technological value of nearly every item in their houses and businesses has made them richer and their existence easier. They have no cause to be this angry.

Every successive year the world becomes less poor, less violent, and freer. And yet many Americans act like this is the worst time to be alive. Which would be true if we didn’t count every other time people were alive. It reminds me of this snippet from Chesterton on modernity:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.

Don’t get me wrong. Politics matters. There are momentous issues facing the nation. Some of them could inflict irreparable damage. But the revolution of 2016 is a manifestation of an unhealthy trend that finds Americans treating politics as if it were the wellspring of happiness and the source of redemption. This is a tragedy. Because, though politicians aren’t always dishonest and superficial, they will always disappoint you. We’re going to have to find salvation elsewhere.

Mr. Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today

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