Monday, March 2, 2020

Burning Down the House

Young people are the future. They always have been, from the very first generation to the present one. They are the inheritors of civilization. It’s a bequest filled with enormous responsibility, as they must pick up the torch from the previous generation and pass it on to the next hopefully improving society while not diminishing it. It’s a task many young people of each generation are eager to assume and vocal about assuming. Stewardship of our society comes with many perquisites but also requires a great deal of preparation. Unfortunately, the current younger generation, while quite boisterous, simply hasn’t done its homework and is woefully unprepared to assume the reins to lead society into the rest of this century.

I didn’t always agree with TV political pundit Chris Matthews. I strongly disliked his attacks on Bill Clinton during that impeachment and it irked me that his questions were often longer than his guests’ answers, particularly his unique brand of rolling question that never allowed a guest to answer until Matthews finally ended his rant with “Your thoughts?” But I respected Chris Matthews for his knowledge and decades of experience as a journalist, speechwriter in President Jimmy Carter's administration, and chief of staff for Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. He knew what he was talking about because he had been in the trenches with the politicians of his day and, like myself, he had been a lifelong student of history and political science. He didn’t give opinions, but rather as Harlan Ellison would say, he gave informed opinions.

I also respected him because he spoke his mind. Sometimes, I and other viewers thought he was right; other times, we thought he was wrong. Matthews didn’t care. He told us what he thought, not what he thought we wanted to hear. He didn’t take positions based on television ratings or popular opinion. He didn’t say what management wanted him to say. Sure, like all television talking heads, he read off a Teleprompter but he would also speak off-the-cuff, like the guy sitting next to you at the neighborhood bar. When I was growing up we called that honesty and straightforwardness; young people today – who are easily “triggered” by words and seek “safe spaces” where they won’t feel threatened by divergent opinions – call it political incorrectness.

Chris Matthews called his television show Hardball. By definition, it was never meant to be a safe place but rather one where guests would come on and defend their various political positions. Matthews didn’t mince words. He wasn’t afraid to call people out or to question their statements or ideologies. He would push back in his interviews. He was the one who cornered Donald Trump on whether, if abortion should be illegal, then should women who receive one or doctors who perform them be sent to prison? On the March 30, 2016 Hardball broadcast Matthews repeatedly pressed the presidential candidate who finally said women who have abortions should suffer “some sort of punishment.” Last week, when Elizabeth Warren repeated an allegation her fellow presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg had told a pregnant employee “to kill it” Matthews pressed her for repeating an unsubstantiated charge. It was a ‘he said, she said’ situation and no one knows who was lying. But it was enough for Shaunna Thomas, president of the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, to begin a campaign to have MSNBC fire Matthews. It worked; Matthews said his final goodbyes to viewers tonight and walked of the set of his Hardball show five minutes into the program.

There were two other incidents putting pressure on MSNBC to fire Matthews. An article by columnist Laura Bassett appeared in GQ in which she related Matthews’ inartful compliment on her appearance (he said he didn’t know why he hadn’t fallen in love with her) – which seems rather tame to me at a time when the president of the United States boasts about “grabbing women by the pussy.” The other incident, also recent, concerned Matthews’ historical allusion after Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses. His point was Sanders swept it in a blitzkrieg and politically, it was over.

Matthews said: “I'm reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940. And the general calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over,’ and Churchill says, ‘How can it be? You got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It's over.’”

Matthews, a student of history, was using an historical allusion to make the point that something was over almost before it had begun. He wasn’t insinuating the Jewish Bernie Sanders was a Nazi. That much was obvious to anyone except members of the least-educated generation in history. The progressive youth used it as a rallying cry to call for Matthews’ resignation. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing:  this is a generation that has no understanding of allusion, history, or political science and no respect for those who do. They wear their ignorance like a badge of honor and trade online barbs based on ill-informed soundbites. Their sum knowledge of history and the way our government and Constitution are supposed to work comes not from years of reading books, newspapers, and magazines on the subjects but rather from seconds of reading bumper stickers and tweets.

With our mandated focus on science and math to the exclusion of other subjects like history, civics, political science, literature, the arts, and even English, we have failed to prepare the younger generations to lead. We’ve taught them to value entertainment and pop culture more than the things that really matter. They’re not stupid; merely ignorant. And it’s not their fault because they were never properly educated. That’s the fault of the Baby Boomers who underfunded schools and teacher salaries resulting in the hiring of substandard teachers and who redesigned the curriculum to de-emphasize those essential subjects.

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. These young people who have been coddled to the point where they must be sheltered from hearing opposing ideas and who have no clue as to how government is supposed to function or why things are the way they are (since that would require studying the past to find out) are poised to make major decisions that will affect everyone’s lives. Now more than ever we need people like Chris Matthews to speak out, to share decades of accumulated knowledge, and to offer informed opinions we may debate. Unfortunately, the effect of political correctness championed by the young progressives will be a chilling effect on free speech. Whoever replaces Matthews will think long and hard before opening his or her mouth. There will be no honest, unfiltered, off-the-cuff commentary. Not when the thought police stand ready to punish thought crimes. The next host will be politically correct, inoffensive, and fluent in Newspeak in today’s Orwellian culture.

The young progressives don’t want debate: they already believe their views are the correct ones, so what’s left to debate? Since they have no knowledge or appreciation of history, they have no use for anyone old enough to have lived through it, let alone learned from it, so they want to replace older people with young ones. We see this in the Massachusetts senatorial primary race, where Sen. Edward Markey – a 73-year-old Democrat with a progressive record of accomplishment, decades of experience, and expertise few of his peers have regarding the Internet – is being challenged by 39-year-old progressive Rep. Joe Kennedy, who promises “generational change and a fresh perspective.” Exactly what the hell is “generational change”? Replacing an old face with a less wrinkled one? And does this “fresh perspective” meant to replace experience actually consist of anything substantive or is it merely doublespeak for replacing someone old with someone young? The fact is, Markey has done more for progressive causes than any other senator currently in Congress. Progressives would be better served to focus on replacing candidates based on their policies, not their age.

None of this bodes well for the future. The torch is being passed to those unprepared to grasp it and they stand poised to burn down what they inherit.

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