For Millennials, patriotism doesn’t mean compliance

Posted on April 13, 2014 at 2.12 pm

Thanks to Rare for publishing my latest:

What do President Teddy Roosevelt, author Mark Twain and theologian G.K. Chesterton have in common?

Each understood what patriotism is—and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

Each also understood it in a way that is, unfortunately all too rare today.

Recent polling research has revealed not only that the Millennial generation is more politically independent than our elders, but also that we’re less patriotic… or at least, that’s how the poll results are presented, with dire headlines like, “A generational gap in American patriotism.”

But is this actually true? It depends on what you mean by patriotism.

Young people are about 15% less likely than average to say the U.S. is the greatest country in the world (32% vs. 48%), and only half say the phrase “a patriotic person” describes them well. Millennials also more likely to criticize or question the government in wartime, and the majority thinks, “that the US is too involved in other countries’ affairs.”

While pundits like David Frum bemoan a future where Americans are “less united by patriotism,” I’m far less concerned about my generation.

You see, it’s not actually patriotism that Millennials lack. What they reject is unconditional support for whatever our government does.

And that’s where Roosevelt, Twain, and Chesterton come in. What they understood—and what commentators like Frum don’t get—is that patriotism doesn’t simply mean uncritically backing government action.

In fact, the opposite is true. Patriotism doesn’t mean compliance.

Twain put it most succinctly: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And does most of what our government does deserve Millennials’ support? No, it doesn’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Note: I probably would never call myself “patriotic” anyway for theological reasons, but I still think it’s really important to distinguish between uncritical acceptance of our government’s decisions — which is what people like Frum want — and affection for the people and places we call home.

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Somebody buy the President some watercolors

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 11.10 am


Of all the things I ever imagined happening after George W. Bush left office, this is not it — and I love it.

I love it partly because these paintings really are oddly earnest; and they are not very good; and for reasons totally unknown, Bush has decided to exhibit them in public places while his wife talks about his work with just a hint of condescension.

But I mainly love it because this whole painting project is so very un-presidential. While many post-presidency activities try to perpetuate the glory of the ex-President’s time in office, this does not. Presidential libraries, speaking tours, charitable activities — all of these things are designed to bolster the former Presidents’ prestige (and sometimes their bank accounts), adding to the personality cult that surrounds the White House.

And while I understand a desire for our head of state to have some degree of pomp and circumstance, a healthy cut-back in the celebrity that the Oval Office brings is much overdue. The President is not our national dad or the “boss of the country,” as some have bizarrely suggested, and his job ought to be one of public service. Yet America too often maintains an obsession with the presidency which isn’t conducive to reasoned critiques of any administration’s policies.

And that brings me back to Bush and his paintings (especially the bath and shower self portraits). He signs them “43” — as in 43rd President — and they are not exactly commanding of respect. But where Bush’s paintings may indeed excel is in diminishing the cultural power of the presidency.

I only wish he’d starting sharing them a few years earlier…and I wish someone would buy Barack Obama a set of watercolors.

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Thanks to Rare for publishing my latest:

My generation is poor.

Half of new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Student loan debt is soaring as it becomes increasingly impossible to work your way through college. We can’t afford to make big purchases like houses and cars at the same age our parents could. And when you look at the wealth gap between young and old, the picture grows even more striking:

  • Between 1984 and 2009, median net worth of Americans 35 and younger shrunk by 68%, while Americans 65 and older saw a 45% gain. Young people now average just $3,600, while their grandparents average $170,000.
  • Every generation did better than their children in that time period. The oldest group now has forty-seven times the net worth of the youngest.
  • From 1967 to 2010, the poverty rate among young people doubled, while the elderly saw their poverty rate decline by two thirds.
  • During the same time period, all generations saw some increase in median income, but those 65+ saw their earnings grow by 109% compared to under-35-year-olds’ 27%.
  • Indeed, “In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.”

In short, the “differences in wealth between the young and older Americans [are] the greatest on record.”

The effect of Millennials’ comparative poverty is already rearing its ugly head, delaying our ability to move out of mom and dad’s house, get married, and have kids. However, it’s also seeding long-term troubles. Years of unemployment and financial dependence can have exponential results over a lifetime.

So, given all this data, you’d think our government wouldn’t make a bad situation worse by forcefully redistributing massive amounts of money from young people to old people, right?


This is where the problem gets serious. While we’d expect (and want!) older people to generally be better off than their younger counterparts, what’s not ok is a government-mandated transfer of wealth from a relatively poor generation to a relatively wealthy one.

And yet, that’s exactly what is happening.

Read the whole thing here.

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