The Morning Jolt


Loneliness in America Is Caused by Our Broken Culture

(Photo: Agnieszkamarcinska/Dreamstime)

It’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are many ways to remember; one of my first lessons about it came from a Peanuts special, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? It features a haunting but age-appropriate sequence that is unlike any other in any other children’s programming.

How Do We Fix a Lonely Culture?

Earlier this week, a contributor to the NRPlus Facebook page — if you joined, I wouldn’t have to tell you about these things —  lamented frustration that whatever conservatives had won in the courtroom and legal battles, “court wins haven’t translated to actual culture wins.”

I responded by asking what would qualify as “actual culture wins.” The release of more movies the writer liked, or higher box-office revenues? Fewer movies or television shows he didn’t like? The former is possible, the latter is controlled by a wide variety of factors, from the decision-makers at studios, the career ambitions of stars, the impulses of screenwriters, the tastes of audiences, and even just what else is playing at the movie theater that weekend.

I remember some Christian-right pastor declaring that Caitlyn Jenner being on the cover of Vanity Fair represented some awful cultural turning point, and I thought, the cover of Vanity Fair always featured some lefty celebrity doing something allegedly provocative. (Am I the only one who remembers naked and pregnant Demi Moore? That was back in 1991!) If that’s our measuring stick for “culture” then we’ve always lost. There’s never going to be a day when we wake up and see something conservative on the cover of Vanity Fair. So why have we decided that that is the measuring stick we’re going to use? And why would celebrities who want attention, doing something cynically provocative, outrank, say, the declining abortion rate in our assessment of cultural health?

But just because the terms of the lament about cultural defeat were frustratingly vague, it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes share the sentiment. The cultural power of celebrities — or more specifically, the average American’s misplaced trust in the judgment of people who they recognize from being on television or in the movies or hearing their music — is profoundly disturbing. I suspect that the process of becoming a celebrity is almost inherently psychologically damaging. They enjoy the cheers and adoration of large crowds but have difficulty developing and sustaining real behind-the-scenes relationships. Their fans love the characters they play, sometimes oblivious to the fact that the actor is not the character. Most of them are constantly evaluated based upon their appearance by strangers, developing all kinds of obsessions and disorders and frequently going under the knife to preserve their youthful looks. Their ideas for maintaining good health would give the American Medical Association nightmares. Addictions flourish and are almost endlessly enabled. Almost everyone they encounter wants something from them — an autograph, a picture, sex, to read a script, to play a role, or to offer help breaking into the business. And this is before we get to the point that their world lets the likes of Harvey Weinstein thrive and flourish.

Most of the people who create our popular culture are constantly marinating in a culture of exploitation, greed, envy, objectification, abuse, hedonistic excess, and runaway lust of every kind. It’s amazing any of them come out of the process of becoming famous with their head on straight. And yet so many of our fellow countrymen are endlessly fascinated with the inmates of the asylum.

A lot of our cultural problems are issues with no clear government or policy solution. But they represent huge problems nonetheless. The cultural choice to revere suicide, instead of discouraging it, in the Netherlands discussed yesterday, is one of them. Another, discussed at length by Kay Hymowitz in City Journal this morning is the cultural phenomenon of loneliness — and how it likely ties into a cultural choice to end the old prioritization of the family unit:

The loneliness thesis taps into a widespread intuition of something true and real and grave. Foundering social trust, collapsing heartland communities, an opioid epidemic, and rising numbers of “deaths of despair” suggest a profound, collective discontent. It’s worth mapping out one major cause that is simultaneously so obvious and so uncomfortable that loneliness observers tend to mention it only in passing. I’m talking, of course, about family breakdown. At this point, the consequences of family volatility are an evergreen topic when it comes to children; this remains the subject of countless papers and conferences. Now, we should take account of how deeply the changes in family life of the past 50-odd years are intertwined with the flagging well-being of so many adults and communities…

While the loosening of traditional rules gave women freedom to leave violent or cruel husbands, it also changed the cultural environment for couples trying to weather less dangerous stresses and disappointments, including a pink slip. Lower-income men and women are bound to have more financial anxieties, more work accidents, and more broken-down cars and evictions, and they lack the funds for Disneyland vacations, massages, and psychotherapists that might take some of the edge off a struggling marriage. And they see few, if any, long-term married couples who could offer a successful model. With single parenthood and cohabitation both on the lifestyle menu, what they see instead is an easy out.

When so many marriages melt into thin air, lower-income kin networks, a source of job connections, child care, and family meals, attenuate as well. Your mother’s sister’s husband—your uncle by marriage—might give you a tip about a job opening at a local machine shop; an uncle separated from your aunt and living with a girlfriend with her own kids in the next town over, maybe not. Communities flush with fatherless households tend to be troubled. In his landmark study of county-level social mobility, economist Raj Chetty discovered that places thick with married-couple families created more opportunity for kids, regardless of whether they were living in a married or single-parent household; places with large numbers of single-parent homes, on the other hand, pulled kids down—including those living with married parents. It’s hard to imagine more concrete evidence of the truth of the old cliché that family is the building block of society.

Are we likely to fix this by changing laws? It’s unlikely that many Americans would want to dramatically change divorce laws, although we may prefer to encourage counseling and trial separations attempted before finalizing the legal dissolution of a marriage. At heart, the question is how you get people to make better and more responsible choices — to not have children before they’re ready, to get married and try to make the marriage work when times get hard, and to embrace the responsibilities of parenthood instead of running from them. Perhaps we need to reemphasize the benefits of those right choices. (Ahem. Only five left in stock, apparently.)

Nancy Pelosi: Trump Should Be in Prison . . . But Please Don’t Impeach Him

The Speaker of the House really wants to walk a fine line:

“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” [Nancy] Pelosi said, according to multiple Democratic sources familiar with the meeting. Instead of impeachment, Pelosi still prefers to see Trump defeated at the ballot box and then prosecuted for his alleged crimes, according to the sources.

And if Trump wins reelection, would she support impeachment then, at the start of his second term?

Recall my reaction to the release of the Mueller report: If Democrats want to impeach Trump in an effort that is doomed in the Senate, then let’s get this circus started and finished as quickly as possible. “There’s no statute of limitations on any of this. If Democrats choose to not impeach Trump this year, they can keep it in their back pocket and, at any time during his presidency if he’s elected to a second term, take it up later. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see 67 Democrats in the Senate, but this represents a stink-bomb that the Democrats can throw at the president at any time, as long as they hold a majority in the House.”

John James Isn’t Done with Michigan Politics Yet

Some promising news for Michigan Republicans:

Republican businessman John James of Michigan announced Thursday that he will challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in 2020 in a key state for President Donald Trump’s re-election chances.

James, a 37-year-old African American combat veteran and CEO of an automotive logistics company in Detroit, lost to longtime Sen. Debbie Stabenow last year. But he did better than expected, considering he was a political unknown initially and the race was never prioritized as a battleground by the national GOP in what was a successful year for Michigan Democrats.

A Michigan Senate race will never be easy for Republicans to win. But in contests like this, you improve your odds when you have your best talent on the field.

ADDENDUM: Remember yesterday’s recognition of YouTube for ignoring a liberal demand that a conservative be punished for posting material the liberal found offensive? Yeah, never mind, the company folded as soon as mainstream media allies of the liberal jumped in and started writing about the controversy . . .

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are three distinct nuclear power plant disasters, and people who lump the three together as interchangeable are revealing they don’t know what they’re talking about. The people who designed, built, managed and operated Fukushima were prepared for a disaster — but not the fourth-most powerful earthquake ever recorded striking with the epicenter 30 miles away from the reactor, and triggering a 49-foot tsunami.


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