Getting stoned on the American Dream: Millennial apathy and Tea Party zeal
The Tea Party has the right anger in the wrong place. Ted Nugent writes an op-ed. Millennials say “TL;DR”
Getting stoned on the American Dream
by Sarah Friend
Apparently, some guy named Ted Nugent has written an op-ed condemning the political apathy of “millennials”. Since these kinds of age-based generalizations have always seemed like a load of pseudoscientific hoopla to me (rankable one step above astrology) I had to look it up: Millennials, I’m told, were born between 1976 and 2000. Other sources say 1982 and 2000. See what I mean about hoopla?
But, as I’m a millennial by either count and a person concerned about political apathy, I thought I’d better read the article. Nugent writes that he remembers the ‘60’s, (whatever that means) but at the time he was politically disengaged himself, either “squirrel hunting or putting a sharp edge on [his] sonic guitar-slaying skills.” He then uses the phrase “purple haze of dope” and eventually gets to his point:
“While I personally condemn violence of any kind, I am stunned that [the millennials] are not participating more in the Tea Party, even rioting in the streets, clashing with the cops, conducting sit-ins at their colleges, interrupting political events and so on. Instead, the young people of this generation appear to be sound asleep, lethargic and seemingly unaware of how badly their generation is being royally abused by the deep-seated corruption and abuse of power in the government. They appear to be terminally stoned on apathy.”
Later in the article, despite personally condemning violence of any kind, he calls those who volunteer for service in the U.S. military “superior human beings.” Hmm.
My comrades on the Internet have already done a good job explaining why millennials are not involved in the Tea Party (mainly that the Tea Party demographic is old, white, and evangelical, and that millennials are young, multicultural, and progressive). It is an explanation so abundantly obvious that you would wonder how Nugent missed it – except that he also missed the obvious hypocrisy of his statements on violence.
So why pay attention to Nugent at all? Especially after Colbert has shown so well why not to? Well – I’m struck by the fervour of the Tea Party. Like Nugent, I want to see the youth taking to the streets in righteous anger. Like Nugent, I am concerned about government debt. I want to see sit-ins, walk-outs, and large scale demonstrations. But I think the similarities end there, because ultimately, the Tea Party is a revolution misplaced.
Slavoj Zizek takes up a similar question in the final chapter of “The Parallax View” wondering how it is that:
“ . . . ecomonic class opposition (poor farmers, blue-collar workers, versus lawyers, bankers, large companies) is transposed/coded into the opposition of true honest hard-working Christian Americans versus decadent liberals who drink lattes and drive foreign cars, advocate abortion and homosexuality, mock patriotic sacrifice and the simple “provincial” way of life, and so forth. Thus the enemy is perceived as the “liberal” who, through federal state interventions (from school-bussing to Darwinian evolution and perverse sexual practices to be taught), wants to undermine the authentic American way of life.” (Google Book)
The Tea Party rages against modern liberal humanist totalitarianism. Christian Populist Americans vote away the state, the institution they see as removing their autonomy, without seeing how it is replaced with corporate power that acts on their lives in as alien and anonymous a way but without the silver lining of democratic control. According again, to Zizek, this eventually results in the formation of a new binary on which to align society: those for globalization/modernization and those, for whatever reason, opposed to it. The opposed form an unlikely alliance: the populist right, the old conservatives, and the old left. The old binary, the Republicans and the Democrats, are left inanely bickering over cultural issues, both sides uselessly aghast at the other’s immorality.
Of course, America’s unique relationship to the phrase “class struggle” has also undoubtedly contributed to the Tea Party’s inability to recognize itself as the proletariat: namely, the legacy of McCarthyism and Cold War rhetoric about the reds. In a political atmosphere where the “Left” is what most other countries call the “Centre Right” and the only people who still get to use the word “Socialist” are Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (and it’s to criticize Obama) it’s unsurprising that people have some difficulty recognizing class struggle, even when it’s writing op-eds under their noses. With a black-listed vocabulary that includes “proletariat,” “bourgeoisie,” “Marxism” and “class conflict,” they lack the language to articulate their own alienation. Indeed, “alienation” is also probably off the table.
Above: More in touch than Ted Nugent (Source)
But there may also be something in the dominant ideology of individualism in America – the American Dream – that prevents the lessons of the left to sink in. In order to recognize the continuing need for class struggle, one needs to be able to see wealth as being not an indicator of merit determined on the free market but a self-perpetuating class system, a deck that is always stacked. America’s foundational myth is directly contradictory to this logic.
Consider the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Gettysburg Address echoes the sentiment, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Many people, even those like myself who aren’t American, grew up knowing these phrases – their symbolic resonance is immeasurable.
As for the American Dream, the accumulation of capital, rags to riches, one man against the world, etc, it originally comes from a 1931 book by James Truslow Adams called Epic of America. He writes:
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” (Google Book)
Hear that? Without regard for fortuitous circumstances of birth and position. America was founded on the myth of dissolving the class system, creating a social free market, an equal playing field where anyone with enough capacity for hard wo and integrity could “make it.” Because of these foundational myths, America thinks class conflict is over. After all, they decided to be equal back in 1776, right? Wrong. It has in fact established a new aristocracy. The Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Fords, the Du Ponts. If not, then why do I know these names, and why when I Google “Old Money” are they in the wikipedia article?
The Tea Party fails to recognize that its struggle is economic – and when it does, it fails to recognize the nature of struggle that is necessary. It wages a feeble war on cultural fronts, outraged at liberal decadence, so that both sides dig deeper into their respective intractable moral trenches – an all around waste of energy. When it does discuss economics, it is always a blind call for austerity and spending cuts, its representatives unable to even utter the words “raise taxes.” It is alienated even to its own alienation, lost in the “purple haze” of its past. This is the air the Tea Party must clear if it hopes to achieve anything besides making itself increasingly ridiculous.