Anyone who thinks age confers wisdom needs to meet Donald Trump
The students who survived the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and decided to to raise up their voices to make the strange argument that we should actually do something about the 35,000 gun deaths that happen in America every year have inspired some inspired tantrums from the right.
“We are born ignorant of the world we live in and only lose that ignorance over time,” Jonah Goldberg argued in USA Today.
His evidence of this?
“Think about what you knew and understood at half your current age. Were you smarter then?”
The idea that a 70 year old is better than sorting through a Facebook feed for truth than a seventeen year old because of accumulated wisdom from decades of Fox News watching should immediately get the gas face. But let’s focus on evidence.
Here’s my evidence that Americans, particularly Americans alive now, may be gaining ignorance over time.
GOP policies are, in general, targeted attacks on seniors who don’t happen to be billionaires or, at least, multi-millionaires.*
Despite that, seniors are the reason that the GOP is a national party. That’s not great evidence that ignorance fades with time. Neither is the right’s insistence on making the greatest crises we face — including climate change and income inequality — worse.
And here’s my evidence that conservatives are right to be scared of the power of the anti-mass murder voices that have raised up out of Parkland:
Conservatives argue that they have every right to criticize these students’ arguments. And they do. Of course. The problem is that their usual gunsplaining isn’t working.
The usual distractions and nitpicking that turns every debate on guns into a bad faith high school debate club warm-up haven’t succeeded in shutting down the debate following this massacre for a simple reason: The Parkland kids are cutting through the bullshit.
And we know the arguments against better gun safety are bullshit. We know this not just because every other developed nation on earth has figured out how to limit gun violence. We know this because we’ve figured it out in America: In states where gun sales are well vetted, deaths go down.
Say that and some conservative will scream, “Most of those are suicides!” As if we shouldn’t be trying to prevent gun suicides.
This shit isn’t complex. It gets complex when you start debating the canards the NRA proposes rather than just passing universal background checks or getting AR-15s off the street. Because there’s no research on this sidelong bullshit that imagines teachers will be better at taking down active shooters than the police or American Sniper Chris Kyle. And there never should be.
We should ask why these kids are so good at this. Is it just their unique perspective of experiencing AR-15 fire and the death of their friends? Is it their excellent public schooling? Is it being born after the web was born?
Gil Durán co-host of the FrameLab podcast with George Lakoff speculates in the latest episode “GOP (Guns Over People)” that their age is their virtue. They haven’t been polluted like most Democratic politicians by decades of tentative arguments using the right’s framing.
“The Parkland kids are saying that what has been deemed normal is in fact intolerable, and must change,” he told me.
In his latest episode “Gun Culture is Neoliberalism,” Patrick Blanchfield explains how the forces that are content with the current level of gun violence have effectively drowned out the gun debate. And this mentality isn’t exclusive to guns. The domination of our debate by the right and “neoliberalism” has “warped not only our economy but our politics,” Daniel said.
Just look at the way so many arguments the left, which have been proven effective in every other developed country on earth, have been marginalized.
“The shunting off of gun violence as the normal state of things, something perpetrated by individual criminals and monsters due to personal moral failings, is inextricably bound up with something bigger—a governing ideology that frames our dystopian state of affairs, from record inequality to ecological catastrophe, as inevitable ills that can at best be attenuated through personal initiative and smart consumption,” he said.
The Parkland Kids are daring to look at the situation and say, “We appreciate you’re willing to let us rebuild the world that you fucked up.”
This is boldness the left has rarely aspired to in the past few decades. It’s a boldness that says the solutions to our problems are much more simple than the right would ever want to admit.
Let’s not just not make climate change worse, let’s end it. Let’s insure everyone and spend less on health care doing it. Let’s not punish ourselves by demonizing and deporting a generation of immigrants who are our best hope for the future.
Of course, expecting kids to fix this all for us is too much. Even if these kids continue to be as exceptional as they have been over the past few weeks.
“I have followed school shootings since Columbine, nearly 19 years ago, and I’ve never seen anything like the #NeverAgain kids,” Dave Cullen, who wrote the definitive book on Columbine noted.
So let’s be realistic. But let’s also note that there may be something special about this dawning generation.
Goldberg quotes Barack Obama approvingly when the ex-president said, “If you had to choose a moment in time to be born, any time in human history, and you didn’t know ahead of time what nationality you were or what gender or what your economic status might be, you’d choose today.”
To a conservative — who is, as Corey Robin notes, someone who has felt power, sees it threatened and wants it back — this quote means, “Shut up, you dangdarn kids, and be grateful for what you’ve been given and Snapchat, whatever.”
To me, it says that we are blessed with a generation who is less burdened with our old prejudices and is thus less likely to abide our old failings.
If I were a conservative, that would scare me. But honestly, I don’t know if that’s analysis or a prayer.
*The older you are, the more likely you are to support Donald Trump and the GOP. This may seem like wisdom to Goldberg, who was #NeverTrump before the election and pretty happy to have a Republican president now. But where’s the wisdom of supporting policies that are flaming arrows targeted at older Americans so we can finance tax cuts for billionaires who have never been richer?
Trumpcare specifically allowed insurers to charge older adults considerably more, often for less care. The sabotage of Obamacare is having a similar effect. Paul Ryan’s life mission is to gut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without understanding that his party’s national power is only possible because seniors thrive under these programs. And while they promise to spare current beneficiaries from Medicare and Social Security cuts, the axe they want to take to Medicaid would almost certainly imperil today’s retirees who with very few exceptions are only one major illness from needing to rely on this lifesaving program.
Older Americans have been taught to vote against their own interests out of resentments and fears. And they’ve been spared the full impact of their votes by the unpopularity of what Paul Ryan wants. But now we’re just two or three Republican Senators from the full reality of conservative policies. The effort to reverse the gains of the War on Poverty, which primarily has benefited our elderly, has never been closer to reality.
This isn’t happening because wisdom comes with age. America isn’t the only country in the developed world where the life expectancy is going down because older people have figured this shit out. We’re running deficits large enough to insure all Americans or send all Americans to college and grad school for free or buy every homeless person a house. But what we’re getting instead are tax breaks for corporations earning record profits. What’s not ignorant about that?