Cheer up. The world is not coming to an end.
The unanticipated arrival of Donald Trump on the stage has created a tsunami of political angst, washing up on the shores of both parties. Or perhaps I should say two of three parties, as many have observed that we now have Democrats, regular old style Republicans and authoritarian Republicans.
I needn't chronicle the serial offenses of candidate Trump. In a recent PBS broadcast, even the dependably civil conservative pundit David Brooks rapidly searched his tip-of-the-tongue glossary and found only "buffoon" and "bigot" available for a Trump description. A thoughtful Vox essay by Amanda Taub describes the roots of this "authoritarian" movement that has stumbled upon the semi-coherent Trump as its titular leader. Her analysis is both illuminating and frightening.
Call me Pollyanna if you wish, but we are not observing the advance army of the destruction of the American democratic republic, as some seem to worry. We are hearing the death rattle of a shrinking group (and some of their offspring and political bedfellows) of resentful, mostly white citizens who have been simmering for decades over sex, drugs, rock and roll, civil rights, feminism, gay rights and/or any number of other changes that created discomfort for them. Trump didn't create it. He's just taken the simmer to a boil and blown the lid off. And folks are scared.
But this is a movement in retreat, not advance. Don't mistake its volume for its strength. There are several reasons I believe this to be the case.
While it seems of little comfort in the obnoxious glare of Trumpmania, the demographics of the United States are inexorably changing. As widely reported, most estimates predict that the United States will be majority minority within 2 or 3 decades. The Census Bureau reports that 52 percent of American children under age five are minority children. This is a cause of authoritarian fear and anger, but ultimately authoritarianism's antidote. The Pew Research Center reports that 14.8 percent of new marriages in 2008 were between individuals of different race or ethnicity. I suspect few partners in such relationships will support deportation or de-humanizing of their loved ones. I needn't overdo the statistical evidence, but it suffices to observe that angry white men will not be a growth sector in the decades ahead. I also recognize that individuals often defy "type," as there are lovely, sensitive older white men and moronically ill-informed, bigoted folks of color, but the trend lines seem indisputable.
My embrace of Pollyanna is also informed by what the Pew Center calls the GOP's Millennial problem. Among Republicans, the percentage of citizens who self-describe as conservative falls from the 64-67 % range among older folks (60+) to about 30% for Millennials (18-33). For Democrats the self-described conservatives fall from 9% to 3% for these same demographic groups.
One might argue that such has always been the case. People are liberal when young and grow more conservative over time -- or so it is claimed. This quote, falsely attributed to Winston Churchill is often smugly cited by conservatives: "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."
I prefer "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're a conservative by the time you're 35, you've lost your mind, and if you are an authoritarian Trump supporter at any age, you've lost your heart, mind and soul."
But I digress.
It may be historically true that there is a shift toward conservatism for some people as they age, but this dynamic is categorically different in this era. As the head of a school I have great exposure to the values and dispositions of today's younger generation. Admittedly, a sample of New York City kids in a progressive school is not representative, but I'm only partly informed by this direct experience.
Children all over America, often despite their parents or their communities, are engaged in social justice work. For every incident of homophobic bullying in the midsection of America, including evangelical strongholds, there is an outpouring of support and acceptance for difference. Younger Americans overwhelmingly support same sex marriage. Except in a small minority of deeply regressive schools, students all over the country are engaged in diversity conversations. Every day, students protest against "big oil" and fight for attention to climate change. Kids are teaching their parents about sustainability, diversity and social justice.
Education, travel (for the relatively privileged), social media and popular culture have created an amorphous international community of young people who lean eagerly toward understanding, multiculturalism and justice. This didn't exist in any previous generation and it has the power to change the world.
The current American problem is not the threat of insidious growth of an authoritarian movement that will destroy several centuries of social progress. The current American problem is keeping the ship of state intact until a new crew takes over. Rejecting the hateful ignorance of Donald Trump will be a good start.
This column appeared in the Valley News