The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Would You Ever Agree to Be a Teenager Again?

Law enforcement officers are responding to Santa Fe High School following a shooting incident in this Harris County Sheriff office, Santa Fe, Texas, photo released on May 18, 2018. (Courtesy HCSO/Handout via Reuters )

We’re going to do this again, huh? Another debate about gun control after a mass shooting?

We still have to debate gun control, even after the shooter built functioning bombs? After he used weapons that no federal official, including Dianne Feinstein, wants to prohibit?

I notice that school shooters rarely have lived lives of terrible abuse and deprivation, the sort of experiences that make you think, “oh, good heavens, well, no wonder that person finally snapped.” When their tales are told, the portraits of their life reveal mundane problems — loneliness, bullying, social isolation and alienation; an attraction to a girl that isn’t reciprocated. Those are all deeply unpleasant experiences, but they’re also extremely common among teenagers. Raise your hand if you were never bullied. Raise your hand if you never felt like an outsider or a loser. Raise your hand if you’ve never been rejected or turned down by someone you liked. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The social conditions of teenagers — and let’s face it, we’re talking about teenage boys — haven’t changed that much from when today’s adults were that age. Schoolwork is still hard, and as Will Smith sang, “parents just don’t understand.” (Think about it, as a working adult, you’re probably expected to be proficient and knowledgeable about one area of life, from nine-ish to five-ish. A high-school student is supposed to be proficient and knowledgeable about math, science, history, or social studies; English or literature; a foreign language; possibly art; possibly music; good enough in gym class — changing in front of their peers in the locker room! And then they have homework. And then there’s the SATs. The more that teachers, parents, and guidance counselors tell you that this one test doesn’t determine your future . . . the more you start to suspect this one test determines your future.)

If the cool crowd is a minority, then the majority will feel left out of that cool crowd. Girls remain bewildering and endlessly desirable but difficult to charm. Hormones make everything worse. Everybody else seems to have figured out something that makes them special, unique, a standout, whether it’s on the athletic field, or the honor roll, or the school play, or some other activity. You’re flailing along through life, kinda-sorta-okay at this or that but disappearing as a face in the crowd. You can remember grade school and middle school and things didn’t seem so hard then. You feel like you missed some important day of class where they explained who you are, and what you’re supposed to do with the rest of your life, and how to be one of those special people — the valedictorian, captain of the football team, homecoming king. And everybody else seems to have already memorized the rules to thrive in life, and you’re stuck making it up as you go along.

Your face is breaking out like a pepperoni pizza; your body keeps growing and your clothes don’t fit; your voice cracks; everyone else seems to have heard of the latest new cool song, TV show, movie, meme, trend, or whatever and you feel like your family is so hopelessly out-of-touch and behind-the-times you might as well be Amish. The rich kids have their own cars already.

Worst of all, every now and then some unthinkingly cruel adult will tell you these are the best years of your life.

Like I said, all of us have been there in some time of teenage (or post-teenage) depression, frustration, ennui, alienation, and loneliness. Most of us got through those tough times without feeling that the best, or only remaining course, was to lash out through violence, culminating in self-destruction. Maybe today’s teenage world, with social media, increases the venues for ostracization. Maybe we have more undiagnosed mental illness (although today’s schools are more attuned to that than ever).

Family breakdown is probably a factor; out of the 27 deadliest mass shootings in the United States, 26 of the perpetrators were not raised by their biological fathers. But this by itself doesn’t explain it, because a lot of boys lack a father in the picture and don’t turn out to be mass shooters.

What has changed, and defines the post-Columbine world, is that a mass shooting is now the quickest way to get not merely your high school, but your community and perhaps the entire country wondering about what was going through the mind of an otherwise anonymous teenager:

For one thing, newspaper front pages have changed. They’re mostly pixels now, not ink, and news travels fast. Shooters know that their names and faces will bounce around Facebook and Twitter, and make their way to the front pages of news sites and blogs around the world. Their acts result in notoriety, a sick celebrity status, and that’s a powerful allure for young people who, in some cases, haven’t really found a place to belong in the real world.

Meloy told Next America that from an epidemiological perspective, one of the macro variables that has shifted most dramatically in the past six or seven years is the advent and proliferation of social media.

“Historically, one of the central motivations in cases, although not the only one, is a desire for notoriety and a desire for infamy, and now we have a setting, a cultural and social setting, where your act of multiple homicides will be known about internationally within moments,” he said. So there’s a twisted incentive that didn’t exist a generation ago.

Is it possible that our relentless coverage, analysis, and discussion of school shooters increases that “twisted incentive”? We don’t have the option of not covering these events — imagine that there was a school shooting in the next town over, and your local media chose to simply not cover it, lest they inadvertently glamorize it or inspire copycats.

But as David French and Malcolm Gladwell spell out, the threshold gets brought down another notch with each shooting. It may be that we’ve created the expectation among certain teenage boys that when they feel sufficiently alienated and isolated and rejected and angry about the world, this is what an angry teenage boy is supposed to do. Yes, you either end up dead or in jail for the rest of your life, but “everyone” will remember your name for the rest of their lives.

As the old saying goes, newspapers don’t write stories about all of the airline flights that land safely. But maybe we do need to spotlight — again and again — that a lot of these commonplace teenage feelings of loneliness and disappointment are commonplace. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having these feelings. Everybody goes through dark times. Probably the vast majority of the people who you envy, who seem to have it all figured out, are dealing with their own doubts, their own fears, their own feelings of inadequacy. Whatever you’re going through, you will get through it. Better days are ahead, even if you can’t see them.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably doing okay; in my opinion you’re demonstrating you’re among the brightest, best informed, wisest, and most successful folks around. But just in case you’re not feeling that way, and need someone to talk to, a whole slew of counseling hotlines can be found here.

Who Wants a Summit with North Korea More?

This is why it’s difficult to follow an impulsive leader.

President Trump, increasingly concerned that his summit meeting in Singapore next month with North Korea’s leader could turn into a political embarrassment, has begun pressing his aides and allies about whether he should take the risk of proceeding with a historic meeting that he had leapt into accepting, according to administration and foreign officials.

Mr. Trump was both surprised and angered by a statement issued on Wednesday by the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, who declared that the country would never trade away its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for economic aid, administration officials said.

North Korea’s shift was unpleasant and out-of-the-blue, but not really out of character. No doubt they would threaten to walk away from the table the moment they thought they could wring a concession out of the United States.

And they’re already getting concessions:

A planned training exercise involving U.S. B-52 bombers and South Korean planes was scrapped earlier this week after the South Korean government expressed concerns that it could generate tensions before a planned summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to U.S. officials.

Who’s got leverage now?

The ‘Terrifying’ Constitution

Benajmin Wittes, writing in The Atlantic and terrified and outraged that President Trump is urging the Department of Justice to investigate if the previous administration ordered a wiretap on him.

Consider a few facts: President Trump has the constitutional authority to make this demand. The idea that the President doesn’t interfere in law enforcement investigative matters is one of our deep normative expectations of the modern presidency. But it is not a matter of law. Legally, if the President of the United States wants to direct the specific conduct of investigations, that is his constitutional prerogative. If Trump wants to corruptly direct the conduct of an investigation in order to out an FBI source who was helping our government investigate Russian interference in our electoral processes, well, Article II of the Constitution begins with these terrifying words: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

Oh, now the Imperial Presidency is a problem! Heck, I’m fine with limiting the president’s powers, as long as those limits don’t get loosened once a Democrat’s back in office.

ADDENDA: R.I.P., Bernard Lewis. Jay Nordlinger offers a terrific appreciation here:

I can just hear Bernard say something with perfect irony: “Some people believe that Arabs should be free of dictatorship, like others in the world. This is known as the anti-Arab, or Western-imperialist, view. Other people say or imply that Arabs are destined to live under dictatorship, as the natural and rightful state of affairs. This is known as the pro-Arab view. . . .”

A book by Lewis was translated into Hebrew and published by the Israeli defense ministry. The same book was translated into Arabic and published by the Muslim Brotherhood (unauthorized). In his preface to the Arabic version, the translator said, “I don’t know who this author is, but one thing about him is clear: He is either a candid friend or an honorable enemy, and in either case is one who has disdained to falsify the truth.”

Lewis always said that this was one of the great compliments of his career.

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