When alien­ation spreads across the land The young face the fu­ture with dread, not the de­light of child­hood

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

If you’re not driven mad by the in­ces­sant shocks of mod­ern life, a wise man once ob­served, you must be in­sane. Such dark hu­mor can be ther­a­peu­tic in small doses, but there are sober­ing signs that Amer­i­cans are los­ing the strug­gle to keep their heads clear in the mad swirl of the cul­tural rapids. The young are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble, greet­ing the new day with dread rather than de­light.

The fu­ture is un­cer­tain, ob­vi­ously, and the kids are fac­ing it with more than a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sion, by the reck­on­ing of a new sur­vey by the non­par­ti­san Pew Re­search Cen­ter. Pew finds that 70 per­cent of Amer­i­can teen-agers aged 13 to 17 say they feel anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion about the fu­ture, 26 per­cent say they feel such anx­i­ety but the feel­ings are a mi­nor prob­lem, leav­ing only 4 per­cent with the tra­di­tional care­free out­look of the young.

These teen-agers were not around to wit­ness and feel the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, when Is­lamic ter­ror­ists brought down the twin tow­ers of the World Trade Cen­ter in New York, the great­est shock to the na­tion since Pearl Har­bor. But they have wit­nessed and felt the shock of the ter­ror­ism that has fol­lowed since. Chil­dren are young but they are not obliv­i­ous to the world around them. They have con­cluded that school shoot­ings, at­tacks on cul­tural tra­di­tion, the top­pling of mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als to the na­tion’s heroes and the wars and rev­o­lu­tions that play out on the evening news mean that danger lurks close by.

They hear the voices of par­ti­san doom, such as the warn­ing from Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, Demo­crat of New York, that civ­i­liza­tion is ap­proach­ing the end of the line. “Our planet is go­ing to hit dis­as­ter if we don’t turn this ship around and so it’s ba­si­cally like, there’s a sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that the lives of chil­dren are go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult. And it does lead, I think, young peo­ple to have a le­git­i­mate ques­tion, you know, ‘Is it okay to still have chil­dren?’”

Fear of the deadly peril was enough to send a troop of kids to Con­gress the other day to plead with Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Demo­crat of Cal­i­for­nia, to en­act the Green New Deal and dis­man­tle the in­dus­trial state be­fore we all die. It takes wis­dom won in the pas­sage of years to un­der­stand that par­ti­san pol­i­tics is the art of the pos­si­ble but for oth­ers with the gift of the con, pol­i­tics is the art of sell­ing the im­pos­si­ble.

Be­yond anx­i­ety, in­tim­i­da­tion and trep­i­da­tion, the na­tion’s young are be­dev­iled by bullying, drug ad­dic­tion, binge drink­ing, poverty, preg­nancy and gangs, rated as prob­lems by up to 90 per­cent of re­spon­dents to Pew’s poll­sters. And it’s not just young peo­ple who feel buf­feted by life. In his new book, “Alien­ated Amer­ica,” Tim­o­thy Car­ney ar­gues that it’s the cul­ture that ob­scures the search for the Amer­i­can dream. Politi­cians and pun­dits, many of them con­founded by Don­ald Trump’s as­cen­sion to the White House, some­times credit his ap­peal to the blue-col­lar class to his vow to make Amer­ica great again by stok­ing the en­gine of the U.S. econ­omy.

Tim­o­thy Car­ney points to a dif­fer­ent path. “When Trump caught so many po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors off guard,” he writes, “we looked for an ex­pla­na­tion amid the clos­ing fac­to­ries, but we should have been look­ing at the clos­ing churches.” Statis­tics on U.S. church clo­sures range be­tween 4,000 and 6,000 an­nu­ally. (Many oth­ers, of course, are es­tab­lished ev­ery year.) Rea­sons for the de­cline in­clude the na­tion­wide pop­u­la­tion shift from tight-knit ru­ral life to the con­crete canyons of the trou­bled cities, and the im­pact on the young of gov­ern­ment, ed­u­ca­tional and me­dia hos­til­ity to re­li­gious ex­pres­sion.

His­tor­i­cally, Amer­ica’s vi­brant civic life has been an­chored in its houses of wor­ship, ra­di­at­ing out­ward to sec­u­lar ser­vice and char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions. Sec­u­lar in­sti­tu­tions in­spired by re­li­gious faith helped gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans em­brace a sense of com­mu­nity. As this faith-based core has col­lapsed, feel­ings of es­trange­ment have grown.

A re­vival, not just a re­vival of the saw­dust trail of yes­ter­year but a re­vival of the tra­di­tion of fam­i­lies shar­ing a faith-based com­mit­ment to one an­other and to the larger com­mu­nity could re­as­sure both young and old. The Amer­i­can dream, af­ter all, is about more than friv­o­lous times and a full din­ner pail.

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