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Because these men are everything we have been taught to like.
We human beings tend to flatter ourselves. With each new generation we tend to fancy ourselves as courageous trailblazers who have identified the strengths and failings of the generation before and created a new future that is uniquely ours.
But that’s not really what happens.
What really happens is that we each more or less behave exactly the way our parents and teachers told us to.
One of my favorite examples is the 1971 ballad “Imagine,” by John Lennon. We think of it as a rebellious generation’s hymn to the bold new humanity it forged in the 1960s: “Imagine no religion … no countries … imagine all the people living life in peace.”
The problem is that if you watch Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet you see that the iconic parents that raised the bold 1960s generation … were people who never mentioned religion or patriotism and enjoyed an untroubled peace. They were people like my grandfather, a kindly old atheist who had no American flag in his house, subscribed to Scientific American and shared its deep and abiding faith in a peaceful manmade progress.
When the children of such men sing “Imagine,” the deep gratification they feel is really just the old-fashioned contentment of agreeing with Dad.
I was a child who came of age in the 1980s. We wanted to be like the lovers of freedom and of free-loving — like Bruce Springsteen, who was “Born to Run,” and Cyndi Lauper, who declared (when it really was bold to declare it) that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” We wanted to be pointedly unique like Michael Jackson, Billy Idol and Madonna, which was exactly what our parents taught us to be. They read Dr. Spock religiously and were convinced that, above all, their children needed freedom and validation, the constant assurance that they were “special.” We just did as we’d been told.
You can apply it over and over again. The 1970s generation of divorce and sexual experimentation gave us harsh realism at the movies (Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, et al.), disco in the clubs; and a desperate reliance on contraceptives. Those children who were conceived were aborted at historically high rates. Those who survived were often turned into latchkey “After-School Special” kids. In the 1990s, their kids sang from the hymn book they had been taught: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious; here we are now, entertain us …”
Each generation embodies their parents’ core values — but nakedly, and stripped of all pretenses.
The jury is still out on the kids raised by my comrades and me; but I suspect the pattern holds true. Millennial outputs will largely be a product of my generation’s inputs. We had the “safe sex” movement, missing children on milk cartons and the discovery that our kids might get hurt on playgrounds. Our kids are demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” because the thoughts of others have become scary. We were “in the spotlight, losing my religion;” they are in our shadow, never having had a religion to lose.
Consider today’s young radicals in the Occupy Movement or, more recently, flocking to Bernie Sanders.
They went to schools that largely considered God to be a private irrelevancy. Their teachers didn’t teach them the evils of communism; they taught them the evils of anti-communism. They learned more about Hollywood blacklisting and McCarthyism than they did about the Great Purge and Trotskyism.
Is it any wonder that these kids grew up to be fiercely secularist and angrily anti-Capitalist? Today’s radical secularists aren’t a bold new thing: they’re just teachers’ pets on steroids.
And those people who love Donald Trump? Thirty-eight percent of them are 18-49 years old, and exactly the same percentage is 50-and-older. They are cross generational — parents and those they raised, and they represent trends ubiquitous over decades.
Why are such people enthralled with Trump? we ask. Why in heaven’s name wouldn’t they be?
Raised on such crass and hollow examples of leadership as we have seen, we can imagine what the next generation will be like, but let’s not. Instead, let’s change the trajectory.
“The future of humanity passes by way of the family,” said Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis gets this; that is why he is promoting Christian basics: a life that rejects name calling, embraces the Beatitudes, and a heartfelt prayer life.
And many Catholic families, thank God, have been working on this for a long time. We look to their children, desperate with hope, because there is only way to improve the future: Improve the family.
A version of this first appeared at Aleteia.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).