For the last serval years, I have written and spoken about the United States being on the crossroads of our future. I could see it coming as many people did and it alarmed me. Not because we were heading towards change, but because the change was so radical that it could obliterate traditional America.
I recently spoke to a young woman that I respect a great deal. She is intelligent, passionate about life and she cares deeply for all people. She is a member of the generation coming of age now, they are beginning to make their presence known in elections, and their voices will carry more and more power as time moves on.
As much as many people see the naïveté and sometimes shockingly absurd things said by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez as a joke, I warn against it. Her voice is the voice of many of the younger generation and they are determined to change our country into the model of a green world, with peace flowing from every nation as they have been taught to believe could exist if only the traditionalist Americans would yield from their hatred and greed.
As a member of that traditionalist group I don’t see the hatred and greed she and many of the younger people see. To be sure there are people that hate in every age group, and there are greedy people in every age group, but that is not who the vast majority of Americans are.
What AOC and her ilk misinterpret and see as greed, most people like me see as an opportunity to get ahead, provide a good and decent life for their families, and if that includes a nice house, a nice car and a vacation all the better. What they don’t seem to understand it that self-reliance and success is not a zero-sum game. If I do well as an outcome of my efforts that doesn’t take anything away from anyone else. If someone else wants to be successful they can work for it too.
What they see as unfairness of outcome when I succeed and someone else doesn’t, tells them success is based on the game being rigged in favor of one group over another and therefore not legitimately earned. Of course, they are wrong, but on face value it is an easy to see how they might come to that conclusion if all they have been taught is that America is unfair, that certain people have “privilege” and that capitalism is destructive, which is what they are being taught in many places besides some schools of higher education.
They are being told this through the media every day, the music culture teaches these lessons, Hollywood and Pop culture preaches it at every opportunity. Any effort to tell a different side of the story is portrayed as hateful, racist, xenophobic, bigoted and an effort to protect one’s privilege. These are tough things to fight when you add in the passion of youth and the natural phase of life that comes with it to defy the system and fix what you see as problems.
Back to the young woman I spoke to; our conversation was actually very good, there was a lot of back and forth and actual listening going on. We were both making our points with conversation, not name calling, yelling and melt downs from being “Triggered” by ideas different than our own.
She did say something that stopped me in my tracks though. As we discussed the differences between the need for a strong military, why hypocrisy has to have more meaning than a punchline, and why capitalism has saved the world many times over, she listened intently and said:
“It doesn’t really make a difference, when we take over we’re changing everything anyway”.
It won’t say I was dumbfounded by the matter-of-factness of the comment, but I was uncomfortable. I said to myself; I hope Winston Churchill’s words – “If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart and if you’re not a conservative at 40 you have no brain”, turns out to be true for this generation as it has for past generations or we will not recognize the good old USA in another 30 years, if not sooner.
That being said, my final comments to her, and what I believe is the key take away for anyone trying to make a connection to these young people and help them see more than just their own thoughts and beliefs as the only reality, is to recognize that they are the products of the world they live in. They are at a stage in life when, for the first time they see the world independently from their parents and family and it is amazing. They see poverty and believe it is easy to solve by just giving the poor more money, money that of course should come from two sources; one, from the government which has plenty to spend on armies and bombs and second from the rich, who have much more then they need.
The lack of life experience prevents them from seeing that solving big problems is not as easy as it might seem to be.
We have spent billions of dollars to eradicate poverty, only to see it continue. Solving poverty is not totally about money, it is about changing values in many cases, it is about education in other cases, it is about grinding dependence on government and it is about the differences in skills and talents inherent in every person.
It is also dependent on opportunity, and opportunity does indeed depend on the policies of government leadership. Some will destroy opportunity and others will enhance it, life has taught me that.
We could list a thousand other factors as to why poverty is still with us, but in the eyes of the innocent and naïve, empowering government to take money from those how have it to give to those who don’t seems like an easy answer, if our goal was really to help the poor.
What these young people don’t grasp at this point in life is that empowering a government to take something from one group to give to another at the point of a gun is efficient when it serves your purpose, but it also creates a tyranny that will grow into other forms; all of which are bad and can turn on you in an instant. I have seen it in my lifetime which is why I know, they don’t.
This same principal, getting the big guy government to force everyone to conform to their societal improvement demands can be applied to any of the other “Changes” our younger Americans are demanding. The answers seem simple, but the reality is that human interaction is very complicated; life and time teach you that. Slogans, protests and screaming in the streets just gets everyone agitated. No matter the facts, they will act on feelings and their new-found sense of power. These beliefs are real to them.
The long and short of it is that in the case of the young woman I spoke to she was willing to recognize that what I was trying to tell her was not to make excuses for what she perceives as privilege, but to point out what it takes to be successful; hard work, sacrifice and dedication to goals.
To make my case I also had to acknowledge her point and tell her that yes, sometimes people end up very wealthy because they took advantage of a situation, or they inherited the money. We all know this is true in some instances, but what our life experience tells us is that those kinds of success are not the majority, we also know that sometime life is not fair plain and simple.
We cannot artificially change the entire system to make things fair for everyone because “fair” will be interpreted differently by everyone. Instead we can work hard, come up with a good idea and dedicate ourselves to make it successful, and even then, it might not work out. That is just how it plays out.
When we were done talking, she accepted that having a large and powerful military was not intended to be used to steal other peoples resources, at least the American military is not intended for that purpose, and life experience can and should help in decision making. I learned that she is a good person, not a crazy eyed nut as many of her compatriots are viewed, but, she still believes that socialism, if done right, whatever that means, can be the answer to our long term survival as a nation and provide a way for everyone to have a fair shot at success.
I had to believe I moved her down the road a bit, but it was clear that there is a lot of work to be done to help the next generation see clearly how to solve a problem. They can use their desire for a better world as action points, but any solutions must be tempered by experience or nothing will change, and in fact can get much worse.
Time will march on, and change will come one way or another. I pray every day that America will continue to be the land of opportunity, freedom, liberty and hope for all of us.
I pray that the next generations will come to see a balanced view of our legacy and heritage so that they can be guided by both their good intentions and the wisdom and experience of the generations that came before them.
And I pray that America survives as the last great hope for mankind.